What is Vaginismus and why is it so overlooked?

When I was a kid, I remember watching an episode of True Life entitled ‘I Can’t Have Sex.’ The episode followed three women who struggled to find reasons why sex and other types of vaginal penetration was excruciating for them. Watching the episode, I feared that I would endure the same issue once I became sexually active. 

At the time, I didn’t know that what they were going through was called “vaginismus.”

Continue reading to learn more about the overlooked and often misunderstood medical condition called vaginismus.

Defining vaginismus

According to MedlinePlus, vaginismus can be defined as muscle spasms in the vagina that happen uncontrollably. These spasms can cause the vaginal canal to shrink in size, preventing any type of penetration, whether for sexual or medical purposes. 

Women tend to experience vaginismus upon entry into the vagina during sexual intercourse, during pelvic exams, and even while inserting a tampon. 

What causes vaginismus?

Vaginismus is deemed as a sexual health problem that can be caused by the following factors (via Healthline):

  • Previous painful intercourse
  • Previous sexual trauma or abuse
  • Mental or emotional factors

Often, there is no particular cause for the condition. 


Symptoms for vaginismus can include autonomous vaginal muscle contractions (the primary sign), stinging or burning sensation, and fear of penetration. Many women often state that it feels like something hitting a brick wall when an attempt is made to insert something into the vagina. 

Vaginismus is NOT the same as dyspareunia.

It is to be noted that vaginismus is not the same as dyspareunia. Dyspareunia is typically caused by vaginal issues such as PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), ovarian cysts, and vaginal atrophy.

How is it diagnosed?

While many women can self-diagnose themselves based on the symptoms, it’s always recommended a medical professional officially diagnoses vaginismus. 

A doctor may initially ask about when the symptoms started, how often the spasms happen, sexual history, and the triggers. A pelvic exam will typically follow after the questionnaire to give your doctor a better understanding of what’s occurring. 

What are the treatments?

Fortunately, there are several ways in which vaginismus can be managed or even treated in some cases. The main goal of managing or treating vaginismus is to limit the number of times the vaginal muscles contract. 

Here are other standard methods used for vaginismus (via Cleveland Clinic):

  • Topical creams can be used to alleviate pain in the vaginal area.
  • A vaginal dilator is a device that helps to stretch the vaginal canal, assisting patients to become more accommodated to penetration. Most health providers recommend applying a numbing cream to the outer part of the vagina before inserting the dilator.
  • Sex therapists can help you and your partner to help make intercourse more comfortable and pleasurable for both parties. 
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can assist patients struggling with PTSD or other mental issues affecting vaginismus. 
  • A patient can also work with a physical therapist to loosen their pelvic floor to help reduce or alleviate the involuntary vaginal muscle contractions. 


As women, there are so many things that we must learn and understand about our vaginal health. Sometimes, we may feel that a feminine issue we are dealing with can’t be understood or relatable to others. The fear of revealing personal health issues may be why vaginismus is constantly misunderstood, which may be considered ‘uncommon’ by the medical world.

As always, if you ever have any concerns about your health, make sure to contact your doctor to get professional medical advice. 


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