Vaginismus is a medical condition caused by an involuntary muscle spasm that makes penetrating a woman’s vagina almost impossible. If it’s possible at all, it is accompanied by howling pain.
Vaginismus can be primarily a physical condition, a psychological condition, or a mixture of both.
Several possible factors for the condition include a history of sexual abuse, urinary tract infections, vaginal yeast infections, generalized anxiety, and a strict upbringing wherein sex is associated with sin and shame.
Primary vaginismus is a condition in which a woman was never able to experience penetration without pain; secondary vaginismus can develop after initial success with penetration.
Treatments include therapy with vaginal dilators as well as Botox treatments, which reduce vaginal tone.
Since it impedes intimacy, vaginismus can have devastating consequences for a woman’s love life. Here are seventeen women sharing their emotionally and physically traumatic experiences with vaginismus.
1. It was simply the ‘brick wall’ effect. When we tried penetration, my vagina just shut him out.
“I’m 22 and first tried to have sex when I was 16—where there was no pain, it was simply the ‘brick wall’ effect. When we tried penetration, my vagina just shut him out. Since then, I’ve only tried a handful more times, partly because dating and being in a relationship has never been a big priority for me, but also partly because of the knowledge, which I kept a secret from everyone in my life, that something was wrong and I couldn’t.”
2. The pain was like a tearing, burning pain that felt like I was being ripped in half.
“My story began seven years ago when I lost my virginity. It hurt a lot but I thought that was normal for the first time. Then it kept happening. Every time. The pain was like a tearing, burning pain that felt like I was being ripped in half. Sometimes I would be fighting back tears but out of a fear of being uptight, I kept trying and trying and trying. For me, sex became something I had to do to have boyfriend. Not a mutually enjoyable way of displaying affection for another human being. It was, sadly, a transaction.
It got to a point where I knew something was seriously wrong because none of my friends experienced any pain beyond the first time. Granted not many of them experienced orgasm from penetration in itself, but they didn’t seem to mind having sex. Whereas, for me, it was the stuff of nightmares.”
— Olivia Funnel, The Guardian
3. Vaginismus is an isolating monster.
“Vaginismus is an isolating monster. That’s about the best way I can describe it. It makes you feel alone in a situation that no one understands, broken and unable to be fixed, helpless despite countless attempts, and betrayed by your own body. You feel frustrated that while with every other situation you are an extremely logical person, you just can’t get your body to listen to you or you can’t understand what is going on.…Fast forward to my honeymoon. Failure. After many attempts, sex just wasn’t happening for us. My husband would say it felt like he was hitting a brick wall. There was no way he was getting in there. For me, it was just painful. My husband was so sweet, but we both were frustrated.”
4. Vaginismus put me in a dark place. I felt this awful feeling in my gut that wouldn’t go away.
“Vaginismus put me in a dark place. I felt this awful feeling in my gut that wouldn’t go away.
What was wrong with me? Why me? Why had this happened to me, the one who had supposedly done everything right by waiting to have sex until after marriage?
My self-esteem plummeted. I didn’t feel sexy or spontaneous anymore. I couldn’t do the one thing everyone wants to do and talks about being the most incredible thing ever. I couldn’t do it. My body wouldn’t let me. Why? Who was I supposed to talk to about this? What would people think? I was terrified to discuss it with anyone who knew me because I didn’t want it to define me. I didn’t want my friend or my sister to look at me and think she’s not a real woman; she can’t have sex. Or it’s all in her head; why doesn’t she just buck up and do it? Because my body wouldn’t let me.
Vaginismus is a protective reflex. And as much as I reminded myself of this, I still blamed myself. I felt so stupid. So alone. I cried almost every day. Crying was actually the only way I felt I could release the pain and stress that I was feeling. I would stand in the shower where the running water would drown out my crying and I would just sob.”
5. My partner was not comfortable penetrating me while I lay there with tears streaming down my cheeks. I felt miserable.
“I can remember only one time in high school that I tried to wear a tampon. I grabbed one of my mom’s, sat on the toilet, and tried to put it in. It wouldn’t go. I remember it just felt tight and uncomfortable. Confused and slightly embarrassed (what girl doesn’t even know how to wear a tampon?), I gave up and went back to wearing pads….Losing your virginity is supposed to hurt, right? (Feminist news flash: No.) But it hurt too much for me to just bear it, and my partner was not comfortable penetrating me while I lay there with tears streaming down my cheeks. I felt miserable. I felt like I was letting my partner down (to his credit, he never ever told me this). I felt like I was at war with my own body….”
6. I felt that my body hated me and would always work against me. I felt that God did not like me, and that I did not deserve to experience such special things as sex and childbirth.
“From quite a young age (approx. 15), I became aware that I was ‘different’. It started, as it often does, with a tampon! I could not insert one—I went through countless packets trying, and would cry after every failed attempt. My boyfriend could not even penetrate me with a finger, so sex was off the table. I desperately tried to allow him in, but would end up in tears due to the pain. I went through various relationships since then (I am 22)….Whether I was single or involved with someone, I had a constant feeling that there was a huge gap in my life. I felt abnormal—like a ‘freak’. I felt that my body hated me and would always work against me. I felt that God did not like me, and that I did not deserve to experience such special things as sex and childbirth. I felt that this was simply my burden to bear—some people get cancer, some get into accidents, some are born into disadvantaged backgrounds, some people can’t see or hear—my burden was that I could never have sex or have children. I learned to block it out, and in some way accept that I could never be a mother or an intimate partner. It is difficult to describe these feelings so matter of factly, because I don’t think I can ever put into words the pain, self-hatred, loneliness, depression, anxiety and deep, deep sadness I felt over the years at such a young and vulnerable age. I felt I was all alone in the world, and I did not really serve a purpose. I was heartbroken and confused.”
7. I grew angry with God for putting us in this situation that I felt we didn’t deserve.
“September 25th, 2009—before the honeymoon, life couldn’t be more than the fairytale it already was. We were making plans; dreaming away about a big house, landing great careers after completing college in the future, having kids we could share our beloved Disney movies with, go on the most romantic vacations around the world.
Naturally, we never knew there is something that could go wrong when everything seemed to be going right…until a certain circumstance provided the opportunity for us to see this.
On our honeymoon, everything came to a halt. Something was very wrong—with me.
We would later learn from an irritated gynecologist that I have vaginismus.
Before knowing that, everything became a blur. I didn’t understand why my body wasn’t functioning normally like the women on TV, romance novels, or basically all of the females in my life.
My husband and his growing temper of frustration intimidated me due to the less answers we had to why we couldn’t consummate. I remember once he prayed with me before we tried again, but I was crying because I already knew that it wasn’t going to happen. I grew angry with God for putting us in this situation that I felt we didn’t deserve.”
8. I suffered in silence. I was deathly afraid of any form of vaginal penetration.
“For 22 years, I suffered in silence. I was deathly afraid of any form of vaginal penetration. I was not able to insert a Q-tip in my vagina much less a tampon. I trembled at the thought of a gynecological exam and over the years I became extremely depressed by the reality of never becoming a real woman because I couldn’t have sex. Sex seemed impossible. I had no idea why this was happening especially since I had a very high libido. I would ask myself questions like ‘Is something wrong with my anatomy?’ ‘Do I not like men enough?’ ‘Am I just destined to be a virgin?’ ‘Intercourse seems like such as simple concept, what is wrong with me?’”
9. Every attempt at any insertion I made, even with a Q-tip, hit a wall created by a malfunction of my own body.
“After 8 years of failing to use tampons, missing pool parties, kicking gynecologists and pitifully informing boyfriends of this seemingly incurable problem, I was at the max point of desperation. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to hold any kind of stable relationship I wanted. I debated trying to skip every period with birth control. Gynecologists were confused—we knew the term for what I had, but there was nothing for therapy to fix and no place for dilators to go. I wasn’t fearful of sex or penetration, and libido and orgasm had never been issues. I was told over and over that, with the right person and the right timing, and maybe a Xanax, I would naturally just… get over it. But sedatives did nothing. Relaxation, breathing, and moving slow did nothing. Sexual comfort, attraction, and a strong relationship did nothing. I could do kegels like a champion and, as a psychology student, had already ruled out hypnosis. Therapists didn’t seem to understand what the issue was. Every attempt at any insertion I made, even with a Q-tip, hit a wall created by a malfunction of my own body. Opportunities came and went and that moment of breakthrough did not come.”
10. I started to notice that sex was becoming very difficult, almost like my vagina was no longer big enough for a penis.
Almost like it was hitting a wall.
“I have been dealing with vaginismus on and off for three years after a long period of enjoying a normal, healthy sex life. I’ll never really know what caused my vaginismus but always put it down to a combination of a reoccurring case of thrush I suffered with and day to day stress.
My partner and I have been together for just over 6 years and have a great relationship. We were friends for a long time before our first real ‘date’ and are still friends. Making the transition from friends to lovers was interesting but fun, getting to know each other in new ways and learning new things about each other.
At first I started to notice that sex was becoming very difficult, almost like my vagina was no longer big enough for a penis.
Almost like it was hitting a wall. It took me six months of frustrating attempts at sex to eventually see my doctor.”
11. When we tried the first time, we couldn’t even find the entrance to my vagina.
“I had been going out with my partner 7 months when we first attempted intercourse. When we tried the first time, we couldn’t even find the entrance to my vagina. Truth be told, I didn’t really know where it was as I had never seen a diagram and had never really had cause to look for it *smiles* For months after this, we continued trying to have intercourse, until finally I decided myself that I wanted to deal with it. I had briefly come across vaginismus online in the course of doing some research, and had considered that was possibly what I had but I didn’t dare make a self-diagnosis, and so I went to a women’s health centre in the city where I’m from in Ireland, and it was here that I was first diagnosed with vaginismus.”
12. It just would not go in, and him being a virgin too, we just gave up.
“I attempted to have sex the first time when I was 15. It just would not go in, and him being a virgin too, we just gave up. But every time any boyfriend I had tried to touch me down there it hurt, but I never said anything. I had a older female friend who convinced me that I wasn’t supposed to enjoy it. So as I got older I sought out relationships that didn’t revolve around sex, and kept it to myself that something wasn’t right. I married at 18 to man who knew, from our attempts, that I could not get anything in there. So we tried and tried, convinced it was just me needing to be ‘broken’ like any normal virgin.”
13. So back to the wedding night, time for the ‘Big Deal,’ and my vagina didn’t work!
“I had assumed that as a seemingly normal, healthy, twenty-something-year-old virgin (maybe not so normal) that things would go pretty well, you know, sex-wise. I never really noticed anything amiss before. I didn’t wear tampons (they freaked me out). I’d had a pelvic exam once, but it ended with the external examination because my doc thought I seemed too anxious (which I am, I’m super anxious). So back to the wedding night, time for the ‘Big Deal,’ and my vagina didn’t work! WHhaT!? I’d never heard of such a thing in my life! So confusing, awkward and a little painful; my husband and I were bumfuzzled to say the least. It was still a great night, don’t get me wrong, just missed out on the ‘big shebang’ is all.”
14. There’s no other way to describe it than that it feels like a brick wall; my pelvic muscles would clench shut to the point it felt like there was a complete block.
“I’d always been a bit squeamish when it came to anything to do with sex or periods when I was younger; I would faint when they started talking about sex education in high school, and would have to be taken out of class. But when I started thinking about having sex at the age of 18 with my high school boyfriend, it became obvious there was a deeper problem.
No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t have sex. Everyone says it’s difficult, they advise you to relax and have some wine, so I did—I had plenty of wine—but still, it never worked. There’s no other way to describe it than that it feels like a brick wall; my pelvic muscles would clench shut to the point it felt like there was a complete block.”
15. The muscles in my thighs tightened, as if I was bracing myself before a plane crash.
“Four months into our relationship — a long time by anyone’s standards — we decided to have sex. Though I’d hooked up with guys at college since the rape, I’d yet to have sex with anyone. I wasn’t afraid, but I wanted the person I was sleeping with to know my story and to care. I didn’t want any casual one-night stand to remind me of what happened that night in 2006. Dave was special to me.
I lay on the bed, on my back. He slipped my dress off me, and I felt overwhelmingly vulnerable. The muscles in my thighs tightened, as if I was bracing myself before a plane crash. I choked on my own breath as he guided himself into me, my vagina contracted and seemed to clench, creating a wall.
He wasn’t getting through. My legs slammed together; the balls of my feet kicked him off me.
‘Whoa, whoa,’ he balanced himself on the post of my bed, ‘what was that?’”
16. My condition definitely made me feel like I had less to offer than other women.
“When I got to college I had a couple sexual partners within my first year, and it was a very nerve-wracking experience to have to tell my partners about my problem. The first guy was ‘super-freaked out’ by it, told me he couldn’t ‘teach me to enjoy sex’ and that was the end of that. The second guy was a little more understanding. However, he did say once that he felt like he was raping me when we were having sex; I was so clearly in pain.
I just forced myself to do it even though I was in intense pain because I wanted to be a normal girl. I knew if I couldn’t have sex, it would basically prohibit me from having any sort of romantic relationship. My condition definitely made me feel like I had less to offer than other women.”
17. It feels like something sharp is scraping my insides.
“I’ve had this condition for 2 years now and it has been the hardest 2 years. I’m in a good relationship with an awesome guy, but vaginismus has definitely put a strain on our relationship.
I did not always have this problem; it just hurt one night and then turned into a continuous thing. The first year it didn’t bother me as much as it confused me. This condition has taken its toll on me both mentally and physically. It feels like something sharp is scraping my insides. But needless to say my partner has gotten way better on the issue and has stood by my side through everything. This year my partner has also been doing research on this topic and has a better understanding on things. He has learned to not let it bother him like it did before. It has been the complete opposite with me. I can honestly say that I have let vaginismus affect me in the worst way.”