Vaginismus is a symptom of a larger condition called genito-pelvic pain and penetration disorder. Vaginismus is feeling of pain around the vaginal opening. This occurs because the muscles at the opening to the vagina tighten when something is about to be placed inside the vagina such as a tampon, a “speculum” (a medical device used during a pelvic exam) or with vaginal intercourse. Both adolescents and adult women can have vaginismus.
What causes vaginismus?
Doctors don’t know the exact cause of vaginismus. There is a natural response the body has when touched. This response is like blinking your eye when you first learn to insert a contact lens. Some girls and women can learn to relax or overcome this response more easily than others. Women who have had an unpleasant experience such as pain while trying to insert a tampon or discomfort with a pelvic exam, or an assault, may be more apt to have vaginismus. Vaginal discomfort can also be caused from other conditions such as a yeast infection or a small opening in the hymen.
How is vaginismus diagnosed?
There is no specific test to diagnose vaginismus, but your health care provider (HCP) will be able to tell if you have it based on your symptoms and an exam. It’s important to tell your HCP what you feel during the exam. If your HCP can’t insert a small speculum or gloved finger into your vagina, you may have vaginismus. However, vaginismus may be caused by another condition. That’s why it is very important to tell your HCP about your symptoms and what seems to make them worse. You should also tell your HCP if you have vaginal discomfort when anything else is being placed in your vagina.
How is vaginismus treated?
Treatment often includes more than one approach. For example, if symptoms relate to an unpleasant or distressing experience, treatment may include talking with a counselor. Your health care provider may recommend “pelvic floor” physical therapy and the use of vaginal dilators. Pelvic floor physical therapy is usually done by a physical therapist that has special training in women’s health. Sometimes women are taught how to use various size vaginal dilators or other doctor recommended techniques that help to stretch the vaginal tissue.