Vaginismus, also known as genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder, is an anxiety-based condition characterized by involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor muscles surrounding the vagina, which makes vaginal penetrations – finger, tampons, gynecologic examination, sexual intercourse – painful or impossible.
Vaginismus brings about considerable distress, sadness, and interferes with a woman’s self-esteem and self confidence,
her sexual activity, interpersonal relationships, and the ability to naturally conceive a child (via intercourse).
Benefits of Vaginismus Treatment
- Sexual Health and Satisfaction: Vaginismus can greatly interfere with sexual activities. It can make sexual intercourse painful or even impossible, leading to distress, dissatisfaction, and potentially leading to relationship problems. Treatment can help alleviate these issues and restore sexual health and satisfaction.
- Physical Health: Vaginismus is often associated with pain and discomfort. These symptoms can be alleviated through treatment. In addition, if left untreated, vaginismus may interfere with regular gynecological examinations, which are essential for early detection and prevention of various female health issues, such as infections, inflammation, or cancer.
- Mental and Emotional Well-being: Vaginismus can contribute to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and low self-esteem. These feelings may be associated with sexual activity or the fear of experiencing pain. Effective treatment can help improve mental and emotional well-being by reducing these negative feelings.
- Relationships: The distress and lack of sexual intimacy caused by vaginismus can put a strain on romantic relationships. Treatment can help to ease this tension and improve the quality of relationships, as well as making healthy partner choices instead of settling.
- Fertility and Childbirth: For those who wish to conceive, vaginismus can make it difficult to engage in sexual intercourse, thus potentially affecting fertility. Also, certain aspects of prenatal care and childbirth may be more challenging or even not possible if vaginismus is present and untreated.
How to Treat Vaginismus
Vaginismus treatment typically involves a combination of physical therapy, psychotherapy, and sometimes medication, aiming to reduce the underlying anxiety, muscle tension, and pain as well as address any psychological factors that may contribute to the condition.
In addition to Internet search about vaginismus solutions and treatment experts, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional if you suspect that you or a loved one may have vaginismus. Vaginismus is a treatable condition, and a cure is possible with the appropriate guidance and support of a specialist.
Pelvic Floor Exercises for Vaginismus (Kegel Exercises)
The underlying somatic anxiety of vaginismus triggers the involuntary contraction of the pelvic floor muscles that surround the vaginal opening, making attempted penetration feel like ‘hitting a wall.’
Kegel exercises – the tightening & relaxing of the pelvic floor muscles – are typically recommended as a treatment for vaginismus. Unfortunately, they are of limited value for vaginismus because the muscle fibers that contract are of involuntary nature that trigger a panic closure of the vagina, not a tightening that can be relaxed with exercises.
Dilation Therapy for Vaginismus
Dilators are tube-shaped devices that come in a variety of sizes. You start with the smallest size and gradually work your way up to larger sizes. This is one either on your own or under the guidance of a vaginismus specialist.
Dilation therapy is one of the primary components of vaginismus treatment. It is focusing on teaching the woman about her anatomy (let’s remember: the vagina is not visible!), reducing the fear and anxiety associated with vaginal use, and automating vaginal penetrations.
Relaxation Techniques for Vaginismus
Because vaginismus is always an anxiety-based condition, relaxation can play a significant role in the treatment program for reducing stress, worries, anticipation & preoccupation with penetrative pain, etc.
The vagina should work automatically, without thinking about it, similarly to sitting on the toilet and urinating. Therefore, relaxation and stress reduction have to be in the background and not as a component of actual vaginal use.
Dedicate a time in your day/life for these options regardless of your vaginismus – you don’t want to make your vaginismus worse, right?
- Mindfulness teaches you to focus on the present moment
- Meditation can clear your mind
- Individual psychotherapy to address underlying panic, anxiety, rumination, or depression related to life, not only the vagina & sex
Cognitive Therapy for Vaginismus
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be a key part of treatment. Here’s how it might work:
- Education about vaginismus: Understanding the physical and psychological aspects of vaginismus is a critical first step. This includes learning how fear and anxiety can cause vaginismus;
- Identifying and challenging negative thoughts about life, past events, sex and their bodies. These may include fears about pain, beliefs about “normal” sex, or negative feelings about their bodies. Once these thoughts are identified, the therapist helps the person challenge and change them;
- Mindfulness and relaxation techniques, including breathing exercises, meditation, guided imagery, and EMDR;
- Sexual education and counseling to improve sexual communication with partners and increase sexual self-esteem. It can also help the person develop a new, positive sexual identity;
- Homework assignments to help individuals practice the skills they’re learning.
Surgery for Vaginismus
Surgical intervention is rarely needed for vaginismus and is usually considered only after other treatments have been tried without success, or if there is an identifiable anatomical cause contributing to the condition (such as a hymen that is unusually thick or inflexible).
Surgical interventions could potentially include a hymenectomy (surgical removal of the hymen), although this is uncommon and would only be performed if the hymen is believed to be a contributing factor.
Botox for Vaginismus
Botox, or botulinum toxin, is a protein produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. It’s known for its muscle relaxing properties and is often used in cosmetic procedures to reduce wrinkles. It also has several medical uses, including the treatment of certain muscle conditions.
Botox injections have been used as a treatment for vaginismus in recent years. The idea is that Botox can be injected into the muscles around the vagina to help them relax, thus reducing the spasms and pain associated with vaginismus.
Our extensive clinical experience suggests that Botox is not a comprehensive solution to vaginismus as it fails to address the underlying anxiety that is the cause of this condition. While Botox injections for vaginismus may help some, the majority of women will still need vaginismus intervention after this procedure, often making them question their choice of Botox in the first place.
Partner-Assisted Treatment for Vaginismus
Partner-assisted treatment can be helpful because it allows for a supportive and understanding environment, and also can directly involve the person who might be part of the triggering or anxiety-producing scenario. Below are some strategies for partner-assisted treatment:
- Education: Understand the nature of vaginismus, its causes, effects, and treatment options. Education helps both partners understand the condition and takes the blame off either person. There is no fault in vaginismus; it’s a medical condition that needs treatment;
- Counseling: This might involve seeing a sex therapist or a psychologist who specializes in sexual health. Couples therapy can help partners understand each other’s experiences, fears, and anxieties, and work towards a solution together;
- Communication: Open dialogue about fears, anxiety, and progress can help in treatment. It can also increase intimacy and trust.
Natural Remedies for Vaginismus
In reality, there are no natural remedies for vaginismus because it is an anxiety-based psychosomatic (body-mind) reaction that requires specific care.
However, while there’s no specific diet for vaginismus, eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can boost your overall well-being and help you manage the condition. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and other substances that can increase anxiety may also be beneficial.
While these remedies can help, they are not a substitute for professional medical care. It’s important to speak with a healthcare provider who can provide you with a comprehensive treatment plan. Remember that recovery from vaginismus often involves both physical and psychological interventions.
Herbs for Vaginismus
There are no specific herbs identified as effective treatments for vaginismus. Most herbal treatments have not undergone rigorous clinical trials to determine their efficacy and safety for this condition.
However, some individuals may find that certain herbs help to promote general relaxation or reduce anxiety, which could indirectly aid in managing vaginismus. These might include:
- Chamomile: Known for its relaxing properties, it could help reduce anxiety and promote a calmer state of mind;
- Lavender: Used in aromatherapy for its calming and soothing effects;
- Valerian Root: Often used to help with sleep and anxiety disorders, it might aid in muscle relaxation;
- Lemon Balm: This herb can help to alleviate stress and anxiety;
- Passionflower: It has been used traditionally to treat anxiety and insomnia.
Remember, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment, including herbal supplements, as they can interact with other medications and may not be suitable for everyone.
The most effective treatments for vaginismus tend to be multidimensional and often involve a combination of physical therapy, psychotherapy, and relaxation techniques. Therefore, while herbs may provide some benefits in terms of relaxation and stress reduction, they should not be considered as a standalone treatment for this condition.
Essential Oils for Vaginismus Relief
While it’s important to understand that essential oils can’t cure vaginismus, they may be useful for managing some associated symptoms such as anxiety and stress. Here are a few examples:
- Lavender Oil: Known for its calming properties, lavender oil can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation;
- Chamomile Oil: This oil is also known for its calming effects and may help to reduce stress and promote relaxation;
- Ylang Ylang Oil: This essential oil is often used to help reduce anxiety and can also promote feelings of positivity, which can be beneficial.
It is important to note that these oils should never be applied directly to the vagina or vulva as they can cause irritation and other negative reactions. Essential oils are potent and should always be used with a carrier oil such as jojoba oil or coconut oil. In addition, these oils should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment.
Vaginal Massage for Vaginismus
Vaginal massage for vaginismus is often recommended as a way to ‘relax’ the tight muscles. However, as we mentioned above, most of the muscle fibers that tighten up the vaginal opening are of an involuntary nature, and are activated by the Fight-or-Flight reaction to stress, anxiety, or fear (of penetration).
While vaginal massage may give a temporary sense of ‘relaxation,’ and may get the woman a bit desensitized to vaginal touch, it is typically not enough to allow for spontaneous vaginal penetrations.
To add to that, would you want to be dependent on massaging the vagina before putting in a tampon? Or before having a fun intercourse? Or a routine gynecological exam? Not so, and not normal for the vagina is built to work automatically without any such preparation!
Lifestyle Changes for Vaginismus Treatment
Lifestyle changes that may be helpful in dealing with vaginismus include:
- Modified sexual intimacy: remain sexually active but without penetrative sex until the vaginismus is cured and sexual intercourse is available;
- Psychosexual therapy: This can help you understand and change the feelings that lead to your body responding in this way. This therapy can also teach you a variety of relaxation techniques;
- Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Techniques such as yoga, meditation, and controlled breathing can help reduce anxiety and stress, which may contribute to vaginismus;
- Healthy lifestyle: Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine can help reduce stress and promote overall well being;
- Open communication with your partner: If you’re in a relationship, discussing the situation with your partner can be very beneficial. It can reduce any feelings of guilt or inadequacy you may be experiencing, and your partner can support you in working through this condition.
Healthy Diet for Vaginismus
Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial for overall health and can indirectly support the management of vaginismus. Here are some general healthy diet recommendations that might be beneficial:
- Hydration: Hydration is critical for all bodily functions, including those related to sexual health. Drinking enough water can help keep your skin, tissues, and cells healthy;
- Whole Foods: Aim to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your diet. These foods provide the necessary nutrients your body needs to function properly, including the production of hormones and neurotransmitters that can influence sexual health;
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and hemp seeds, can help maintain healthy hormone levels and support overall health;
- Fiber: Consuming a high-fiber diet can help maintain a healthy digestive system, which is indirectly linked to hormonal balance;
- Avoid Processed Foods and Sugar: These foods can lead to inflammation and other health issues that might indirectly affect your sexual health;
- Probiotics: Probiotics, which are found in foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Some research suggests a link between gut health and mood, which could potentially have an indirect impact on conditions like vaginismus;
Remember that alongside a healthy diet, vaginismus is typically treated through a combination of psychological therapy, physical therapy, and sometimes medication. It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice and treatment.
Stress Management for Vaginismus
Stress management techniques can be effective tools for easing life with vaginismus. Here are some strategies you might consider:
- Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Mindfulness and meditation can help reduce stress and increase your awareness of your body;
- Breathing Exercises: Deep, diaphragmatic breathing can help promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. Try to practice deep breathing exercises daily, focusing on slow, deep breaths that fill your diaphragm rather than shallow breaths in your chest;
- Healthy Lifestyle: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleep hygiene can all contribute to reduced stress levels and improved overall well-being. Regular physical activity is particularly good for stress management;
- Social Support: Joining a support group or online forum for people with similar experiences can help reduce feelings of isolation and stress. Sharing experiences and coping strategies can be very helpful. Join our vaginismus support group, Private Pain on Facebook.
- Medical Consultation: In some cases, medications can be used to help manage the symptoms of vaginismus and any associated psychological issues, such as anxiety or depression. This should be discussed with a healthcare professional.
Remember that overcoming vaginismus can take time and patience. It’s important to be kind to yourself and avoid pushing yourself too hard.
The best approach depends on the individual woman and her specific circumstances.
The information provided here is general advice and may not be suitable for everyone. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment.
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