Despite this word sounding like something a doctor made up in the spur of the moment, this disorder is very real and very, very painful. It is argued to be one of the most common female psychosexual dysfunctions, with clinic prevalence rates ranging from 5 to 17%. And sadly, I am part of that percentage. Since being diagnosed, the most common reply I receive when I tell people about Vaginismus is “that sounds made up” and “I’ve never heard of it”. Despite being prevalent in sexual health clinics, there is little talk about it in the general population. So I thought I’d share a little PSA all about Vaginismus, and how it hit my mental health.
What is Vaginismus?
The DSM-V classifies vaginismus as a Genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder. This encompasses both vaginismus and dyspareunia. It refers to the condition in which people feel a significant and recurrent pain during penetration and intercourse. More specifically, vaginismus is defined as a recurrent or persistent involuntary spasm, which often interferes with sex. However, it can affect all types of penetration, such as inserting a tampon.
The Two Types
There are two types of Vaginismus; primary and secondary. Primary means that a woman has never been able to have vaginal intercourse without it being painful. Whereas, those with secondary were once able to have non-painful penetrative vaginal intercourse, and now cannot. This could be due to a variety of reasons such as; trauma, medical conditions, or unpleasant medical examination. In my case, I believe I developed secondary vaginismus after a very painful and traumatic experience involving the hasty removal of my IUD.(that is a whole different story)
Vaginismus and My Mental Health
The reason I think it is important to spread awareness about vaginismus is that it has taken a toll on my mental health. One that I didn’t expect to happen. Obviously, I knew I wouldn’t be happy about it, and that it would strain my relationship with my boyfriend. But what I didn’t expect is how it affected my self-esteem, my emotions, and just how I felt like a woman.
For example, I never realised how much western TV was focused on sex, talking about it, doing it, wishing for it! They cannot get enough of it. After having the choice to have sex taken away from me, I felt really alone and bitter. Everything I was watching made me sad, a constant reminder of something I had lost, and wanted back. Because I have secondary vaginismus, I knew what “normal” sex felt like, I knew that I liked it, so being reminded of it made me bitter.
It doesn’t help that I have GAD, so obsessing over vaginismus and the pain is only going to make matters worse. It sends you further away from your goal which is to simply relax. I worried that I was now considered to be broken, that I wasn’t much of a woman anymore. I even remember saying to my boyfriend that if I was a horse, I would have been put down by now.
These feelings slowly crept in, until one week I was so low I couldn’t get out of bed. I kept thinking why was I this sad, what do I have to be sad about? Until I realised that I was upset about having vaginismus, and no amount of brushing it off and making jokes was going to change that. I am upset. Sex never seemed like a big deal or something to complain about, until I couldn’t have it.
Simply admitting that this diagnosis had hit me harder than I accepted and that I was struggling did make me feel better. It’s okay to miss having sex!!!
But I refuse to let it control my emotions any longer. So I got this idea off a lovely sexual health advice Youtuber called Hannah Witton, in which she suggested writing a letter to your illness.
I’m not happy that you came into my life; in fact, I preferred my life without you. (You don’t even pay rent). But since you look like you are going to be around for a while, I have to accept you. I have to let go of this bitterness and resentment I feel towards you because no matter how angry I get, it won’t make you leave, and it will just leave me miserable.
However, let’s not get too comfortable. Because as soon as I have the treatment I need, I will work my ass off to kick you out of my home.
I will no longer put my life on hold because of you.
Anxious and Hungry.
P.S. If anything sounds familiar, always read the NHS website on vaginismus and speak to a GP about treatment options.
 Crowley T, Richardson D, Goldmeier D (2006)., BASHH Special Interest Group for Sexual Dysfunction. Recommendations for the management of vaginismus: BASHH special interest group for sexual dysfunction. Int J STD AIDS. 17:14–8
 Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (2013). 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; American Psychiatric Association.
 Harish T, Muliyala K, Murthy P. Successful management of vaginismus: An eclectic approach. Indian J Psychiatry. 2011;53(2):154-5.