Vaginismus is a condition that can be painful and embarrassing as it is still taboo to speak about it. Talking about vaginismus can be a taboo subject, although it shouldn’t be, which keeps many people struggling from seeking help. If you struggle with vaginismus symptoms or painful intercourse, know you are not alone. 2 in 1000 people with vagina suffer from vaginismus according to estimations.
But what exactly is vaginismus? In short, it is characterized by involuntary spasms of the muscles surrounding the vagina, which can make it difficult or impossible to have sexual intercourse, use tampons, or even perform a pelvic exam.
Fortunately, there are several exercises that can help reduce these symptoms and improve the sexual health and well-being of those who suffer. In this article, we will discuss 6 of the most commonly used exercises for vaginismus, as well as how to do them properly.
What Is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is a condition in which the muscles around the vagina involuntarily spasm, making it difficult or impossible to engage in certain sexual activities, such as intercourse. It can be a distressing and embarrassing issue, but there are exercises that can help.
These include Kegels, graduated penetration with dilators, pelvic floor relaxation, breathing exercises, pelvic floor drop, and self-massage. With regular practice, these exercises can help to reduce the symptoms of vaginismus and improve sexual function.
What Are The Common Causes Of Vaginismus?
Vaginismus can be caused by a variety of factors, including physical and psychological issues. Some of the most common causes include:
1. Psychological Issues
One of the most common causes of vaginismus is psychological issues, such as fear, anxiety, or previous traumatic sexual experiences.
2. Physical Issues
Physical issues such as endometriosis, vaginal dryness and atrophy can also cause vaginismus. These often occur as a result of hormone imbalances or menopause.
3. Medical Conditions
Medical conditions such as uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, and pelvic inflammatory disease can also cause vaginismus. This can be due to pain or discomfort during penetration.
Symptoms Of Vaginismus
There can be a few signs that you may be suffering from vaginismus, and these include:
- Pain or burning sensation during intercourse
- Difficulty inserting tampons or menstrual cups
- Fear of penetration
- Tightening of the pelvic floor muscles when attempting penetration
- Feeling of “hitting a wall” when attempting penetration
- Feeling discomfort in the vaginal area even without any attempt at penetration
When these symptoms are present, it is important to seek medical advice and look into potential treatments.
So, just how can you tackle vaginismus? Below are six exercises that can really help. Be aware though, that it is recommended you discuss your issues with a medical professional as well. Digital health solutions like Rosy, a virtual clinic for sexual wellness, or HelloBetter’s Vaginismus Program can also bring great relief.
1. Kegel Exercises
Kegel exercises are a great way to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and reduce symptoms of vaginismus.
To perform these exercises, simply squeeze your pelvic floor muscles (the same ones you use when you are trying to stop the flow of urine) for 5 seconds and then release. Repeat this 10 times, 3 times per day.
2. Graduated Penetration
This exercise involves slowly inserting a lubricated dilator (a medical instrument used to stretch the vaginal opening) into the vagina.
Start with the smallest size and work your way up to larger sizes over time as your body gets used to it. It is important to go slowly and stop if you feel any pain.
3. Pelvic Floor Relaxation
This exercise helps to relax the muscles of the pelvic floor, which can reduce tension and spasms in the vaginal area. To perform, sit comfortably on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent.
Take a few deep breaths and then focus on relaxing each muscle group starting from your toes and working up to your pelvic floor.
This exercise can be combined with Kegel exercises to really strengthen the muscles and can be very beneficial in reducing symptoms of vaginismus.
4. Breathing Exercises
It may seem unusual, but doing deep breathing exercises can help to reduce anxiety and allow your body to relax. To perform this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. Take a deep breath in through your nose, filling both your chest and stomach with air.
Hold for a few seconds and then exhale slowly through your mouth.
This can be combined with visualization if desired, and this exercise involves imagining yourself in a relaxed, comfortable place while gradually relaxing the muscles of your pelvic floor.
Start by closing your eyes and picturing yourself in an environment that makes you feel safe and relaxed.
Once you are there, focus on each muscle group, starting from your toes and working up to your pelvic floor, and visualize them slowly releasing any tension.
5. Pelvic Floor Drop
Another great exercise is the “pelvic floor drop.” To perform this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Take a deep breath in and then as you exhale, imagine your pelvic floor muscles letting go of all tension as if they were melting into the floor. Hold for a few seconds before releasing and repeating 10 times.
Finally, self-massage can be a helpful exercise for those suffering from vaginismus. To perform this exercise, start by lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Using a lubricant, slowly massage the area around your vagina in small circles with your fingertips.
Pay attention to any areas of tension and focus on relaxing them. This exercise can be done for 5–10 minutes, once or twice per day.
What Are The Other Potential Treatments For Vaginismus?
In addition to the specific exercises outlined above, treatment for vaginismus can also involve both physical and psychological methods, and some of the most common options and treatment plans include:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a form of therapy that can help to identify any underlying psychological issues that may be contributing to vaginismus. It can also be used to help reduce anxiety and build confidence when it comes to sexual activities.
When carrying out CBT to treat vaginismus, a therapist will usually encourage couples to start by talking openly about their feelings and experiences related to sex.
This can be followed by gradually introducing physical activities such as massage and dilator therapy, and can really help to reduce anxiety around penetrative sex.
We mentioned using dilators above, and dilator therapy can be another helpful treatment that looks at the psychological aspects of the activity.
This involves the use of a series of plastic dilators (in varying sizes) to help women gradually become more comfortable with penetration.
Using lubrication, the woman will start by inserting the smallest dilator, and will slowly increase the size over time as their body adjusts to it.
This can be done during solo sessions or with a partner, and can really help to reduce muscle tension in the area.
In cases where scar tissue is present, surgery may be recommended in order to remove it. This type of surgery is usually quite straightforward and involves making a small incision to remove the scar tissue.
Once this has been done, further dilator therapy can then be used to help the woman become more comfortable with penetration.
Vaginismus can be a difficult and embarrassing condition (although it shouldn’t be!). With the right exercises and treatment plan, it is possible to overcome it. The six exercises outlined above are a great place to start, and can really help to reduce any tension in the pelvic floor muscles.
If these exercises don’t seem to be helping, or you want to explore other options, then seeking professional help is the best way to go. Whether it’s CBT, dilator therapy or surgery, there are plenty of treatment plans available that can help you to get back to enjoying a healthy and fulfilling sex life.