What Is Vaginismus?

When Sex Hurts

Rear view of woman sleeping on the bed
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Is there such a thing as too tight when it comes to sex? If sex is painful for you, you could have vaginismus, and the answer could be yes. Characterized by a persistent or recurrent spasm of the outer third of the vagina any time penetration is attempted, vaginismus can make sexual activity and medical exams difficult to impossible. Here's what you should know about vaginismus, including symptoms, causes and treatment options.

Symptoms of Vaginismus

Symptoms of vaginismus can vary in severity. Some women are able to have sex, but it is painful, while others are able to use tampons, but cannot have penetrative sex. For some, it is impossible to insert anything into their vagina. It is a physical issue, not an arousal issue, as many women with vaginismus can still have orgasms through clitoral stimulation.

Causes of Vaginismus

It is not fully understood why vaginismus occurs, but there are many physical and emotional factors that can play into vaginismus. They include:

  • Thinking that sex will be painful
  • Painful experiences the first time having sex
  • Previous sexual abuse
  • Thinking your vagina is too small for sex
  • Relationship problems
  • Fear of pregnancy
  • Damage to the vagina, such as from childbirth
  • Painful conditions of the vagina and surrounding area

How It May Affect Your Life

Women with vaginismus often experience disrupted sex lives, which can lead to distress, loss of confidence and problems in their relationship.

For some women, it may prevent them from starting a family, which can amplify those problems.

Gynecological and pelvic exams are also difficult or impossible, which can leave them at risk for undiagnosed sexual health issues.

Treatment Options for Vaginismus

While you may be hesitant to seek treatment for such a personal issue, there are options that can help.

Luckily, most women who undergo these treatments can find relief and regain their sex lives.

Vaginal Dilation Exercises

Vaginal dilators are tapered devices that can be used to relax the muscles around the vaginal entrance and gently stretch the area. They come in graduated sizes, so the process is slow and pain-free. Over time, vaginal dilators can help desensitize the area and make you more comfortable with touch, which is ideal for those who have phobias around sex.

Kegel Exercises

Kegels are pelvic floor exercises that strengthen the pubococcygeal muscle. They are done by isolating the muscles used to stop the flow of urine, tightening and releasing. Not only can kegel exercises help with vaginismus and heighten sexual pleasure, they can help prevent urinary incontinence as you age.


Personal and relationship therapy can help individuals and couples understand any psychological causes for vaginismus, and work toward creating a solution so the woman is more comfortable having sex.

While treatment can help, it is important to note that some women with vaginismus have very intimate, loving relationships without having sex. If you need some ideas, read the ​​Top 11 Ways to Create More Intimacy Today.


NHS. (15, September 1). Vaginismus: NHS Choices. Retrieved January 29, 2016.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (14, July 28). Vaginismus: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 29, 2016.

Vulval Pain Society. (n.d.). Physiotherapy. Retrieved January 29, 2016, 

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