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Vaginismus

Definition

Vaginismus is a spasm of the muscles surrounding the vagina that occurs against your will. The spasms close the vagina and can prevent sexual activity and medical exams.

Alternative Names

Sexual dysfunction - vaginismus

Causes

Vaginismus is a sexual problem. It has several possible causes, including:

  • Past sexual trauma or abuse
  • Mental health factors
  • A response that develops due to physical pain
  • Intercourse

Sometimes no cause can be found.

Vaginismus is an uncommon condition.

Symptoms

The main symptoms are:

  • Difficult or painful vaginal penetration during sex. Vaginal penetration may not be possible.
  • Vaginal pain during sexual intercourse or a pelvic exam.

Women with vaginismus often become anxious about sexual intercourse. This does not mean they cannot become sexually aroused. Many women with this problem can have orgasms when the clitoris is stimulated.

Exams and Tests

A pelvic exam can confirm the diagnosis. A medical history and complete physical exam are needed to look for other causes of pain with sexual intercourse (dyspareunia).

Treatment

A health care team made up of a gynecologist, physical therapist, and sexual counselor can help with treatment.

Treatment involves a combination of physical therapy, education, counseling, and exercises such as pelvic floor muscle contraction and relaxation (Kegel exercises).

Vaginal dilation exercises using plastic dilators are recommended. This method helps to make the person less sensitive to vaginal penetration. These exercises should be done under the direction of a sex therapist, physical therapist, or other health care provider. Therapy should involve the partner and can slowly lead to more intimate contact. Intercourse may ultimately be possible.

You will get information from your provider. Topics may include:

  • Sexual anatomy
  • Sexual response cycle
  • Common myths about sex

Outlook (Prognosis)

Women who are treated by a sex therapy specialist can very often overcome this problem.

References

Cowley D, Lentz GM. Emotional aspects of gynecology: depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, substance abuse, "difficult" patients, sexual function, rape, intimate partner violence, and grief. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2012:chap 9.

Swerdloff RS, Wang C. Sexual dysfunction. In: Jameson JL, De Groot LJ, de Kretser DM, et al, eds. Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 123.


Review Date: 5/16/2016
Reviewed By: Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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