Vaginismus plagues, to some extent, about 10% of wives.
It means that sex hurts–in some cases so much so that intercourse is impossible.
This is the last of a 3-part series on vaginismus. On Tuesday we heard from Lauren, a young newlywed coming to terms with vaginismus and dealing with all the emotions that brings. Yesterday we heard the voices of women dealing with the pain of vaginismus. And today I want to give 9 steps that can help in overcoming vaginismus.
Dealing with the Emotions of Vaginismus:
1. Don’t Feel Guilty About Having Vaginismus
It isn’t your fault. You did not cause this.
Please hear me on this one! One of the most common feelings when you have vaginismus is intense guilt. We’re supposed to give our husbands this incredible sex life, and our bodies aren’t even able!
And he’s disappointed, and we feel so desperate to have him not be disappointed.
Yesterday I shared these words from one of the dear commenters on the blog:
he deserves better than this from me.
And my heart just breaks, because I understand, since I was there, too–for the first few years of our marriage.
And we hear all about how he needs sex, and how he waited for sex, and now you’re supposed to give it to him and you can’t.
But guilt will not cure vaginismus.
In fact, guilt can make it worse, because in our guilt we can push ourselves too hard too fast. Talk about what you’re feeling. Tell him what you need, while reassuring him that you want to get better, too:
I need you to understand that it’s not that I’m rejecting sex; I’m rejecting pain. I want more than anything else to be able to have sex, and I want to work towards that, but right now we may have to find other things to do because I don’t want my brain to associate pain with sex any more than it already does. I want to work towards healing, and I’m going to really need your support and your affirmation, because I just feel so lousy about this.
2. Let Your Husband Feel Disappointment
You’re dealing with this, but so is he. And he is going to be frustrated and hurt. Let him have those feelings. So often when we’re feeling something intensely we project it onto him. So if we’re feeling guilty about depriving him of a great sex life, and then he seems disappointed, we can read onto him: “He thinks I should be doing more even if it hurts me!” Maybe he’s just thinking,
I’m so frustrated, and I want to support my wife, but I don’t know how.
Let him be upset. But remember that you’re a team, and keep reassuring each other you have the same end goal.
3. Remember: No One Has the “Right” to Great Sex
What makes vaginismus so hard to deal with is that we feel cheated, but at the same time we also feel like we’re cheating our husbands.
But great sex is not a “right” or an “entitlement”. It is a gift that God gives to us in marriage, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will receive it at the same time.
Some people are born partially paralyzed. Some people are born deaf. Some people are in car accidents and live with chronic pain. You don’t have the “right” to a pain-free life or to hearing or to sight or to mobility any more than you have the right to great sex.
You aren’t being cheated, and you aren’t cheating anyone. You’re just experiencing a real disappointment. But it is one that can be successfully treated!
Dealing with Sex While Vaginismus Is Still Being Treated:
4. Be Very Patient with Yourself–and with Your Husband
Forcing yourself to do something which is excrutiating will likely prolong the condition, because you further cement the association of pain with intercourse in your brain.
You also set up a really difficult emotional dynamic for your husband, where he can feel so guilty for wanting sex. As one commenter said yesterday, her husband feels like he’s raping her, but she also wants to have intercourse so she doesn’t feel like a failure.
What often happens years later, after the pain goes away, is that both people have difficulty getting past the emotional dynamics they’ve created. He still feels guilty for wanting sex, and she resents the fact that he would do something that hurt her–even if she asked him to. You can avoid a lot of this by talking openly, working towards a cure, and having fun doing other things in the meantime.
5. Don’t Take Shortcuts to Arousal
One of the most common problems that couples get sucked into when vaginismus hits is fantasy and pornography. We women can be desperate to feel aroused, since sex doesn’t do it, and desperate to prove that we do have a sex drive, that we turn to porn or erotica. One of my friends who had vaginismus had a doctor tell her to a buy a vibrator. So she used it and enjoyed it, but it didn’t help at all with intercourse. And then she found her desire for her husband went away even more!
I had been exposed to pornography when I was younger, and with easy access to the Internet I knew where to seek it. I did not understand when or how it gained such a rule over my life; just like my husband, I became a slave to my own lust. I understood the weight of my husband’s addiction all too well, even though I never wanted to tell him. I felt like confessing such a sin would somehow condone his actions or make them less hurtful toward me. I was deceived, but unlike Aaron, I was left without any accountability to help me defend my heart or marriage against such evil.
When a craving to look at explicit images manifested, I stumbled through thousands of different photos, the majority of which included females. I fantasized about being those women. A desire to be sexy, to feel wanted, to experience a good sexual encounter, all pulled me into a world of lust where I tried to create an environment or circumstance that fulfilled me. I was filling my mind with these images, unknowingly connecting sexual gratification with females, which fed an intensely growing craving.
She fell into a struggle with porn that she had to break before she could grow her intimacy with her husband.
And then many men fall into porn because they feel like at least then they won’t be pressuring their wives.
Porn is not harmless. The effects of porn are devastating on your libido and your sex life. And it won’t help vaginismus–it will only make you dissociate, so that when you’re having sex you’re thinking about something other than your husband. That hurts intimacy; it doesn’t enhance it.
Overcoming Vaginismus Once and For All:
6. Get a Good Health Professional
If your doctor tells you to use a vibrator, get a different doctor. If your doctor dismisses your concerns, or says, “just give it time!”, get another doctor. If your doctor prescribes a recovery plan for vaginismus that scares you to death, get another opinion.
From all the commenters I’ve had, the vast majority who did find relief found it through a physical therapist, not from a doctor. Physiotherapists are trained to help you deal with muscle pain far more than physicians are, and getting a referral to a good one is likely your best plan.
7. Try Some Vaginal Dilators
Most treatment programs for vaginismus will include learning how to relax the muscles at the opening 1 1/2 inches of the vagina so that sex becomes possible–and comfortable. The easiest way to do this is to use vaginal dilators. I know that sounds scary, and they look kinda scary, but you can do it by yourself, at your own pace. You can use some lubricant with them, too!
Other physiotherapists recommend not just dilators but weights that you actually insert and keep inside you. This forces you to use the muscles to keep them in place, which “trains” you in how to use and activate those muscles. Ironically, if we learn how to “squeeze”, then it’s also far easier to learn how to relax.
Even when you’re having intercourse, it works best to squeeze him first before you try to relax, because then you engage the muscles. So both dilators and weights will help you learn to control the muscles, which can stop the involuntary squeezing.
8. Don’t Run Away from Physical Intimacy
You may not be able to have intercourse comfortably, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be sexual with each other! And, in fact, it’s even more important that you try, because you need the closeness that comes from being sexual, and you need the release from orgasm, and you need to know that your body can, actually, respond!
There are sexual options beyond intercourse, and don’t shy away from them.
Here’s Jennifer Smith on this:
The more we neglected sexual intimacy, the worse our attitudes grew toward each other. It was as if we were building walls in our hearts, keeping each other at a distance, rather than building a bridge between us. With each impenetrable wall we built, knowing each other in an intimate way became a more impossible challenge. After a few arguments erupted and were drawn out over several days, it dawned on me that our relationship seemed the most vulnerable when we went long periods without engaging in romance.
9. Look to All Possible Causes
Finally, look at all possible causes of vaginismus. For some of us it’s teaching we had on sex when we were younger that made us feel like sex was something dirty. For some of us it’s abuse. In both of these cases, talking to a counselor can really help, and may be all that’s needed to fix the problem.
For others of us there’s a physical cause: the pelvic floor muscles which cause vaginismus are also affected by the bowel and by other parts of the body. Talking to a physiotherapist may help you find other causes. For some of us it’s trauma during childbirth. You may have been able to have sex fine beforehand, but after birth and some tearing you never recovered. A physiotherapist can often help with this.
Jennifer Smith found that her vaginismus had an environmental root: the parabens in her toiletries. Going paraben free led to an almost overnight recovery (after being unable to consummate their marriage for four years!).
So don’t assume that if you have vaginismus you must have some repressed sexual abuse memories or something. It may not be that at all! And some people never do find an underlying cause. But whether or not you identify the cause, you can still work on getting better!
In my book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I talk about my own journey with vaginismus and what you can do about it. I also help us to get a healthier view of sex–so that it’s not about obligation or something “just animal”, but that it’s something truly intimate and lots of fun. If you’re in a downward spiral where you hate all things sexual, I really encourage you to read this and get a different perspective.
If you’re suffering from vaginismus, I hope this series has helped you.
There is hope. You can get better. Sex can be absolutely great without any pain at all. So cling to your husband, pray hard, and don’t give up!