The pain of vaginismus is more than just physical. It’s emotional and psychological as well.

Today’s Wednesday, the day we always talk about marriage. And I’m in the middle of a 3-part series on vaginismus, a condition where women have extreme pain during intercourse (and sometimes can’t even have intercourse) because their muscles tense up involuntarily.

While most women never experience this, between 2-14% of women do suffer from it. And I’ve had so many of these women on this blog, sending me emails and leaving me comments.

Good Girls Guide My SiteI have a special place in my heart for these women, because I went through it, too, as I shared in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. It’s awful. You feel like you’ve been cheated, but at the same time you feel like you’re also cheating your husband.

You feel angry at everyone–at your husband who wants sex even though it hurts you; at the church that gives the message “men need sex” without ever acknowledging that giving him sex causes you great pain; at God who would create men to need sex to feel loved, resulting in you needing to be hurt so he can feel loved.

And then, in order to try to cope and recover from it, you go through physical therapy or try things which seem so degrading.

But you have to, because this isn’t the kind of life you want.

This year I’ve read two books by blogging friends–books where they share about their struggle with vaginismus, too. Jennifer Smith’s The Unveiled Wife and Emily Weiringa’s Making It Home both are such poignant looks at dealing with this condition.

Yesterday I shared a beautiful post by a newlywed with vaginismus who is coming to terms with her diagnosis and is aggressively working to overcome it. Tomorrow I’m going to give a round-up of suggestions on how to deal with vaginismus.

Today I want to give women suffering with the pain of vaginismus a chance to cut through all of the noise about the obligation to have sex and how great sex is supposed to be, and speak their own pain.

And for those of you who have never suffered through with the pain of vaginismus, I hope that by learning about this condition you may be able to encourage someone in the future, too, because it can be so lonely feeling like you’re the only one who has ever gone through this.

I’ve taken these quotes from comments and from emails. Let’s listen to these women:

Women with Vaginismus Speak

From Women Who Wonder if Their View of Sex from Childhood is the Cause

Between watching my parents, who always kept the door of their bedroom cracked open and were almost never physically affectionate with each other in front of my brother and I, and being a teenager during the height of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”‘s popularity, I understood well that sex before marriage was not God’s ideal. But I never really internalized the message that sex after marriage was a good thing. So I did wait for marriage, but in the 2 1/2 years since, I’ve never had pain-free sex. Between that, a pregnancy that I was sick for the whole time, and a tear during labor that took way longer than average to heal from, it’s been a particularly difficult year in the bedroom for my husband and I, and I’ve often wondered if things would be different if I’d gotten a more balanced view of God’s plan for sex and intimacy in marriage. I started physical therapy today to see if that helps the muscle spasms, and I pray that it works. I’m thankful that I have a patient husband, but he deserves better than this from me.

Sheila says: That last phrase breaks my heart. I can feel her defeat–“he deserves better than this from me.” It’s so hard to accept the fact that this isn’t something you are deliberately doing.

I grew up in the Bible Belt USA, the purity message followed me from home, to church, and at school. It was up to me to stay pure and to keep my brothers in Christ from stumbling by how I dressed. I would wear jeans, t-shirts, baggy jackets, no make up, anything to hide my curves. It seemed no matter what I did I’d still get that up down gawking stare from guys, it always made me feel sick and disgusted with myself. … A few months after I graduated we got married–the first guy I dated, the first guy I kissed, the first guy I liked. Then came sex. Sex is for men right? So I had it when he wanted it, how he wanted. Sex was painful and a duty for me. The only time I had heard the word foreplay was closely followed by a message that only sluts like sex. Our first try at foreplay made my skin crawl and I became nauseous. Three years of “quickies” later my Vaginismus became unbearable and I refused to have sex more than once a week. Even that felt like torture. After giving birth he could no longer penetrate and I reached out to my mother to see if it was normal. Long story short, my parents ordered a vaginal dilator set to help with the physical part of Vaginismus and I’ve been tearing down my mental blocks on sex. I absolutely hated the feeling of arousal, hated being caressed and touched. Now I’m letting myself like what I feel and get lost in the moment. I have a long road ahead but I’m starting to enjoy sex for the first time and we haven’t had to use half a bottle of lube each time we have sex.

Sheila says: Waiting years to reach out and ask someone if this is ‘normal’ is also very normal! I wish more women could be like Lauren, who wrote our post yesterday, who sought help immediately. I’m so glad this reader is now starting to enjoy sex!

I never read Harris’s book, but was very influenced by the purity culture. It was just sort of assumed that we wouldn’t kiss until our wedding day. That ended up being the worst kiss of my life, and it took half our honeymoon to actually enjoy kissing! I too had vaginismus, but was too embarrassed to ever talk to anybody about it, we felt like such failures when we got back from our honeymoon without being able to fully consummate our marriage. Because I didn’t know what was wrong with me, nor did I know that there was something I could do about it, the vaginismus didn’t become completely resolved until after my second child was born, 3 years into our marriage. These issues have caused tons of stress and problems for us, and now my husband has become the one completely turned off by sex because it’s taken me so very long to work though my issues. I don’t want to live the rest of my life with these regrets, and am definitely going to raise our daughter differently.

Sheila says: Vaginismus is such a disappointment to husbands, too. We can’t really work at healing unless we do it together. I’m glad that she has found resolution, but in so many marriages, like this one, even if the physical resolves, there’s still a relationship toll.

How vaginismus makes us feel

Vaginismus will make you feel broken. Reading this I kept thinking “that’s me!”. Before we found out what was wrong my husband thought I just didn’t like sex so he got frustrated then didn’t ask for it for a while. After I gave birth it hurt so badly I thought he was tearing me apart. I confessed to my mother and I got help. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one, I’m not broken.

Sheila says: You’re not broken! You aren’t. I’m glad you got help.

Sex is EXTREMELY painful after being married just over a year. I really really want to have a great sex life but I think we’ve only been able to get it more than 1 or 2 inches in once and we only try about once a month now because it is the most excruciating thing I have ever felt. I want to try some type of treatment program.
Sheila says: You definitely should! This is the sort of comment I get a lot–women who have pain but don’t realize that this is a real condition that CAN be treated.

I’ve suffered from vaginismus ever since I got married. I’ve tried to go to doctors and tried some sort of therapy and my husband and I succeeded at having intercourse after one whole year of desperate marriage. But it hurt like anything! I’ve not enjoyed a second of it. Then we had our first and only child. After that we tried several times to have intercourse with no success at all, which created a huge gap between us. We even stopped touching each other. I’m emotionally drained. My husband became a porn addict (which I can’t really blame him though I’m so angry). Now I want a divorce. I wish I never married.
Sheila says: I’m so, so sorry. I see this so often: a whole trail of hurt. Tomorrow I want to touch on how we tend to withdraw from each other, but I know how desperate it can seem.

I cried the first three times we had sex (on our honeymoon) and for the first year of marriage counted ceiling tiles to take my mind off the pain. It caused a significant strain on our marriage, obviously. We felt lied to by everyone (particularly the Christian purity movement) and so alone. I felt like a terrible wife and felt so guilty. I saw a therapist who suggested I had vaginismus. Things are a little better now–nowhere near pleasant, but no bleeding or crying now. My poor husband has been wonderfully supportive most of the time and done his best to be there for me, even though he feels like he is raping me sometimes. We practice other intimacy, and it’s made life bearable. We just don’t want to feel so alone.
Sheila says: One of the hardest parts of vaginismus recovery is that even when you feel better, your husband may have these lingering fears that he’s hurting you, or he feels guilty for causing you pain (and feeling like he was raping you, even if you were the one begging to try ‘just one more time’). Vaginismus isn’t something that just the wife hurts from; husbands hurt too. I’m so glad to see that this couple has clung to each other and is still growing together.


From Women Who Have Found the Cause–and Cure–of the Pain of Vaginismus

I did successfully cope with vaginismus, painful sex & the anxiety I developed around it. My physiotherapist believes mine might be onset by my IBS and bowel issues I’ve had in the past. The pelvic floor is a very sensitive part of your body and physical therapy changed my life!

Sheila says: Absolutely! It isn’t always a psychological root.

I had Vaginismus for the first five years of my marriage. I wanted to add two things 1. It CAN very successfully be treated with physical therapy. There are physiotherapists that specialize in the pelvic floor. 2. It can be caused by physical issues. Mine was caused by a build up of scar tissue from a fairly pelvic surgery I had as an infant.
Sheila says: A common thread I have seen from women who have sought treatment AND been successfully treated is a physiotherapist, NOT a doctor. Many doctors, from the emails I’ve received, made it worse!

A lot of doctors have never even heard of it. I so appreciate that you not only mentioned the psychological issues involved with the condition, but also stated that some women just have pain and no one knows why. Most articles I’ve read about this condition pretty much just say “Try to relax and it won’t hurt anymore.” Real helpful… not! I’ve been married for 8 months and I’m still working on getting over my vaginismus, but dilators have helped me so much. I’ve gone from not being able to insert a tampon (not even the tiny skinny ones) to being able to insert a dilator larger than… well you know. Vaginismus can make you feel hopeless and like a freak of nature, but there is hope! You CAN train your body to function normally. And for those who are married and in the process of dealing with vaginismus, you can still do other sexy things with your husband until intercourse is no longer painful.

Sheila says: That’s definitely one of the most frustrating things–advice from people who just don’t get it! So glad that dilators are helping.

 I, too, had pain when I first started having sex with my husband (we’ve been married 5 1/2 yrs). I did some research to figure out why. In my head, I basically was preparing myself for pain instead of pleasure… Because ..well, It hurt! Also, I found out after I still was in pain after a couple of years- that my hymen was still intact. In fact, I just had a baby in May and my Dr. had to perform a Hymenotomy to make room for baby’s head. It had stretched (it’s an elastic like membrane) overtime from sex so it eventually became less painful but the pain didn’t go away completely. He had to enter me the same way every time or else it hurt. I also would clench or tighten up out of that anticipation of fear. I had to learn to breathe, relax, say: “this is going to feel good, my husband loves me and doesn’t want to or like to hurt me, I want this too.” We took things slooow (which, for a man that’s been waiting for sex- is sometimes hard). There were times it felt so good to him and so bad for me I cried and pushed him off because he would get out of control with the pleasure and sensation. It hurt my feelings the same way- why would he do that when he knows it hurts me? But men can’t think clearly during that time. You have to be patient and just teach them. He learned after a while that he couldn’t be selfish! After my Hymenotomy- sex is the best it’s ever been!! We can do anything and everything pain free.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t get discouraged. I had my own Obgyn (who I DO NOT GO ANYMORE) tell me if I was sexually active, the hymen shouldn’t be a problem or should have been broken already. She didn’t believe me that it was a problem. My OB I go to now said she thought she could help stretch it during delivery but realized it was much thicker than she first thought. Always rely on your instincts because you know your body better than anyone. Also the psychological aspect is HUGE. If you already hold a lot if resentment- you will have to work through that first.

Sheila says: If your doctor isn’t helping–get another doctor! Here’s another story of how getting the right help made all the difference.

THERE IS LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL!! When my husband and I were first married, we were unable to have intercourse at all for 4 months (and believe me, we tried!). Then we found a paragragh on vaginismus in a Christian marriage book we were reading, so we googled it and found help. Today, we have 2 handsome little boys, who are a testimony to God’s grace. We are so thankful that God led us to a solution!! I won’t say ALL of our problems in the area of sex are solved. They aren’t, but we’re sure a whole lot further along than we were 4 1/2 years ago when we first got married. So don’t despair – find help!! It’s out there.
Sheila says: It is indeed! Thank you.

More in our Vaginismus Series:

Most women who have vaginismus feel really alone. If you’re comfortable, can you share this post on Pinterest or Facebook using the buttons below? Women need to understand that there is treatment and that this isn’t normal! Thank you.
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