“I was just a few weeks into a new relationship when the pain started. Whenever myKate Lloyd, The Guardian, August 2020
boyfriend and I started to have penetrative sex, it felt as if there were razor blades inside me.
At first I laughed it off, but soon I became terrified of intercourse. My body would freeze with
fear as my clothes came off.”
What is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is the term used to describe recurrent or persistent involuntary tightening of muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted.
The symptoms include burning or stinging pain upon penetration, as well as intense fear or loss of desire when penetration is attempted.
It is a complex psychosomatic condition, and the causes can be varied, such as painful first intercourse, sexual abuse, fear of pregnancy, or a deeply rooted belief that sex is wrong. Vaginismus isn’t ‘only’ about sex, it’s about life. Penetrative sex is not the only thing its victims lose – let’s be honest, not all of us prioritize that – but a sense of intimacy or self-worth too. It can painfully interfere with regular gynaecological examinations, the use of tampons and period cups, or even childbirth. And if you have no one to talk to and share your experiences, the isolation can be unbearable.
Vaginismus Awareness Day
A new survey on vaginismus carried out by feminist sex shop and wellness brand Sh! has found that almost 70 percent of women with the condition suffer depression or a feeling of “being broken” as a result. Vaginismus, the painful, involuntary tightening of muscles around the vagina during sexual or other forms of penetration, is a complex psychosexual condition that many women suffer in fear and silence. The good news is that, with the proper advice and support, the symptoms are treatable in 95 percent of cases.
Recognising the urgent need to address the problem, Sh! created Vaginismus Awareness Day in 2015. Now in its seventh year, the event has had great success in opening up the conversation around the experience of painful sex, and banishing the fear, shame and bewilderment that often accompanies it. This year’s online event – VAD – hosted by Sh! sex educator extraordinaire Evie Fehilly, brings together an expert panel of therapists, educators, campaigners and artists with direct experience of living with or treating vaginismus. The evening (7pm UK time) will provide a lively, inclusive forum to discuss the physical and psychological impact of painful sex, and to empower and inform all women and vulva-owners who experience it.
While no reliable statistics exist about the exact number of women with vaginismus, studies estimate that around half of all women suffer pain or discomfort during sex at some point during their lifetime – indicating that the number could be substantial. Sh!’s survey of 50 women with the condition in July 2021 found that 96 percent suffered pain during sexual penetration, while 70 percent struggled with vaginally invasive activities such as smear tests or inserting a tampon. A quarter of those surveyed said they avoided dating or relationships because of their condition. While a number of respondents said they received excellent help from health practitioners, others said the medical response was woefully inadequate. Some doctors told them they just needed to “relax more” during sex and one even told their patient to “drink wine”.
Sh! has a dedicated website vaginismusawareness.com with all the resources required to become better informed and find support and solutions for those with vaginismus. The site includes real-life stories and experiences of vaginismus sufferers, as well as available treatments.
Tickets for the Vaginismus Awareness Day online event are £3 and ALL proceeds will go to the Dilator Pay It Forward Scheme. [Those on limited income, please contact Sh! for a free ticket]
This is a guest post from Sh! However, I was very pleased to host the article, as I totally agree that there needs to be more education and information regarding vaginismus. May More
More about Sh
Founders of the UK’s first women’s sex shop in 1992, Sh! are pioneers in female pleasure, on a mission to help all women (and those that love them) discover their true sexual selves, whatever their age, sexuality, health or relationship status.
Sh! is a safe haven where women can explore their own unique relationship to sex; pressure-free, hype-free and stereotype-free.
Delivering tailored advice, trusted information, empowering classes and a unique range of pleasure-enhancing goodies, and understanding that healthy sexuality is key to self-esteem and happiness, Sh! prioritises honest conversations about sexual wellbeing, pleasure and body-image, within a comfortable, judgement-free vibe