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Vaginismus

Sexual dysfunction - vaginismus

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.

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 DS, Lentz GM. Emotional aspects of gynecology: depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, substance use disorders, "difficult" patients, sexual function, rape, intimate partner violence, and grief. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017: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.

  • Female reproductive anatomy

    Female reproductive anatomy - illustration

    External structures of the female reproductive anatomy include the labium minora and majora, the vagina and the clitoris. Internal structures include the uterus, ovaries, and cervix.

    Female reproductive anatomy

    illustration

  • Causes of painful intercourse

    Causes of painful intercourse - illustration

    Dyspareunia (painful intercourse) refers to pain in the pelvic area during or after intercourse, and can occur in both women and men. Besides possible physical causes, pain may occur in association with psychological factors such as previous sexual trauma.

    Causes of painful intercourse

    illustration

  • Female reproductive anatomy (mid-sagittal)

    Female reproductive anatomy (mid-sagittal) - illustration

    The female reproductive and urinary systems.

    Female reproductive anatomy (mid-sagittal)

    illustration

    • Female reproductive anatomy

      Female reproductive anatomy - illustration

      External structures of the female reproductive anatomy include the labium minora and majora, the vagina and the clitoris. Internal structures include the uterus, ovaries, and cervix.

      Female reproductive anatomy

      illustration

    • Causes of painful intercourse

      Causes of painful intercourse - illustration

      Dyspareunia (painful intercourse) refers to pain in the pelvic area during or after intercourse, and can occur in both women and men. Besides possible physical causes, pain may occur in association with psychological factors such as previous sexual trauma.

      Causes of painful intercourse

      illustration

    • Female reproductive anatomy (mid-sagittal)

      Female reproductive anatomy (mid-sagittal) - illustration

      The female reproductive and urinary systems.

      Female reproductive anatomy (mid-sagittal)

      illustration


     

    Review Date: 4/19/2018

    Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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