Have you ever been uncomfortable when having sex but you are not sure as to why it happens? You just have muscles that are tense and tighten whenever penetration occurs?
You might think there is something wrong with you, but I am here to tell you that there isn’t. You might have what is called vaginismus, a condition where vaginal muscles involuntarily contract, especially before and during penetration.
This makes penetration either impossible or extremely painful. These unintentional muscle spasms occur when something – a penis, finger, tampon or medical instrument – attempts to penetrate the vagina. The spasms may be mildly uncomfortable or very painful.
However, the causes vaginismus isn’t clear yet, because it is said to be psychosomatic.
This means there isn’t anything physically abnormal in those who have it, but it is rather often linked to emotional or psychological causes.
In most cases, it can also be linked to the perception one has around sexual intercourse and its take, especially if you come from a conservative, religious home, where sexual intercourse was shamed – and no education on it was provided.
It can also be caused by anxiety, emotional distress, previous uncomfortable sexual experiences, and previous sexual abuse.
At a later stage in life, it can also be triggered after childbirth or menopause. Doctors do not know how common it is because people who suffer from it are often embarrassed to talk about it with their health professionals.
The signs of vaginismus include discomfort or pain during vaginal penetration, the inability to have sex or have a pelvic exam due to vaginal muscle spasms, or painful intercourse.
If these are symptoms that you have, you should see a doctor, as it isn’t normal – and there is treatment such as vaginal dilator therapy.
These are tube-shaped devices that come in various sizes to stretch the vagina. People with vaginismus use dilators to become more comfortable with, and less sensitive to, vaginal penetration.
Your health care provider may recommend first applying a topical numbing cream to the outside of the vagina to make insertion easier.
Other than that, one can also use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as well as sexual therapy.
CBT helps you understand how your thoughts affect your emotions and behaviours. It’s an effective treatment for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sex therapy, on the other hand, involves a trained sex therapist that will work with individuals and couples to help them find pleasure again in their sexual relationships.
It might be something embarrassing to talk about, but it is important that one does, because it might affect you in the long run.
• Frieda Mukufa’s lifestyle section concentrates on women-related issues and parenting every Friday in the New Era newspaper. She also specialises in editing research proposals, proofreading as well as content creation.