What is Vaginismus

August 30, 2022

When women experience pain during sex, the last thing they may think about is seeing a physical therapist for help. But painful sex, which is often caused by a condition known as vaginismus, is just one of several issues our McLean and Bethesda pelvic health physical therapist team can manage and treat.

If you’re frustrated or worried about things like painful sex, please understand that you’re not alone—and if you’re looking for answers, a pelvic floor PT may be able to help! 

Keep reading to learn more about vaginismus and how our staff at ITR Physical Therapy can help you or your partner who is struggling.

Understanding Vaginismus

Vaginismus (say “va-juh-NIZ-mus”) means unintentional tensing of the muscles of the vagina. (Quick anatomy review: the vagina is the muscular canal that connects the vulva, the visible portion of the female genitalia, to the cervix, the lower end of the uterus.) People with this condition experience involuntary contraction of the vaginal muscles when something penetrates or attempts to penetrate the vagina, such as a penis, finger, or medical instrument like a speculum. This can cause mild, moderate, or even severe pain in the vaginal area.

Pain caused by vaginismus is usually noticeable during sex, during a pelvic health exam, and/or when attempting to insert a period product such as a tampon or menstrual cup. Other conditions, like menopausal vaginal atrophy, can present like vaginismus, so it’s important to see a health care provider if you or someone you love has concerns—getting the right diagnosis helps ensure that you get the right treatment.

What Causes Vaginismus?

Vaginismus is likely caused by a combination of factors, including physical and psychological ones. Things like a history of sexual trauma, anxiety disorders, injuries related to childbirth, and prior surgery in the pelvic area can all contribute. Women with vaginismus may also notice that their pain gets worse when they have a urinary tract infection (UTI) or yeast infection.

How Common is Vaginismus?

We don’t know for sure how many individuals have vaginismus. Some estimates suggest that anywhere from 1 to 6 percent of people with vaginas are affected, although that figure could be higher given the possibility that some women are reluctant to discuss such private health concerns.

How Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Helps Women with Vaginismus

Pelvic floor physical therapy for women with vaginismus typically includes a combination of manual therapy, pelvic floor exercises,, mindful breathwork, and postural re-training. Other treatments such as yoga or mind-body coaching can also be quite helpful. The goal of care is to help women learn how to relax their pelvic floor muscles and increase their tolerance to vaginal penetration, while also optimizing overall pelvic health and ideally pleasure.

Many women find significant and lasting relief with physical therapy alone! And pelvic floor PT a mainstay of treatment for those living with vaginismus.  

Are You Concerned About Vaginismus Symptoms?

With over twenty years of service in this field, the staff at ITR Physical Therapy is deeply committed to providing premier women’s health physical therapy in Bethesda, MD and McLean, VA. We strive to create a calm, private, and safe environment for women to ask questions, discover sustainable solutions to their health concerns, heal their bodies, and reclaim the confidence and self-compassion that they deserve!

If you believe you experience signs and symptoms of vaginismus and would like to speak to a Bethesda or McLean pelvic floor physical therapist, contact us today at 301-770-7060 to schedule an appointment.

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