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Causes

Causes

An Internal Alarm to Brace + Protect

The Internal Alarm

The limbic system is a brain function responsible for filing away emotions and experiences for future reactions. This function also serves as an internal alarm to alert the body of potential threats. There are several different causes of vaginismus. Causes can range from a medical event, something physical, or something psychological. Some women may never know what the reason is. 

The Root of Impossible Penetration

An internal alarm, signaling the body to brace and protect

About Limbic System

The limbic system sounds an internal alarm, alerting the body of potential pain. Reacting to the signal, the body automatically tightens the vaginal muscles, bracing to protect itself from harm. Sex becomes uncomfortable or painful, and entry may be more difficult or impossible depending upon the severity of this tightened state.

Additional sexual attempts result in discomfort, further reinforcing the limbic system response so that it intensifies more. The body experiences increased pain and reacts by bracing more on an ongoing basis, further entrenching this response and creating a vaginismus cycle of pain.

About Internal Alarm

Vaginismus can be triggered by physical events as simple as having inadequate foreplay or lubrication, or non-physical emotions as simple as general anxiety. The trigger acts as an internal alarm, signaling the body to brace and protect itself.

Once triggered, the involuntary muscle tightness occurs without conscious direction; the woman has not intentionally “caused” or directed her body to tighten and cannot make it stop. Women with vaginismus may initially be sexually responsive, but the sounding alarm prevents her body from appropriately responding. The good news is that for most women, the alarm can be “silenced."

About Emotional Triggers

The anticipation of pain, emotional anxieties, or unhealthy sexual messages can contribute to and reinforce the symptoms of vaginismus. Frequently, but not always, there are deep-seated underlying negative feelings of anxiety associated with vaginal penetration.

Emotional triggers that result in vaginismus symptoms are not always readily apparent and require some exploration. It is important that effective treatment processes include addressing any emotional triggers so a full pain-free and pleasurable sexual relationship can be enjoyed upon resolution.

Time to End the Reaction

Cycle of Pain

The limbic system sounds an internal alarm, alerting the body of potential pain. As the body reacts to the signal, it automatically tightens the vaginal muscles, bracing to protect itself from harm.

Sex becomes uncomfortable or painful, and entry may be more difficult or impossible depending upon the severity of this tightened state.

Additional sexual attempts result in discomfort, further reinforcing the limbic system response so that it intensifies more. The body experiences increased pain and reacts by bracing more on an ongoing basis, further entrenching this response and creating a vaginismus cycle of pain.

Examples of Physical Causes

Medical Conditions

Urinary tract infections or urination problems, yeast infections, sexually transmitted disease, endometriosis, genital or pelvic tumors, cysts, cancer, vulvodynia / vestibulodynia, pelvic inflammatory disease, lichen planus, lichen sclerosus, eczema, psoriasis, vaginal prolapse, etc.

Childbirth

Pain from normal or difficult vaginal deliveries and complications, C-sections, miscarriages, etc.

Age-Related Changes

Menopause and hormonal changes, vaginal dryness / inadequate lubrication, vaginal atrophy

Temporary Discomfort

Temporary pain or discomfort resulting from insufficient foreplay, inadequate vaginal lubrication, etc.

Pelvic Trauma

Any type of pelvic surgery, difficult pelvic examinations, or other pelvic trauma

Abuse

Physical attack, rape, sexual/physical abuse or assault

Medications

Side-effects may cause pelvic pain

Examples of Non-Physical Causes

Fears

Fear or anticipation of intercourse pain, fear of not being completely physically healed following pelvic trauma, fear of tissue damage (i.e. “being torn”), fear of getting pregnant, concern that a pelvic medical problem may reoccur, etc.

Anxiety or Stress

General anxiety, performance pressures, previous unpleasant sexual experiences, negativity toward sex, guilt, emotional traumas, or other unhealthy sexual emotions

Partner Issues

Abuse, emotional detachment, fear of commitment, distrust, anxiety about being vulnerable, losing control, etc.

Traumatic Events

Past emotional/sexual abuse, witness of violence or abuse, repressed memories

Childhood Experiences

Overly rigid parenting, unbalanced religious teaching (i.e.”Sex is BAD”), exposure to shocking sexual imagery, inadequate sex education

No Known Cause

Sometimes there is no identifiable cause (physical or non-physical)