The Symptoms of Vaginismus
Vaginismus can occur at any age, even after enjoying intercourse previously. Primary vaginismus is early onset vaginismus that typically occurs in young women attempting sex for the first time and finding they are unable to consummate. Secondary vaginismus is indicated when sexual intercourse had not been problematic before but becomes a problem later with ongoing, unexplained tightness, pain, or discomfort.
How sexually INEXPERIENCED women encounter vaginismus
"I experience burning pain upon penetration attempts."
"I'm still a virgin even though we've tried many times—it's like he hits a wall."
"We can't consummate our marriage—it's impossible."
A woman may find that during her first attempt at sexual intercourse, full penile penetration seems physically impossible, almost as if there is no opening, or like there is a wall where the vaginal opening is supposed to be.
After such a painful episode during intimacy, many women mistakenly wonder if they are physically abnormal. Some thoughts could be their vagina is too small, their hymen is deformed and blocking the vaginal opening, or they have no vaginal opening at all. Such thoughts are understandable, given that the extent of vaginal muscle tightening can make it seem like the vaginal opening is unusually tiny or nonexistent.
However, anatomical malformations that would block penile entry are extremely rare, while vaginismus is more common, though many don’t know about the condition. In fact, in unconsummated relationships where the problem is due to the female (not resulting from a male erection issue), vaginismus is the most common cause for the frustration and pain.
Sometimes there are early signs of primary vaginismus prior to first-time intercourse that woman (especially who are younger) can experience, such as:
- Difficulty inserting tampons—A woman cannot insert tampons, even after repeated, earnest attempts.
- Inability to complete internal vaginal examinations—A physician’s attempted speculum or finger insertion is difficult due to the constricted vaginal opening, which appears to be unusually small or tense. Physicians may also notice a patient reflexively tensing and pushing her body away upon being touched in this area.
Some women may wonder if they have experienced partial penetration during intercourse, but typically the tip of the penis is only pressing into the fleshy outer vulva area, not fully into the vaginal canal. Rarely can the couple complete significant penetration; and when they do, it causes pain because of relentless vaginal tightness. Further attempts typically fail to achieve success for a couple, resulting in even greater discomfort for the woman and putting a strain on a couple’s intimacy.
How sexually EXPERIENCED women encounter vaginismus
"Sex was fine until after the baby—now it always hurts."
“Ever since the operation I feel burning pain when I try to get him in."
"I seem to 'tighten' up down there even when I really want to have sex."
“After menopause, I began to feel soreness and now I tighten up."
Secondary vaginismus often appears later in life, causing ongoing sexual tightness, discomfort, or pain—sometimes in women who previously had a perfectly normal sex life. The condition can arise from a wide variety of triggers, such as due to surgery, trauma, or hormonal changes (menopause). After the triggering issue has been resolved, a woman may find she feels ongoing tightness and cannot experience pain-free sexual intercourse as she once did.
In some women, the discomfort comes about rather abruptly; for others, there may be years of tolerable sex, punctuated by incidences of increasing pain during sex. With episodes of painful intercourse, a woman begins to experience heightened anxiety when sex comes about, since it no longer brings pleasure and, in fact, feels just the opposite for her. This often leads to avoidance of intercourse altogether, with sexual intimacy becoming less and less frequent for a couple.
Unaddressed, continued discomfort and tension arising from vaginismus causes couples to eventually discontinue having sexual intercourse altogether out of frustration and disappointment. Often relationships are strained when untreated vaginismus hinders the physical and emotional needs met through sexual intimacy.
To recap, here are the differences in symptoms for younger and older women who have vaginismus:
Vaginismus Symptoms in Younger Women
- Sexual penetration seems physically impossible despite repeated attempts—there seems to be a barrier for intercourse to occur. The woman may feel physically abnormal or wonder if her vagina is too small; however vaginismus is responsible for +99% of these cases.
- Vaginismus is the main cause of unconsummated relationships where it is a female issue and not the man's erectile dysfunction.
Other early symptoms SOMETIMES noticed (though not in connection to vaginismus):
- Difficulty inserting tampons from youth even after repeated attempts.
- Difficulty undergoing pelvic/gynecological exam with speculum.
Symptoms in Mature, Sexually Experienced Women
- Unexplained, ongoing sexual tightness, pain, or discomfort, though sex used to be fine and not an issue. It often follows temporary sexual pain experiences, pelvic/medical issues, and menopause. Typical examples include having ongoing problems following a difficult natural-birth delivery of a child; a urinary tract infection; a yeast infection; an STD; age-related changes in natural lubrication; rape or assault; a pause of many years between spouses and intercourse; or other similar events.
- The ongoing, reactive tightness can be perplexing—"Why does sex still hurt?"; "Why is it always uncomfortable now?" Vaginismus persists after the initial problem is resolved or healed and will usually continue to cause problems until it is treated.