Living with vaginismus can make penetrative sex impossible, along with using certain contraceptives, menstrual products and even the ability to get a HPV test.
“Everyone has a different definition of sex. Obviously the general definition for most people would be penetrative and involves a penis and a vagina. I have a different definition.”
This week at LetsGetChecked, we are joined by Jade who works as a journalist. To look at her, you would never think she suffers from any form of health condition, be it physical or psychological. However, Jade has been dealing with Vaginismus for 6 years.
What Is Vaginismus?
The International Classification of Diseases (ICD)-10 categorizes vaginismus either as a “pain disorder” or as a “sexual dysfunction comprised of a spasm of the pelvic floor muscles that surround the vagina, causing the occlusion of the vaginal opening with penile entry being either impossible or painful.”
Vaginismus is a physical and psychological disorder as both body and mind operate in conjunction causing the vaginal walls to spasm and contract. For some women, it is possible to insert a tampon or have a smear test however intercourse is not possible. For others, it’s impossible to penetrate the vagina in any way.
What Are The Symptoms Of Vaginismus?
- Intense fear of penetration of any kind
- Sharp pain if penetration is attempted
- Burning and stinging in the vagina if penetration occurs
- Tightening or clenching of the vaginal walls
- Involuntary spasms of the vaginal wall
Living With Vaginismus
What does vaginismus feel like?
Say if you were clenching your vaginal muscles, it’s like that, but all the time. I’m doing it right now. I have to remind myself to relax. You hear about people with hidden traumas and that connection to vaginismus because something horrible happened to them but this just appeared out of nowhere.
Have you had to overcome emotional and physical barriers living with this disorder?
Yes the condition has negatively affected relationships I’ve had with people who refuse to understand it. It took me a long time to accept that I had vaginismus myself and to accept that treatment wasn’t something that was going to work for me right now. Physically, vaginal sex is impossible for me so that’s not something I consider when I’m having sex. Accepting that took a long time too but eventually it became second nature and allowed me to stop focusing on the condition as a negative.
What happens if there is a potential for penetration?
Whenever anything comes into contact with your vagina it seizes up, it’s an involuntary spasm, even if you’re relaxed it just happens. Even when I want to have sex I just think no, it’s not worth it, it’s going to be sore. A wall appears. It’s just like a block.
Do you find it hard to explain vaginismus to other people?
It depends who asks. Sometimes people are genuinely interested and willing to listen and then others point blank refuse to understand. I’ve experienced people getting angry and aggressive in the past, totally misunderstanding what I’m trying to tell them. It’s a pure indication that a person doesn’t know even half of what they should regarding the female body.
How did you overcome your diagnosis?
My first boyfriend couldn’t accept it and I think he believed it wasn’t a real relationship if there was no sex. I was so young and because he was my first boyfriend I believed it and thought every man was going to be like that and no one would ever be with me because I am like this. I thought I needed to get fixed. Eventually after we did break-up, I realized this wasn’t the case. You’re starting college and everyone is talking about sex asking you if you have done it yet. In your head, that’s scary because you don’t want to say no. It took awhile to get to a place where I wasn’t ashamed of it but it’s something I have accepted now.
Jade can’t use tampons or have penetrative sex. The sheer sight of a condom is anxiety inducing and the thought of a smear test, terrifying. The doctor told her that receiving a cervical check which would involve the insertion of a swab is near impossible due to her vaginismus. HPV is responsible for 100% of all cervical cancers. It is so common that nearly all sexually active women will be infected with it at some point in their lives. Testing for HPV involves vaginal penetration but for people living with vaginismus, this is no easy feat. On this basis, Jade decided to try an at-home HPV test. By removing the stress of a clinical environment and someone else controlling the process, she thought it might give her a better chance of successfully testing for HPV.
Have you been able to get a cervical test before?
Is being in a GP’s office in that situation a cause of distress?
Asking my nurse about getting a smear was nerve wracking because I knew she wasn’t going to offer an alternative I was okay with. Having past vaginal examinations has been extremely stressful too.
What was it like using the LetsGetChecked cervical swab?
It was a lot easier than I thought it would be and seeing as I was in complete control of the situation, I was relaxed and there was no pain at all. I was convinced I had collected the sample wrong though and that I hadn’t inserted the swab far enough.
How did it feel to get your result?
My result came back clear so I was obviously delighted as I had started to get paranoid once I sent my sample back, especially as there has been so much controversy around cervical cancer recently.
Would you recommend the product?
Definitely. It was easy to use and the instructions were thorough. It eliminated the hassle of having to book an appointment or take time off work. I thought it was very user friendly. Perfect for the working millennial on the go!
Find out more about HPV
Written by Hannah Kingston | Approved by Medical Director Dominic Rowley