Why We Need To Talk About Vaginismus More
Content warning: This episode includes discussions of sexual assault.
Isabelle Wood doesn’t know how you are meant to explain to someone you don’t really even know but are about to have sex with, that you have this condition, “that could happen at anytime.”
She’s talking about vaginismus, a condition that impacts many people with vulvas in Australia, yet is rarely spoken about.
“It would like you would just seize up and there’s nothing you can do about it,” she told Junkee.
What Is vaginismus?
“Vaginismus is when there is contraction of the vaginal muscles,” Dr Talat Uppal, an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, told Junkee.
“And what that can mean in a practical sense is that it could be difficult to use tampons. [They] could find sex impossible or very, very painful.”
Isabelle started having sex when she was 17, and found it to be quite painful. “But you know it gets passed off with your friends like, oh, it’s always like that.”
“Then I had surgery to remove my endometriosis. That sort of trauma on the muscles and stuff had made it worse. So it became like almost impossible to have any sort of like penetrative sex and became quite a like shameful thing. Like there was a big correlation between pain and shame,” she said.
“You should not be like collapsing from pain or feeling like there’s razor blades going up your vagina, anytime you like watch like a sex scene on TV. Cause that’s what I was having.”
Vaginismus can be primary, which means that is just occurs without an obvious secondary cause. If it does occur from a secondary cause it can be due to an infection like thrush, or following treatment like radiation.
Endometriosis is also linked to vaginismus.
Endometriosis is this lining of the womb that should be in the centre of the womb but instead sits outside the uterus. “And so you can imagine if there is sexual intercourse in that space, then that could be quite tender,” Dr Uppal explained.
“Then one cannot trivialise the amount of psychological impacts, for example, for people that have had previous trauma, previous sexual assault [and] rape. These are very, very unfortunate and difficult spaces and challenging spaces for women.”
How Is vaginismus treated?
Dr Uppal said that diagnosis is so important to treatment, because knowing what the symptom is or what the problem that the patient is presenting with, will lead to health professionals being able to help them.
“So I eventually kind of tried to be proactive about it. I did some research and it was also in an episode of Sex Education, there was that girl that had it and she was using dilators. So I got in touch with a pelvic floor physiotherapist,” Isabelle said.
Dr Uppal agreed and said one of the strategies that is very helpful is the involvement of a physio. “I find that they’re very good at managing these women with the gynaecologist or with the general practitioner specialist.”
Isabelle recalled how her and her physio had to retrain her vaginal muscles. “And then eventually getting back into the back and deeper muscles and doing a lot of like breathing techniques and relaxing and contracting and almost like retraining muscles to work,” she said.
“It was a lot of homework, a lot of dilator things. Girls were buying vibrators and I was using my dilators.”
“People need to understand that like pain is a sign that there’s something wrong. So if someone’s dismissing your pain, go and find someone who will take your pain seriously.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.