Illustration: Ari Saperstein

What is Vaginismus?

Vaginismus is an involuntary contraction of the muscles surrounding the entrance to the vagina. It doesn’t interfere with sexual arousal, but it does make penetration painful – and sometimes, impossible.

What Causes Vaginismus?

Hope & Her state that there can be various causes for Vaginismus, ranging from, physical and mental medical conditions, age-related changes, defects at birth, and medications, to abuse – however sometimes there is simply no identifiable cause. 

“Depending on the intensity, penetration issues will range from minor burning sensations with tightness to total closure of the vaginal opening with impossible penetration.”

Two Types of Vaginismus

According to, vaginismus is classified into two types: primary vaginismus and secondary vaginismus. 

Primary Vaginismus: When vaginal penetration has never been achieved. // Secondary Vaginismus: When vaginal penetration has been previously achieved, but is no longer possible, potentially due to factors such as gynecologic surgery, trauma, or radiation.


There is also dyspareunia, which is the medical term for painful sexual intercourse. It’s often confused with vaginismus, but dyspareunia could be due to cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease, or vaginal atrophy.

To read more on dyspareunia, Mayo Clinic have written a useful article with everything you need to know about dyspareunia. Just click the link.

Image result for vaginismus cartoon


“For most of my teens and early twenties I struggled with vaginismus. You wouldn’t know you had an issue until you go to try and have sex. You could be fine using tampons, but suddenly when it matters, then everything just clamps shut. Great.

I only found out that I had Vaginismus when I tried to have sex for the first time when I was 16. The opportunity arose – parents and younger siblings were away for the weekend, we got down to it, condom on and it wasn’t going in…

We tried wiggling around, different positions, nothing was working. Worst of all, it would be extremely painful when we forced it. Then his parents returned earlier than planned, and I found myself running down their incomprehensibly long driveway with the wrong shoes on my feet.” – J, London, 29

As time went by, she felt nervous when it came around to having to explain her Vaginismus to a new partner. One night stands and flings would be even more confused. Making some relationships difficult, well sexual ones anyway… 

“There were occasions when I was very grateful that I didn’t sleep with someone who I knew I would have regretted. And it was a relief to not worry about pregnancy too much either. I managed this way for nearly 9 years after I first tried to have sex.” – J

Vaginismus Treatments

J recommends that the use of vaginal dilators can help with vaginismus. The NHS have a poster with everything you need to know about vaginal dilators, and they define a vaginal dilator as a plastic shape that is used to stretch (widen and lengthen) the vagina. They come in a range of sizes, as displayed in the image below, to allow gradual stretching of the vagina. 

Vuva Girl have written a useful article on what you need to know about how to use vaginal dilators. They state that for best results, you should use them 1-2 times a day. 

She finds that breathing exercises before sex help too, taking slow inhalations to saturate the lungs with oxygen, relaxing the body.

A Little Reassurance…

“I’m still grateful in a weird way for my vaginismus. In my head, my vagina is this odd prudish lady and she’s got way more sense than me! It taught me the value of taking things slowly, taught me more about my body than I would have known otherwise, and also protected me from some shitty hookups. So if you’re experiencing this, please don’t panic and please don’t think you’re weird. There is loads more information on it now, and it’s much more readily accessible. And at the very least, use it as an excuse to get him to go down on you girl!” – J, London, 29

Get Involved

If you would like to share one of your sex stories that you deem to be ’embarrassing’ or ‘cringey’ or even if you have any questions, send them over to and let’s change that! Shit Happens is a completely #JudgementFreeZone and I need YOUR stories!

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