Vaginal dilators in different sizes for vaginismus treatment.

Is it painful when you apply a tampon? Does it hurt when you have sex? Do you feel tightness in your vagina to the point where you can’t get anything inside? If you or a loved one is dealing with similar symptoms, you might suspect it could be vaginismus. So what exactly is it and what can you do about it? Let’s find out…

Vaginismus is a common condition where the muscles in the pelvic floor tighten and contract involuntarily. This is due to an automatic reaction from the body to the fear of penetration, causing the vagina to tense. Vaginismus makes it difficult to insert anything, whether it’s tampons, menstrual cups, fingers, a penis, sex toys, or other objects.

Living with vaginismus and its symptoms could have a significant impact on our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. In some cases, it could also prevent our relationships from reaching the level of intimacy that we’d like. It definitely doesn’t help that the social and cultural messages we see about sex can give us the impression that it’s always fun and enjoyable for everyone else. This can make many of us feel anxious and isolated, especially as this condition is rarely talked about.

But there's no reason to give up just yet – overcoming vaginismus is possible and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Although it can be frustrating, many treatment options are there to help us regain comfort and yes, even pleasure.

Being aware of this condition might help you to recognise the symptoms and seek the right care and support you need. Or, if you happen to know someone who might have vaginismus, having more understanding will put you in a much better place to help them.

What’s primary and secondary vaginismus? What about situational vaginismus?

Since vaginismus is a rarely discussed condition and somewhat of a mysterious subject, knowing the different types of vaginismus and how they affect your body differently is a good place to start.

Primary vaginismus

If you’ve always experienced symptoms of vaginismus such as pain, difficulties, or fear from the very first time you tried to insert something into your vagina and that worsens over time, this is called primary vaginismus. [1] That basically means that you have never been able to tolerate any form of vaginal penetration without an issue. 

Secondary vaginismus

In the case of secondary vaginismus, you could be fine for many years but develop pain and other symptoms later in life. Although every case is different, secondary vaginismus could be triggered due to vaginal infections (such as thrush), conditions like vulvodynia (a persistent, unexplained pain in the vulva) or vulva skin problems. Other health conditions such as endometriosis or even life events like giving birth could also cause secondary vaginismus. [2]

Situational vaginismus

Having situational vaginismus means that you may experience the symptoms during some types of vaginal penetration, but not during others. For example, it could be triggered for you while having sex, but not when you try to insert a tampon. [3]

So, what causes vaginismus?

You can think of vaginismus as an extreme way of the body to protect you from the fear and anxiety of penetration. These emotions tend to dwell deep in our minds and we may not even be aware of them, until something unexpected triggers a response – like trying to insert a tampon. This makes it difficult to pinpoint what exactly causes vaginismus. 

It may be rooted in our past – for example, if you’ve gone through negative sexual experiences at some point in your life. Your perspective on sex, pregnancy or anything related to your V-Zone (your vagina, vulva and the V-shaped front of your body) might’ve been influenced by your upbringing, culture, myths, taboos, or what you’ve seen online. Any (or a combination) of these beliefs could cause vaginismus to happen. [4]

It’s important to keep in mind that the symptoms of vaginismus are unintentional, meaning you don’t do them on purpose, so try not to be too hard on yourself. Remember, your body is one of a kind and deserves every bit of love and care you can give it – even those parts of you that you might wish to change. 

Most importantly, know that you don’t have to go through this alone. Although opening up to your doctor about such intimate topics can feel scary or embarrassing, the right professional support can help you overcome vaginismus. So don’t let it stop you from doing what’s right for you and your body!  

Symptoms: how can you tell that you have vaginismus?

The symptoms of vaginismus vary widely from one person to another and everyone will experience them differently. For example, some people might be able to use tampons but can’t have penetrative sex, while others can manage sexually, but go through a lot of pain. 

Nonetheless, it’s common to find it difficult or even impossible to put anything in your vagina — it can feel like hitting a brick wall. You may also experience a burning or stinging sensation coupled with vaginal tightness during sex. 

Because this condition can’t be seen and is involuntary, it makes it difficult to recognise whether you have vaginismus or not in the first place, especially if you haven’t heard about it before. This is further fuelled by the lack of medical research and awareness of this condition, which is why — however sensitive and difficult it may be — it’s so important to talk about vaginismus!  

Is there treatment or therapy for vaginismus?

Although there is no such thing as a magical cure for vaginismus, there are several treatment options available. Because it’s a complex condition, finding the right approach for you can be quite tricky. This is where health professionals (such as gynaecologists, physical therapists, or sexual counsellors) come in. They’ll usually begin treatment by carefully checking your history and looking at what factors might be causing vaginismus. Sharing your intimate life in detail with a stranger can be daunting, but it can also shine a light on the clues that lead to a solution (so it’s worth it!).

Once your doctor understands your particular case, it is common for them to combine a few treatment techniques: from teaching you more about vaginismus, your pelvic floor, and sex, to therapy that helps manage any anxieties and concerns you might have. Physiotherapy and exercises using dilators (instruments that gently stretch the vagina) might then be gradually introduced to help you learn how to relax, not only your pelvic floor but also your body in general.

Treating vaginismus is not easy, but with the right help, you can overcome it!

Overcoming vaginismus

As well as getting treatment, there are other things you can do to help yourself and other women+ who might be experiencing vaginismus. If you can get past the initial discomfort of talking about it, speaking up and sharing your story can get a load off your chest and encourage others to share their own experiences too.

Overcoming vaginismus takes time, so try to be patient with your body. And remember, there are other ways you can be intimate with your partners beyond penetration. It can feel a bit awkward to open up to them about this, but good communication, checking in for consent, and trusting each other are key in any relationship. 

The journey to recovery can feel like an endless road – but don’t lose hope. Just take it one step at a time and remember that there’s no need to rush the process. You’ll get there. You’re undefeated. You’ve got this!

And if you’re not going through this personally, but a partner or friend is, you can help create an environment where they can talk freely and openly about it with you – be encouraging and respectful of their boundaries, and just let them know you’re listening. Sometimes simply knowing they don’t have to suffer in silence makes all the difference.


If you’d like to learn more, why not find out why you can be your vagina and vulva’s biggest fan and what you can do to feel more positive and confident about your body image? 

Medical disclaimer

The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.