Getting help for vaginismus and moving from powerlessness to empowerment

Getting help for vaginismus and moving from powerlessness to empowerment

Sexual wellbeing and sexuality are an integral part of us, it is intrinsically linked to our overall health and wellbeing. Which is why when a woman experiences vaginismus it can feel devastating causing physical, psychological and emotional distress which filters out into everyday life and relationships. It not only impacts on sexual intimacy in the present, but can create a sense of powerlessness over your own body when it does not respond in the way you want and expect it too. Similar to performance anxiety, this powerlessness creates concerns and worry around future intimacy.

‘Vaginismus is caused by the involuntary spasm of a group of muscles surrounding the vagina, called the pubococcygeal muscles.’  – Vicky Forde author of Overcoming Sexual Problems

How does Vaginismus effect sexual intimacy?

Vaginismus directly impacts upon intimate relationships and can disrupt the female sexual response cycle leading to diminished desire, frustration and overwhelming anxiety around sexual intimacy. Some couples naturally learn to navigate around the condition and develop satisfying sexual intimacy in their own way without vaginal penetration. A supportive and involved partner is an important influence when it comes to women overcoming vaginismus. As it can lead to fertility challenges and difficulty conceiving naturally, family planning can be a catalyst for couples seeking professional help with a sex therapist.

Why do women feel reluctant to initially get help for Vaginismus?

There are many deeply personal reasons why women wait to seek out professional help for vaginismus. These include feeling unclear about who to turn too, anxiety, fear of examination, fear of the unknown, shame, embarrassment and commonly general discomfort talking about private topics such as sex. It is 100% normal to feel apprehensive and uncomfortable talking about sexual problems, after all, it is not something we have a lot of experience or exposure to in everyday life. Even couples in therapy who are together decades experience difficulty talking openly about sex, sensuality and sexuality.

Thankfully there are experienced medical and health professionals who specialise in sexual health, pelvic pain and psychosexual problems who you can turn to for help and support with vaginismus, dyspareunia and related sexual problems. Working with a medical professional or therapist will give you the language, knowledge and skills to confidently move forward into a space were dealing with the condition feels manageable and hopefully – empowering for you.

Self-diagnosis versus professional diagnosis

Diagnosing vaginismus may require both a medical and psychological consultation as there are several factors to take into consideration. It is not the same as painful penetrative sex or fear of sexual intimacy however these are factors that need to be taken into consideration when assessing symptoms and discussing sexual history. Women often self-diagnose based on limited information which is why it is beneficial to seek out a professional for help to either accurately self-identify with vaginismus or for an official diagnosis and suggested goal plan from a health professional.

‘The good news is that when you understand how your sexual response mechanisms work, you can begin to take control of your environment and your brain in order to maximize your sexual potential, even in a broken world. And when you change your environment and your brain, you can change and heal your sexual functioning.’ – Emily Nagoski author of Come As You Are

What should I do if I suspect I have Vaginismus?

If you experience symptoms of vaginismus or dyspareunia, the first step will be to consult with a trusted GP doctor or a women’s health clinic, they may then suggest a referral to a Gynaecologist, Physician, Sex Therapist or Pelvic Specialist.  Organisations like The Well Woman’s Centre specialise in women’s sexual and reproductive health and have multi-disciplinary teams who specialise in vaginismus and genito-pelvic pain disorders.

There are a number of health professionals you can consider attending that will be able to help and support you with the condition of vaginismus. If you have private medical insurance, it may be possible to claim medical expenses for consultations and day-to-day medical expenses depending on your policy type.

What interventions can be recommended for Vaginismus?

Exploring a holistic approach to treating and managing vaginismus and dyspareunia may include medication, psychosexual counselling, physiotherapy, pelvic pain specialists, sex and relationship therapy, vaginal dilators, kegel and pelvic floor exercises, practical behavioural exercises, improving sexual self-esteem, mindfulness, relaxation and stress reduction techniques, sensate focus for couples, psychoeducation and psychosexual education.

How does Psychosexual Therapy help Vaginismus?

Psychosexual therapy often requires working with your therapist over several sessions or months to explore and understand your own personal experience of vaginismus, improve sexual wellbeing, set goals and discover new ways to improve sex, intimacy and sexual self-esteem. If you would like to find out more about private psychotherapy or couples therapy for vaginismus – visit www.orlaghgahan.ie or email info@orlaghgahan.ie

Orlagh Gahan is a an IACP accredited Psychotherapist, Sex and Relationship Therapist, Addiction Counsellor & Specialist Fertility Counsellor in private practice in Co. Kildare, Ireland and worldwide online. She specialises in sexual wellbeing, psychosexual problems, sexual recovery, couples & relationship therapy and addiction recovery. Orlagh works with individuals and couples online using DOXY.ME, a secure telemedicine platform. Find out more or book a consultation online at www.orlaghgahan.ie.

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