Stopping the Vicious Cycle of Vaginismus

If you have vaginismus or painful sex, you know that its quite a challenge to get past this. Despite your best efforts, your breaks, your specialists, and endless pelvic floor therapy, you’re still struggling to break free.

Part of the reason for this struggle is the frustrating vicious cycle that takes place behind the scenes. This cycle reinforces the pain and clenching of your pelvic floor muscles, which just further creates more pain and clenching and fear and pain and clenching… You get it.

Vicious cycle of vaginismus

With this cycle, most factors reinforce the previous and the next component. So how do we break free of this? Well let’s look at each of these factors.

Anticipation of pain

Your mind and/or body expect there to be pain. Where did this expectation come from? Often its from previous experience. Maybe you’ve had pain in the past, this could be from a previous sexual experience, a not-so-great tampon attempt, or a painful pelvic exam. This could originate from physiological or pathological sources, like endometriosis, hypertonic pelvic floor, painful bladder syndrome, or bacterial vaginosis; or you could experience pain from clenching on your first experience.

You could also be anticipating pain based on third party experience. Maybe you’ve been told the first time is painful or have grown up hearing about how sex isn’t that enjoyable. Or there’s the anticipation of something as large of a penis being in you- and not being able to imagine that not causing you pain.

Each reason for the anticipation of pain is valid. Your brain and body, at at least the subconscious and involuntary level, perceive the threat of pain to be real and are ready to act on this to protect you!

Involuntary clenching and tensing response

In response to the threat of pain, your body does exactly what it should- it tries to protect you. With vaginismus, it does this by involuntarily clenching and closing the vaginal canal whenever something is being inserted. When you think about it, this is a pretty impressive response and you’re body is trying to do you a favor.

The key here is that this is happening involuntarily, so outside of your control. This certainly adds to the frustration since it’s a bit outside of our conscious awareness. And it doesn’t happen the same for everyone. Some women experience the involuntary clenching in response to a penis and some can do a penis but not a finger, others find the penis threatening but can do the largest dilator. When things happen subconsciously and involuntarily, it often doesn’t make sense to us.

Pain, burning, or infamous Vaginismus ‘the wall’

When your pelvic floor muscles close off and contract involuntarily and we still try to insert something, we can get a pain response. For some, the muscles close off before something can even be inserted, resulting in the cliche “wall” that wont let anything in. When we push past the pain or the wall we often get intense pain and/or burning. Many of my clients rate this pain to be above a 7 out of 10 on the pain scale.

It’s important to note that I don’t recommend pushing past the pain at all! This can further fuel this pain-anticipation-clenching cycle.

Pain confirmation

When and if we do push past the pain or the wall, our body senses the threat and clenches even more, resulting in more pain. This communicates to our nervous system that it was correct in anticipating a pain response and basically congratulates our body on giving the right red flags. We reinforce everything the body just did involuntarily, and sometimes our body can give an even more intense pain response in the future since we didn’t listen to the last warning flags.

Your brain, body, and nervous system has now learned and confirmed that penetration is in fact painful and it will continue to see it this way until we change something.

Stored learned responses

Now that your body has confirmed that penetration is in fact painful, it will store this information in your brain and nervous system for future times to refer back to. This further reinforces the involuntary muscle, sensory, and visceral responses our body does to try to evade penetration. So if you’ve ever impulsively closed your legs during a penetration attempt or involuntarily kicked your gynecologist, this, in addition to the involuntary contracting of our vaginal wall muscles, is an involuntary muscle response. Involuntary sensory responses can be pain, burning, stinging, pressure, or feeling tight. And involuntary visceral responses look like nausea, sweating, feeling light-headed, or passing out with penetration attempts.

And all of these further reinforce and encourage your body to clench in response to pain. Which leads us back to the beginning, where we anticipate the whole, miserable, sequence starting again.

Breaking free of the cycle

So what hope is there for breaking free of this vicious vaginismus cycle?

It’s totally possible! It just takes a bit of strategic work. In my Mind-Body-Sex Reset Vaginismus program, we target breaking free from this cycle from multiple angles. We use different strategies that are unique to you to teach your mind, body, and nervous system that it doesn’t have to follow these patterns and pain doesn’t have to happen.

Most of this is founded in nervous system work because the involuntary control center is held in your nervous system. So we target these involuntary centers while working on brain and muscle control as well.

So if you feel like you’re trapped in this vaginismus cycle, it’s time you break free! Schedule a free 30 min consult with me today and we’ll see if my Mind-Body-Sex Reset Vaginismus program is a good fit for you!