For many women who face vaginismus, the challenges they encounter go far beyond their pelvic floor response. There is an unseen and often unacknowledged impact of vaginismus on the body, mind, and soul that can leave a woman feeling defeated beyond her understanding.
The problem with our ‘typical’ approach
Many women who experience vaginismus are high-functioning women who can often tackle many of life’s challenges with a good strategy and some intentional effort. When they fail, they easily get back up and try again. Habit trackers, planners, and goals are often a high-functioning woman’s best friend. Fueled by a healthy grip of control over our situations and outcomes with a bit of self-given perfectionism, we’ll find a way to keep persevering.
With vaginismus, we often implore these same strategies- dilator logs, goals, consistent effort. But our progress with vaginismus often looks different than other areas we’ve persevered in. We don’t see the typical positive correlation between effort and results. With vaginismus, we often run into unpredictable success and failure that makes us feel out of control.
Hopelessness with loss of control
Days of significant progress can be followed by stretches of setback, leading to feelings of confusion and frustration. In search of answers, we scrutinize every technique, analyze each breath, and question the betrayal of their bodies. The lack of control over this unfamiliar journey triggers a spiral into uncharted emotional depths, fostering a sense of isolation that can feel all-consuming.
When we lose control over our progress, we start dissociating from our recovery. We can experience denial and we abandon the dilators and exercises. We start canceling appointments and making excuses for our limited progress. All the while we’re secretly resenting our bodies and shaming our failure. We wonder why our typical approaches aren’t working.
Low to no sexual desire
You also may start experiencing a low-to-absent sex-drive, which is completely understandable if intimacy has led to consistent subconscious feelings of shame, pain, disappointment, fear, frustration, or feeling like you’re lacking. Your body, in response to the overwhelm of challenging emotions, is protecting you from experiencing this level of hurt or pain. So you lose your desire for intimacy.
Surmounting questions and fears
This further can spiral into feelings of negative self worth. “Well, if I can’t change and heal from this, then this must be how I am.” Many women start to question if they’re asexual. We wonder if maybe we shouldn’t have gotten married. We fear the future- will I ever be able to get pregnant? Will I ever be able to ‘consummate’ my marriage? Will my husband turn to other outlets? Despite the encouragement from a supportive partner, we still can impose our own conscious or subconscious feelings of negative self-worth and value.
Distancing from our partner
Our partners, who are often supportive and caring, become unwitting triggers for a “fight or flight” response. The anticipation of pain can turn a simple gesture into an involuntary reaction of fear, straining emotional bonds. Our brains are so adept at making associations that help protect us from those big hard feelings, so our bodies start to shut down with any sign of intimacy. Struggling to grapple with this internal turmoil, we might even push our partners away, internalizing feelings of unworthiness and frustration. The self-imposed notion of “lacking” hindering our partner’s “flourishing” clouds judgment and impairs emotional intimacy.
If you’re like I was, you may even start pushing your partner away. You may see yourself as unworthy and broken. You may feel like your “lacking” is impeding his “flourishing”- a very unhealthy and untrue thought, but an imposing thought none-the-less. Pushing him away in anger or being closed off helps protect you (and him) from the perpetual disappointment you feel. Soon enough, vaginismus has taken hold of not just your physical intimacy, but your emotional intimacy as well.
This unseen and unacknowledged world of vaginismus can be sneaky. It stealthily lurks in the background, placing seeds in our subconscious brain. These seeds are then watered by continued frustration, failure, and comparison. They then grow into weeds that affect not just our sex life, but our relationship with ourselves and our partners.
Hope and momentum
If this is you, you’re not alone. So many women with vaginismus face this difficult reality. Recognizing the link between exhausting dilating/failed attempts and our self-worth over time is not always easy to see. Take some intentional time to stop and reflect on your feelings. Allow yourself to express what your deeper soul is experiencing. Go ahead… cry, punch a pillow in anger, throw the dilator across the room. Feel what it feels like to feel. Try journaling, mindfulness strategies, or body scan techniques to really allow yourself to get deep. Remove all self-imposed judgment and criticism and offer abounding self-compassion, grace, and gentleness with yourself.
Part of the struggle with the vaginismus journey is constantly trying to see and fight for progress, and this is completely understandable. But perhaps the most important part of this journey needs to be the compassionate grace and healing we offer ourselves- to feel our feelings, to experience our world without judgment, and to love our mind, body, and soul more deeply.
I get it. You want to just try a different strategy or a new exercise. But perhaps our high-functioning and overachieving natures are in and of themselves the biggest barrier to our vaginismus recovery. What if we just took a deep breath (no, not that diaphragmatic breath during dilating) and allowed ourselves to restfully feel?
A different approach
This is ultimately what shifted my vaginismus journey. After years of failed pelvic floor therapy, and endless dilating, I finally took a step back to listen to my body and to feel. This opened the doors to a new wave of healing- of healing my mind, body, and soul of vaginismus and its sneaky grasp. I was finally able to clear the weeds, plant new seeds, and nourish a beautiful garden that has translated to pain-free sex and a new found pace of self-compassion.
This is the approach I now take with my vaginismus clients. We spend time nourishing our mind-body connection. We go deep without judgment and offer self-compassion. We take a holistic approach to vaginismus, exercises, diaphragmatic breathing and yes, dilating. We’ve found healing beyond just sexual healing, we’ve found healing in the everyday- in our relationships with others and yourself. And this is my hope for you.