Vaginismus is a condition that affects the muscles of the pelvic floor and involves involuntary spasming or clenching of the pelvic musculature. Typically this reactive tightening of the muscles is in response to insertion or the attempt of insertion of an object into the vagina, making vaginal intercourse painful and sometimes impossible. Thankfully, this condition is becoming more and more recognized by the mainstream media. But coming along with it are some misconceptions about vaginismus that we'd like to clear up.
Myth #1: Kegels Cure Vaginismus
Kegels, done correctly, are a great strengthening technique for the muscles of the pelvic floor for many women and men. However, someone who is struggling with vaginismus is not a good candidate to begin practicing kegels. While kegels may be introduced later on to help the overall pelvic and core musculature function together during certain body movements, they should be avoided at first. The focus of treatment should instead be on the ability to consciously recognize and relax the pelvic floor muscles. It is best to receive this treatment under the direction of a specialized women's health physical therapist who can guide you through imagery and biofeedback techniques. Also, consider our physical therapy digital download chapter packages to assist you at home.
Myth #2: Vaginal Dilators are Used to 'Stretch' the Muscles
Dilators are an incredibly helpful tool for those with vaginismus. Their function in the treatment process, however, isn't so much to "stretch" the tight muscles of the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor muscles are already quite capable of stretching far beyond what is needed for sexual intercourse (think, delivering a baby). The problem with vaginismus is that the central nervous system (the brain and all its related systems including the spinal cord and nerves) is sending signals to the pelvic musculature to brace itself for what it considers or 'remembers' to be painful: vaginal penetration. So dilators work by desensitizing the central nervous system (see Myth #3 for more on this) and by providing trigger point release (intentional pressure to points of muscular tension for the relief of pain, much like in your neck or shoulders). To learn more about the science of chronic pelvic pain and the use of dilators in the treatment of vaginismus, purchase the DVD Healing the Pain Down There: A Guide for Females with Persistent Genital & Sexual Pain. We recommend dilators from Syracuse Medical Devices as they are made of medical grade material and have a consistent length. It is important to have a long enough dilator to be able to reach the second layer of the pelvic floor musculature even with the smallest dilator in diameter.
Myth #3: You Just Have to Try to Relax and Keep Practicing Sex
If you continue doing as you have been doing - having sex that is painful, then setting yourself up in that same environment with your partner will actually perpetuate or re-enforce the pain - because your mind is already anticipating the pain - it is a known response and you cannot just "force" a relaxation response instead. But if we remove the “red flags” from the brain and place YOU IN CONTROL using the dilators, we can re-train the brain to realize that there doesn’t need to be a “fight or flight response”, we can begin to “unwind” the nervous system. When you start with an extra small dilator and can insert and move it and do self stretches with low to no pain - then the brain starts to realize that - OK - that wasn’t so bad and the secondary responses of muscular tensions ease also allowing for less pain and your overall confidence level with repeated successful sessions with the dilator allows you to become ready for return to intercourse with low to no pain. It is important that you abstain from intercourse (not intimacy) during dilator sessions until you can progress to the proper size. So essentially what happens is you change the perception in your brain about the health of your vagina, decreasing the sensitivity of your nervous system to keep the muscle tension in check to help achieve a good end result.
Independent research findings from a randomized (participants chosen at random), double blind (neither the researchers nor the participants know if they are using the placebo or the magnetic dilator) study were released just last month on the VuVa magnetic vaginal dilators.
24 women with vulvar pain participated in the study. The women used both the Vuva magnetic vaginal dilators and the placebo vaginal dilators (looked and felt the same but didn't contain magnets) with a 7 day period in between in which no treatment was given. Women were asked to report their pain intensity levels before and after the use of each dilator.
Women who used the VuVa magnetic dilator reported a decrease in pain levels twice that of the placebo dilator during a tampon test. Women using the Vuva magnetic dilators experienced an average 28% decrease in pain levels during a cotton swab test. And 40% of the women reported an increase in the frequency of sexual intercourse during the study while using the Vuva magnetic dilator as compared with only 10% using the placebo dilator.
Based on these findings, the independent research study concluded that Vuva magnetic dilators are a safe and effective treatment of vulvovaginal pain, performing significantly better than the placebo dilators.
Each Vuva magnetic dilator is created with soothing Neodymium magnets to increase blood flow and add elasticity to the tissues. The dilators, which come in graduated sizes, can be used 1-2 times per day by simply allowing the dilator to rest inside the vaginal canal for 20-30 minutes. For more information go to: https://www.vuvatech.com
* Pain Down There is happy to report these findings as it provides another resource within the multi-disciplinary approach to treating genital, sexual, and pelvic pain. Not one single medical approach is likely to cure chronic pelvic pain. Please take into consideration the use of VuVa magnetic dilators along with and part of a team-based approach to pain management: physical therapy, pain science education, mindfulness training, and other allied health care professionals.
The long-awaited Video Guide Healing the Pain 'Down There': A Guide for Females with Persistent Genital & Sexual Pain is now available for purchase.
A woman with chronic pelvic pain brought together a team of multidisciplinary professionals to create this instructional and educational DVD guide for those suffering with “pain down there”. The team represents over 50 years of experience in women’s health related fields including OB/GYN, physical therapy, mindfulness techniques, and human sexuality with their focus being on the treatment of pelvic pain. This educational video is intended for women of all ages who are experiencing pain during intercourse who want to learn why they have their symptoms and learn strategies to improve them. This video is also for teens and young women who may be at risk for developing these symptoms, and for clinicians who are practicing in the field of women’s health.
“Groundbreaking … “
Jill Osborne, MA
ICN Founder & CEO
“A well designed comprehensive view of pelvic pain from a multidisciplinary perspective and clear options for returning to health and well being.”
Sandra Hilton, PT, DPT, MS
“A very important resource for many women...”
Frank Tu, M.D., MPH
" Respected pelvic practitioners create a road map to navigate the challenging path of healing pelvic pain."
Dustienne Miller PT, MS, WCS
Continuing to have sex that is painful will perpetuate or reinforce the pain. This is because the mind is already anticipating the pain, it is a known response within the same environment you keep putting yourself in - having sex with your partner. But if we can remove the "red flags" from the brain and place you in control through the use of dilators, we can re-train the brain. We can unwind that "fight or flight" response within the nervous system.
When you start with an extra small dilator and can insert it, move it, do self stretches with no to low pain - then the brain starts to realize that "ok, that wasn't so bad" and the secondary response of muscular tensions ease, allowing for less pain. Scanning and mapping the pelvic floor alongside your dilator use also helps the brain perceive these muscles in a more normalized way. This allows for much less "red flag signals" being sent to the brain. Your overall confidence level with repeated successful sessions with the dilator and vaginal canal mapping allows you return to intercourse with low to no pain. So essentially what you are doing is changing the perception in your brain about the health of your vagina and decreasing the sensitivity of the nervous system to keep muscle tension in check.
Along with dilator work there are other exercises such as flexibility work to the hips and trunk and relaxation breathing to quiet the nervous system. It is important that during this process you abstain from sexual intercourse. But of course this is not to say that you abstain from intimacy. We strongly recommend the personalized training of a women's health physical therapist to guide you. You can also use these and other techniques taught in our DVD guide under the consultation of a health care provider.
*Be advised that some conditions such as Vulvar Vestibulodynia (Vestibulitis) may need further medical management before beginning the use of dilators.
Stephanie Yeager: Passionate about spreading the word of hope and healing for those like her, influencing a paradigm shift in the medical community toward greater understanding of chronic pelvic pain disorders, and prevention initiatives that may protect young women before onset can occur.