Sexual Healing: Do I Have Vaginismus

ByLaura Berman via via logo

L O S   A N G E L E S,  April 18, 2001 -- In this week's column, sexual-health experts Laura and Jennifer Berman hear from a 23-year-old woman who is trying to find out why she is experiencing pain during sex.

Q: My boyfriend and I have been together for 3 years. I love him very much, but am still unable to have sexual intercourse with him. It is not because I am not ready, it is just very painful, and most of the time impossible.

I have been told that it is probably something called vaginismus, (spasms in the pelvic muscles that make insertion difficult) so I asked my gynecologist and the doctor said that is not really true, it is probably because I am just not ready. I felt very embarrassed. I was wondering if there is any muscle relaxer I could take, or anything that can help me? I feel like a failure. – Embarrassed and Confused

A: Don't believe it is all in your head. You are not alone because there are many women who suffer from vaginismus as well as pain related to it. There are many psychological components to vaginismus — fear, anxiety, lack of trust, feelings of vulnerability, past history of trauma or abuse — all which must be dealt with in therapy. However, vaginismus is sort of like a panic attack.

Often people who suffer from panic attacks first have one randomly. Then after that every time they have an attack its because they are panicking about having a panic attack! The same is true in this situation. The spasms become a knee jerk reaction that you can't control even if you want to.

We recommend a gynecological physical therapist or someone who can work with you with biofeedback and dilation of the vagina in a safe and supportive setting. It is a real physical problem that deserves real physical attention in addition to psychological support.

Dr. Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman are co-directors of the Female Sexual Medicine Center at UCLA Medical Center and the The Network for Excellence in Women's Sexual Health ( Jennifer is a urologist with specialized training in Female Sexual Dysfunction; Laura earned her doctorate in Health Education and Therapy — specializing in human sexuality. In their weekly column for, they answer questions about sex, relationships and the challenges of intimacy.

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