This week, I sat down with a friend to talk about her experience getting and overcoming vaginismus. For those unfamiliar, vaginismus is “the body’s automatic reaction to the fear of some or all types of vaginal penetration. Whenever penetration is attempted, your vaginal muscles tighten up on their own. You have no control over it.”
Give me a little background. When did your vaginismus start? What was that like? Had you even heard of it before and/or did you know people who had personally gone through it who you could talk to about it?
It started my sophomore year of college. I was in my first serious relationship with this piece of shit named Mitch. He was emotionally abusive and one night after a fight, he got drunk and raped me. That’s when the vaginismus started. Basically for a year after that, I couldn’t have penetrative sex without being in immense pain. I had never heard of it before but all it took was a quick Google search to find out what was going on.
I had already been in therapy so I was able to talk about it with my therapist, which was really helpful. She referred me to a physical therapist too. I was also lucky in the sense that I had a close group of girlfriends who I could talk to about it with. Even though none of them had directly experienced what I was going through, their support was crucial for helping me heal.
How would describe your sex life before and after you started experiencing symptoms?
I didn’t become sexually active until the summer after I graduated from high school. I would describe my freshman year of college as very exploratory. I went to a liberal arts school so there was a lot of free love energy. Mostly I just made out with a bunch of guys and a couple of girls and had shitty, drunken, orgasmless sex from time to time — you know, normal freshman college student stuff. I met Mitch at the end of my freshman year. He went to school a few hours away but his high school best friend went to my college, so he came to visit a lot.
We began a long-distance relationship not long after. He would visit nearly every weekend. I still wasn’t having orgasms though. After the rape, I saw him one more time before breaking things off. I took a 6-month hiatus from hookups altogether and when I did put myself back out there, I still had a mental block about sex so I got really into giving blowjobs – a skill that has served me well ever since.
How did you address the problem? What was that journey like?
Like I mentioned, my therapist and physical therapist were both pretty instrumental to my recovery journey. I think what was even more invasive than the vaginismus were the panic attacks I started getting after the rape. Since I wasn’t having sex, the vaginismus was kind of a non-issue.
But the panic attacks were impacting my sleep and ability to do well in school. I was scared to walk anywhere alone at night and I spiraled into a deep depression. Thank god for my friends though. The guy I ended up entering a relationship with after the incident also really helped me become comfortable in my body again.
Tell me more about that relationship. What did your partner do to make you feel supported?
Sam was a total teddy bear. He was a philosophy major, so very intellectual but sweet – and giving. I had never been with a guy so into prioritizing the woman. He loved going down on me and giving me pleasure and I think that just feeling safe with him was ultimately what helped me get over both my vaginismus and panic attacks.
We dated through graduation and even though the relationship got rocky in the end because we ended up wanting different things, I’m forever grateful for the experience of dating him. It was just the relationship I needed to be in at the time.
How have things been since then? Has it ever come back / do you fear it coming back?
My vaginismus never returned and at this point, I’m not worried about it coming back. There was an incident where I was followed home by a homeless man who tried to sexually assault me a couple of years after I was raped. That definitely triggered my PTSD and brought back the panic attacks but by that point, I was in a loving relationship with the man who would end up becoming my husband.
Between that and therapy, I was able to cope with the PTSD, although it did take some time. But again, that was more on the mental side of things. My vagina worked just fine and while I wasn’t exactly in the mood to be having sex all the time when I did have sex, everything worked fine.
What advice would you give to someone going through what you’ve gone through?
I think something that really scared me, in the beginning, was this sense that like, “Oh my god, my vagina is forever broken! I’ll never be able to have sex or be in a normal relationship ever again.” So the first thing I would say to someone going through it would be, “Don’t worry, it gets better.” Also, I would recommend finding a therapist if they don’t already have one. Sexual trauma is often the cause of vaginismus but there are other causes as well.
I’ve heard of women who grow up in really repressive, religious households struggling with it. Whatever the root cause may be, talking to a mental health professional is a good starting point for addressing the issue. My final piece of advice would be to avoid shitty sexual partners. Especially when you’re young or inexperienced, it’s easy to find yourself in situations with men who do not have your best interests at heart. Trust your gut and don’t avoid red flags.
Vaginismus isn’t the kind of thing they teach you about in Sex Ed. Why do you think that is and what do you wish your teenage self had been taught prior to becoming sexually active?
Sex Ed in general is pretty much a joke, especially when it comes to women’s health. There are so many women I know – myself included – who ended up with terrible UTIs when they first became sexually active just because no one ever told us to pee after sex!
But I think with TikTok and all the online stuff out there now, the younger generation is a lot more savvy. Information is just a lot more accessible and there’s way less stigma around talking about sexual health, which makes me optimistic. I just wish my younger self had been more confident in herself because that would have made me less susceptible to falling prey to an abusive relationship.
Find sexual partners who make you feel safe and love eating pussy. Everyone else is a waste of time.