Vaginismus is a psychosexual condition that results in involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor muscles whenever vaginal intercourse or other penetration of the vagina is attempted. There are two types of vaginismus: primary and secondary. Primary vaginismus is lifelong and often noticed for the first time during teenage years or early twenties, as this is when many girls and young women attempt to use tampons or have penetrative sex for the first time. Secondary vaginismus is when a woman who has previously been capable of penetration develops vaginismus.
Vaginismus can also be global or situational. When it’s global, the vagina resists all objects in any situation, but when it’s situational, certain objects like fingers are allowed in certain settings.
Its causes include, but is not limited to, fear of penetration, trauma, sexual assault, childbirth, disgust towards sex and a lack of adequate religious or conservative sex education. The cause of vaginismus can be combinational – a girl who is taught sexual purity might grow up feeling disgusted by sex and fearful of the “consequences” of sexual activities so her body physical manifests the fear in her mind by contracting.
The statistics of women who experience vaginismus is arguable. The Cut writes, “It’s common to hear men say they couldn’t get it up, but how often do you hear a woman bemoan that she couldn’t get it in?” Not only are women’s issues eroded, but we are taught to feel and endure pain throughout our lives. Women with vaginsmus are often dismissed because for many women, pain during sex is normal. It is expected that there will be pain during the first penetration. Vaginismus is therefore difficult to diagnose.
Vaginismus affects both the body and the mind, especially in countries like Nigeria where experiences like this are not easily labeled. Furthermore, in a penetration-focused sex culture like ours, women with vaginismus may feel like failures for not being able to have sex (in the usual way).
Vaginismus is curable. Treatment includes psychosexual therapy, antidepressants, Kegel exercises and vaginal dilating. These gradually stretch and relax the vagina. Since the cause of vaginismus is not universal and each woman’s experience is different, treatment requires a tailored approach.
The first time I tried penetrative sex, I experienced excruciating pain. That was when I knew something was wrong. I can’t pinpoint a particular reason, I just know some muscles won’t relax no matter how hard I try.
Thankfully, it doesn’t really affect my dating life. I still get my orgasms. I tell intending partners from the get-go, and if we’re on the same page we are good to go. If not, I remove myself. On the bright side, most of the people I have been with are receptive and willing to learn about it.
I’m able to do everything else but penile penetration. Fingering doesn’t hurt, and that’s how I’m able to get most of the work done. The only downside is that my sexual fantasy isn’t complete — it includes penile penetration.
I haven’t been cured but I know vaginismus is curable. Kegel exercises apparently help, and vagina dilators do an amazing job in helping stretch out the vagina too. But the dilators are not readily available here in Nigeria and even if they were, they cost a fortune.
I’ve always had issues with penetration. I usually need lots of lube, foreplay and to be very relaxed in order to have a penis inside me. I was assaulted in 2019 but stopped having sex for a while. By early 2020, I started actively having sex again and my then partner’s penis used to go in after a lot of foreplay.
Then in the middle of 2020, during the COVID lockdown, I started having nightmares and menstrual problems. My reproductive health was in a bad state. This is where we go back to my assault in the previous year. It was by an older man I liked. He fingered me in such a traumatizing way that till now my mind blacks out when I remember the events of that day. The most shocking part of the traumatic experience is that his fingers were deep inside, checking why I was “so tight” aka checking to see if I was a virgin. He went really really deep (I think as far as my uterus) because I had bled. It was scary and confusing because he acted sweet and nice after. It took me weeks to come to terms with what happened. And it was only last year I accepted that what he did was rape.
I don’t know why my body waited till early 2020 to respond to the assault but it did. My theory is that the person I was sleeping with at the time was the first person I had penile penetration with in 2018, prior to what had happened in 2019. I guess my body was comfortable with him. But after the realization, sex became hard. There were times I’d have to calm myself internally before penetration.
Penetration became extra difficult in the middle of 2020. Although the sex was always consensual, the penetration felt painful and rough. That is the last time I remember a penis being inside me in any position.
When I started dating someone new, we talked in-depth about all that happened to me in 2019. He was very soft and kind, yet, when we tried penile penetration, my face crumbled in fear and he had to apologize. I ended up crying.
The tail end of 2020 was the worst. I called out my abuser in December and all my sexual senses literally went away. I had to slowly teach my body to feel pleasure again by masturbating.
I’ve not been penetrated since the middle of 2020. I can experience orgasm through other methods like head and nipple sucking but my vagina wouldn’t open up and should my partner put in even the tip of his dick, I’d experience jarring pain. Before, I could be fingered but now neither a dick nor a man’s fingers can go in. I turn away and cry most times because I’m someone who wants my partner to be satisfied as well. And for most men the height of satisfaction is when they enter a woman, so I feel inadequate and severely lacking even if they often reassure me that there’s no problem.
I’ve decided to stay single for now. I want to explore celibacy long term, to overcome fear and own my body again. I do know my vaginismus can be traced back to my assault so I’m certain that if I can overcome fear then I’ll be okay. Also, earlier this year I had sex with a woman. She fingered me and her fingers went in. It was slightly painful but I was comfortable with her. With a woman it’s better. I guess there’s a part of me that’s scared a man will hurt me.
Names have been changed.
Some parts have been condensed for clarity.