‘Fake’ vaginismus / thinking too soon something is wrong

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  • #43175
    ella2021
    Participant

    Hello there.

    I’m a midwife (I work in Germany) and I regularly meet up with other colleges (online these days) to chat about different subjects related to our profession. Yesterday we invited a gynaecologist to talk about vaginismus, since that is something we often see in our patients. I’m not an expert in this area so this is the reason I’m contacting you guys.

    The gyn said something very interesting I wasn’t even aware of. He claimed he sees an increase in young patients thinking that as soon as they have pain while attempting to have intercourse, or when intercourse is not possible the first time, they have vaginismus. The explanation he gave is that vaginismus is mentioned a lot these days in women’s magazines and on the internet, which makes it easier for some patients to talk about the subject to their gyn, but at the same time that causes a lot of misunderstandings as well.

    According to the gyn pain during sex is NOT always the same as vaginismus (which seems logical to me), but what’s more, he added that in our picture perfect world, people seem to forget these days that pain when you’re having sex for the first time can be perfectly normal. The vaginal walls have to ‘learn’ to stretch, some women have a tight or thick hymen, and some couples have no sexual experience at all… and this can make the experience turn into something that LOOKS like vaginismus, but it isn’t. Out of all patients he sees claiming they have vaginismus, he sends back home 35-40 percent with the message the have to continue to try! So his message was basically that we should talk MORE about that first time with our daughters, explain to them it might hurt so they are at least prepared and don’t think something is wrong with them from the minute they start having sex. His message was that only when it CONTINUES to hurt after several attempts over a few weeks, something might be wrong.

    This was only a short part of his speech and the rest of what he said was super interesting, but these remarks made me think. Is this something you guys have heard of before – women thinking they have vaginismus but the symptoms are actually due to lack of sexual experience?

    #43275
    recessivegenequeen
    Participant

    Hi ella2021 – thanks for your post, this is a really interesting topic. Speaking as someone who had vaginismus for about 6 years before ever learning about it, to me this sounds like a GOOD problem – if you spend much time on these forums you’ll see story after story from women who suffered for years and assumed their pain was either a normal part of the sexual experience or a totally unique situation to them that no one else would ever be able to relate to. The result is women who suffer in silence, often for years, before finally learning their symptoms have a name.

    I think it’s amazing that awareness of vaginismus has spread in these ways to younger women, and to me going to the gynecologist and learning more, even if they maybe don’t have vaginismus, would be a good outcome. The deep underlying problem that has made vaginismus so insidious to get rid of is that women’s sexual pain is rarely taken seriously, so women often have one or more visits to gynecologists in which they’re told to “just relax” even though there is major muscle contraction happening that means no amount of relaxing would make penetration possible.

    I think this is a super interesting dilemma and I completely agree that one part of the solution is for women to be better-prepared for what kinds of issues/sensations sex can bring by sex education/their parents. I find myself very pulled in two directions about this – because it IS true that first-time sex often hurts because of muscles needing to stretch/hymens being intact/partners being inexperienced, but it’s so important to convey those facts while ALSO changing the message that women should just “accept” pain during sex as a normal thing, as that can often continue undiagnosed for years.

    I’m glad to hear more women are questioning their pain more – I’m hoping this means the pendulum of silence and ignorance is swinging hard in the other direction and that we’ll eventually arrive at ways of conveying correctly and specifically what sex should – and shouldn’t – be like.

    #43303
    mark2021
    Participant

    Hello ella2021 and recessivegenequeen, this is definitely an interesting issue and I hope you don’t mind I’m adding my viewpoint here.

    As a student, I’ve had several girlfriends and most of them were still virgins when we started dating. I’m not claiming it ALWAYS hurts when girls have sex for the first time, but it IS really common, especially when the hymen is still intact and/or the girl has never put things inside. Most of my girlfriends knew I had previous partners so they sometimes asked me how it felt for them to have sex for the first time and I’ve always been very open on this. It can hurt and that’s perfectly fine. However, and this is where I think both of you have a point: when the pain goes on for weeks, that’s not normal.

    Both messages can be combined if you ask me: you can perfectly tell girls pain during the first time is to be expected/totally normal, but that sex should become painless after a few attempts. And if the pain continues, they should seek medical assistance. By doing that, you avoid that women are worried too soon, and at the same time you’re giving the message that pain during sex is not okay.

    I think guys have a role to play here too. I know one of my friends was too rough the first time he had sex with his girlfriend and she was in so much pain she got traumatized and ended up with vaginismus because of this. I wish these things were talked about more… my advice is to go slow, take small steps, first discover mutual masturbation, penetrate with a finger, have plenty of foreplay … before having sex. Some couples have sex for the first time in VERY uncomfortable places/positions, like the backseat of their car while running the risk of being caught… those are usually not the best experiences.

    I found this to be shocking but what recessivegenequeen wrote is true: some women them think sex is ALWAYS painful and that pain is a NORMAL part of sex. I’ve heard there are even gyns and docs giving this message to their patients, which is totally wrong.

    #43696
    recessivegenequeen
    Participant

    So many great points mark2021 – I think too if the explanations around sex were less based in shame and were generally more biological, women would have a better sense of what was going on with their bodies and what steps to take (for example, oh my hymen tore the first time we had sex so there was some pain, but on future attempts I should be lubricated and aroused and there should be less pain. And it would help SO MUCH if teens got better sexual education – and not just as it is now where the focus is on STDs and preventing pregnancy (which is also important) but explores female pleasure and how the body SHOULD feel when it’s primed to have sex. I’ve seen other women on these forums from Europe post in some countries that women are even taught to masturbate, which is amazing. Anything to get boys and girls more educated on how to have sex together would probably reduce pain and vaginismus.

    #43796
    redrose
    Participant

    I still remember one paragraph from the sex ed book my mother gave me: “the first time you have sex will probably be painful, awkward, bloody or unsatisfying, but it gets beter”. That was hard to read as a teen, but SO true and honest! I don’t have kids yet so I’m not sure books these days still have that kind of info, but I’ll always try to be as open on this as I can to my (future) daughters. Sex can be quite painful the first few times, but it SHOULD stop at some point. If that’s not the case, I’ll tell her she can always come to me or ask her doctor, but she shouldn’t consider pain as being something normal.

    #44270
    SexlessInSeattle
    Participant

    Wouldn’t the better approach here be to support adolescent girls and young women to explore themselves internally before their first time having sexual intercourse? E.g. with their own fingers or their partners, with a vibrator, etc. It doesn’t sit right with me to tell young women that their first time will likely be painful and that’s that – it makes more sense for them to learn about what might reduce pain for them.

    #44328
    redrose
    Participant

    Yes, encouraging women to explore themselves would definitely be a better idea. But I’m afraid that won’t happen soon. Only a small percentage of American female teenagers masturbate, and those numbers are even declining year after year.

    #44705
    recessivegenequeen
    Participant

    I once dated a man who had a teenage daughter and he was very sexually liberated as a dad – he bought his daughter a vibrator and encouraged her to explore and ask her parents questions! I think this kind of thing is really rare but I hope it becomes more of a standard in future generations (hopefully especially as people who had vaginismus have daughters and want to create a less fraught path for them). I think the more shame is removed from sex as a concept, the more girls will be open to learning and exploring, and the more they can understand how sex should feel, when it should hurt, and when it SHOULDN’T.

    We have a lot of power at the individual level if we parents daughters (and SONS too, as we can teach boys to make the experience more pleasurable for girls) but I also think society has a lot of catching up to do to support this goal. Sex ed should be less fear-based and more useful information should be given to teens.

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