Causes of vaginismus – is sexual abuse a factor?

Causes of vaginismus

I received a call yesterday from the concerned mother of a 21 year old girl who has vaginismus, a condition whereby the vaginal muscles tighten making sex painful or impossible.

Like most of the women that I treat with this problem, she had tried to seek help previously and had been to her doctor to discuss the condition. I cringed as the mother told me what the doctor had said to her daughter: "your vaginismus is caused by past sexual abuse". This is something which the girl had no memory of, didn't believe and was very upset to hear. Unfortunately, it is something that many of my vaginsimus clients had also been told by their doctors, psychosexual therapists and counsellors. This outragous and ill-informed advice comes from people who don't fully understand the condition and has prompted me to write this article to dispel this very unhelpful myth

How do we develop fears and phobias?

In order to develop a fear or phobia, we don't necessarily have to have encountered a situation that caused that fear. For example, out of all the millions of people in the UK who have a fear of snakes, I bet only a handful have ever actually been in a situation where they have been directly threatened or bitten by a snake. Same applies to the millions people with the fear of flying, they've possibly experienced a turbulent flight in the past, but almost certainly haven't been a plane crash themselves. People who have a fear of dying....haven't yet died (and are probably just as fit and healthy as people who don't have the fear!)

Likewise, if phobias were always created by traumatic preceding events, why don't the many millions of people involved in car crashes every year have a driving phobia? They may certainly be more cautious when they get back behind the wheel, but 99% (Ok, it's a Cara fact, but it sounds about right!) will continue to drive.

The power of our imagination

The point I am trying to make is that there doesn't need to be any actual preceding event to trigger a phobia. Phobias are created by our current thinking: misusing our imagination to mentally prepare ourselves for distress or emotional trauma. I have never parachuted out of an aeroplane, but the very thought of it terrifies me! Our minds are very powerful things and are capable of creating fear. The mind and the body are inextricably connected: If you are imagining sex being painful or impossible, if you are imagining blood, sweat and tears, no wonder you are tensing up. Phobias are created by thoughts, and thoughts aren't always the product of actual experiences.

Unfortunately, for some doctors and so-called professionals, in their want to try to understand vaginismus, they are looking for a cause and effect explanation - without having the awareness of how their patient's mind state has created and is maintaining the symptom.

Even if vaginismus was caused by sexual abuse - what would be the benefit of telling someone that - especially if they had no memory of it? It would only serve to make them feel the cause lies in the past - something we cannot change. Likewise, I have treated women with vaginismus that has begun later in their life - another reason to support that it's not about the past.

Similarly, many women who HAVE been sexually abused or raped, do NOT develop vaginismus.

Effective treatment for the cause of vaginismus

I don't believe the causes of vaginismus are complicated or deep rooted. There are a number of simple thinking errors that women don't realise they are making when they think about or try to have sex. I hope the many testimonials I have on my website will back that up and encourage women that effective vaginismus help is out there.

From my own clinical experience, until they come to see me, my vaginismus clients have very little awareness of how their mind is creating the problem. The resolution to the problem lies in giving that client the self awareness so that they understand themselves and the component parts of their thinking that has created the symptom, in order to control and change their response.

Effective treatment of vaginsimus lies in giving people self insight to understand that it is their current thinking that is causing their condition, and teaching them how to have the psychological and emotional control, not only in the bedroom, but in all areas of their lives. This is achieved through the brilliant Thrive Programme, details of which can be found HERE

Note: Occasionally, vaginismus has a physical or physiological cause, such as a yeast infection. If you suspect this could be the case, this should be diagnosed by your GP before consulting for therapy.