It is within this knowledge that your empowerment to can be found. The following five steps will empower you to overcome vaginismus by helping you to regain control of communications with your nervous system, allowing you to send messages of safety to encourage a letting go of involuntary pelvic floor contractions.
Step 1 – Combat negative thinking
Have you ever noticed a visceral response in your body when remembering a horrible event from your past? You nervous system cannot tell the difference between your thoughts and what is actually happening presently. This is important to know because of its implication – what you think can impact what physically manifests in your body. Changing negative thoughts you may hold towards yourself, your body, or sex and sexuality can send a positive “safety” messages to your nervous system encouraging it to let go.
If you have been to your doctor to discuss vaginismus, they may have suggested Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is a treatment often used to help with vaginismus. I know when CBT was first recommended to me, I was offended as it felt as thought I was being blamed for my pelvic floor dysfunction. By understanding how my thoughts could impact what was happening physically, I was able to make my peace with this type of therapy and it helped me immensely. The most simple form of CBT I have used is Byron Katie’s “the work”, which is a very effective way to address negative thought patterns.
Step 2 – Vaginal dilation
If you suffer from vaginismus, you may well have heard of vaginal dilation using dilators or “trainers”. So many people get in touch to ask about dilators for “stretching” the vagina. When you use dilators, it’s not so much about “stretching” the tissues. It’s more about communicating safety to your nervous system. I believe that it matters where, when, how and with whom you use dilators as all of these can have an impact on whether or not you feel safe:
- Where – You should be in a place where you feel safe and comfortable.
- When – It should be at a time when you feel you will not be disturbed or under pressure to “hurry up”.
- How – Your body should be comfortable and supported, ensuring that your inner thigh muscles can relax.
- With whom – Going solo is great, but it can also help to work on dilation with a loving trusted partner.
Dilators can range in size from baby-finger width to the size of a large erection. If you struggle with the smallest dilation, you can begin with a q-tip. You should also use lubrication if you are planning to use dilators. You can watch this YouTube video for more tips on vaginal dilation.
Step 3 – Pelvic floor relaxation exercises
Movement is a method to communicate with your nervous system. Yin Yoga is a form of yoga where you assume a position before allowing yourself to relax into that position allowing your connective tissue and muscles to gently stretch over a few minutes. Many yin positions target relaxation of the muscles of the inner thighs (your adductors) as well as the pelvic floor. Relaxing these muscles can help immensely when dealing with vaginismus and other conditions involving pelvic pain. You can use the exercises from our pelvic floor relaxation playlist on YouTube as another tool to communicate safety to your nervous system.
Step 4 – Finding the “on” switch for penetration
On our sexual dysfunction page, we explain the ingredients in the recipe for orgasmic climax: desire, arousal, and stimulation. When penetration has been a problem, it can be difficult to muster up the desire. It can be hard to feel aroused without desire. Desire and arousal both send safety messages to the nervous system so how can we get past the fear of penetration in order to feel the necessary desire and arousal? We have to flick the “on” switch, which is the clitoris!
Clitoral stimulation can help to turn “on” desire and arousal which can create the relaxation, the lubrication, and the opening needed for successful stimulation. In my opinion, sex education in schools should teach us about stimulation and climax, and not just explain penetration. It is important to know your body and to know what excites you. Self-stimulation (masturbation) is a great way to learn what works for you. It can also be really good to focus on clitoral orgasms with your partner without penetration to help build the trust that is inevitably needed to send that big safety message to your nervous system.
Step 5 – Reduce stress
This may seem obvious, but I will say it regardless. Reducing stress is one of the best ways to communicate safety to your nervous system. You can take up meditation or mindfulness, practice yoga, get good sleep, avoid people that trigger anxiety in you. Anything you can do to help eliminate stress from your life will have a positive effect on your vaginismus.