What is vaginismus? Meghan Trainor opens up about painful health condition
Meghan Trainor, 29, has opened up about having the painful condition vaginismus.
Appearing on her Workin' On It podcast, the singer-songwriter recently spoke about her struggles having sex with her husband, Daryl Sabara, admitting she can find it "painful".
"I was told I have something called vaginismus," she told co-host brother Ryan Trainor and guest Trisha Paytas.
"I thought that every woman walking around was always in pain during and after sex. I was like, 'Doc, are you telling me that I could have sex and not feel a single bit of pain?'"
Trainor said her symptoms can include a "stingy burning" feeling, and difficulty walking after penetrative sex. Currently pregnant again, she shared that she found it difficult to have sex for a year after welcoming her first son Riley in 2021.
Remaining hopeful, she added, "I'm gonna figure it out." But what exactly is the the condition and what can help?
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What is vaginismus?
Vaginismus is the body's automatic reaction to the fear of some or all types of vaginal penetration, when it's attempted, according to the NHS.
"It's is an involuntary tightening of the pubococcygeus (or PC) muscle at the entrance of the vagina," explains gynaecologist Dr Anne Henderson.
"Vaginal muscles are surprisingly strong. If they’re contracting involuntarily, it’s very, very rigid. Try to push anything in and the pain could be an eight/nine out of 10.
"It’s not pain that will go away if you leave it a minute. It’s not pain where you can add a bit of lubricant and it’s going to be fine. You can’t force yourself to relax because the muscles aren’t under voluntary control."
You can sometimes get vaginismus even if you have enjoyed painless penetrative sex before. It also doesn't necessarily reflect your ability to get aroused or enjoy other types of sexual contact.
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What causes vaginismus?
The root of the issue is thought to be psychological – and can be down to anything from a previous traumatic experience to internalised religious beliefs.
"Psychologically, a bad event, such as a misplaced tampon or painful intercourse, can trigger vaginismus (for example, after a painful sexual experience you start associating vaginal penetration with pain)," says Henderson.
"Physical or emotional abuse can trigger psychological consequences, but sometimes it’s less obvious. One patient’s vaginismus stemmed from growing up in a very religious family, where it was drummed into her to not have sex before marriage.
"This formed her standards on relationships and she was unable to step out of that belief."
As mentioned, vaginismus can occur at any time.
"Interestingly, it doesn’t just apply to the first time you have sex: I’ve seen women who’ve never had any problems, then they get a new partner, something minor goes wrong and it triggers a downward spiral," Henderson explains.
The condition could also be triggered by fear that your vagina is too small, an unpleasant medical examination, or another painful condition like thrush.
What can help vaginismus?
While vaginismus can be painful and upsetting, there is help out there, for those who want it.
Henderson advises seeking advice from an expert in the field, such as your GP, an experienced nurse or a family planning clinic. You could also speak to a gynaecologist who specialises in psychosexual medicine.
Cures include medication, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or couple’s counselling. Vagina trainers are also common – penis shaped objects inserted into the vagina to help the muscles get used to penetration.
The chance of overcoming the problem is between 50% and 70%, Henderson says. "I would never say ‘we’ll cure you’, it’s not that sort of a condition. But you can manage the condition to live with it more happily."
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See a GP if you find it hard inserting a tampon into your vagina, you struggle with vaginal penetration during sex, or you feel burning or stinging pain during sex.
For more information on treatments that focus on managing your feelings around penetration and exercises to gradually get you used to it, as well as what might happen at a GP appointment, see this NHS website page.