The fear of penetration is a very real issue for many women. It can be categorized in a few ways, but the main two are vaginismus and vaginal penetration phobia (VPP), which are similar but present slightly differently, as we will address later in this article.
If the thought of having sex brings up anxiety for you, you are probably thinking about ways to overcome your fear of penetration. The reasons for your fear may be severe pain during intercourse, or anxiety about being intimate with your partner. Both can result in similar symptoms, like muscle spasms that prevent penetration from happening at all and the intense pain associated with vaginismus.
Often these issues result in total avoidance of penetration, which can cause problems with relationships, examinations and self-esteem.
Reasons for fear of penetration
Vaginismus falls under the domain of clinical gynaecology, although it can be classed as psychosomatic in many cases. Still, it is a recognized genito–pelvic pain and penetration disorder. If you are dealing with symptoms of vaginismus, they probably look something like this:
- Anxiety about intercourse
- Involuntary contraction of vaginal muscles
- Tensions and excessive tightness in the vagina
- Extreme pain during penetration (painful sex, or dyspareunia)
- Feelings of loss of control over your body
Vaginismus pain tends to present as burning, stinging and aching pains, but can also manifest as a feeling of rawness or general irritation. The pain can spread through the vulva or be centered in one area. For many women the pain of vaginismus can be intolerable, which leads to a cycle of anxiety and avoidance of sexual intercourse or examination. This pain aspect is known as vulvodynia, which can also occur without vaginismus.
Vaginal penetration phobia
Vaginal penetration phobia is a different fear of penetration to vaginismus in that it is not necessarily related to pain. Women who have had negative sexual or relational experiences, traumatic gynecological examinations, or illnesses or surgery in the pelvic region may develop vaginal penetration phobia.
They do not have to have experienced pain in order to fear penetration. A fear of intimacy with a partner can be enough to create anxiety and resulting muscle spasms that make any kind of penetration difficult or impossible. This inability to relax can be challenging to overcome and may lead to total avoidance of penetration – sexual or otherwise. Panic attacks are also very common, and it is often the fear of the panic attacks themselves that perpetuates the problem.
Overcoming fear of penetration
Women will generally seek treatment for their fear of penetration because they desire functional sexual relationships with their partner, or because they wish to become pregnant. Yet even when it there is no desire for relationship or family, the need for regular gynecological check-ups should not be ignored.
Vaginismus is often treated over a period of time using vaginal dilators. As you are in control of the size of the dilator and the insertion of it, it is much easier to become used to penetration at your own pace, with no feelings of pressure.
Once you get used to the dilator, you may find that your fear of penetration subsides greatly. On a psychological level, vaginal dilators can help train your mind to let go of some pre-penetration anxiety. On a physical level, the dilators can train your muscles to accept penetration by gradually conditioning them to receive the dilator.
Treating vaginismus really can change your life for the better, but there are times when the issue stems from psychological factors. In such instances, using vaginal dilators in combination with some kind of psychological treatment for vaginismus works best.
Treating vaginal penetration phobia
Since vaginal penetration phobia tends to stem solely from psychological issues, it usually requires treatment by a mental health professional who specializes in cognitive and behavioral techniques. However, these professionals often introduce gynecological aspects to the treatment plan. For example, after progress is made psychologically, the incremental use of vaginal dilators with gynecological supervision.
If you are suffering from a vaginal pain condition or phobic reaction to penetration, a proper diagnosis is important. Fear of penetration can cause many problems for women, but with the proper use of vaginal dilators and psychological assistance where needed, there is light at the end of the tunnel.