Our big mission at vaginismus.com is to help as many women as possible with vaginismus and related sexual pain or penetration problems.
Since early beginnings with organizers Mark & Lisa Carter (experienced vaginismus in 1991), vaginismus.com has remained a small but vibrant independent organization working hard to care daily for the thousands of women encountering vaginismus and seeking help and solutions. We reply to all emails and inquiries about vaginismus, usually the same or next business day, and work hard to support and answer all questions as women go through our programs through our moderated private forum, private live chat, emails and phone calls where warranted.
As part of our mission to bring help to women with vaginismus, we have assembled comprehensive vaginismus self-help materials. The vaginismus kits and other products are regularly used by medical professionals throughout the world.
For more information about how we got started helping women with vaginismus, the following stories describe the primary vaginismus experience of Lisa & Mark Carter (also explaining the birth of vaginismus.com), and short bios of our forum moderators.
Vaginismus strikes both young and old, sexually experienced and inexperienced. In our case, we were young and inexperienced. Marrying right after graduation from University, neither of us had had intercourse before and we really didn't know a lot about sex. We were basically college sweethearts that loved each other, had plans for a family and hopes for the 'American Dream'. We were both brought up in caring, loving families.
We discovered vaginismus on our honeymoon - the classic primary vaginismus story about the young couple that couldn't consummate, no matter how hard they tried. Calls back home to the family physician were met with the standard advice to "Try using more foreplay or more lubricant - and just keep trying. Don't worry, you'll figure it out." We tried again and again using every method we could think of, but it was like 'hitting a wall'; penetration was simply impossible. We were confused and felt utterly foolish and embarrassed.
Back when this happened to us, the internet was still in its infancy. Endless searches revealed little useful information. With the honeymoon over, we worked hard adjusting to our new careers in a new city. We relocated all our possessions and created a home all the while carrying on as if everything was perfect. Our family and friends had no idea what we were experiencing. We assumed somehow that we would eventually figure it out and didn't dream of suffering the embarrassment of letting anyone know about our strange honeymoon problem and ongoing failure.
As is typical for couples going through vaginismus, the passage of time began to create difficult paradoxes. How do you simply go in to a new doctor and say "By the way, we've been married for 7 months and we haven't had sex yet. Any ideas?". A person feels extreme shame and failure, to the point that it becomes very difficult to be courageous enough to seek help. In our case, we reluctantly got up our courage out of necessity and kept asking more professionals, unfortunately with little help or solutions offered.
Like most women with vaginismus struggling to identify their problem, we wondered if there was some kind of deformation of the vagina or vaginal opening, hymen problem, or some other physical problem, but as we discovered later, abnormalities are extremely rare. Men sometimes wonder if they are too big for their spouses, but this is a false concern (a woman's vagina will accommodate any size man). In fact, in the vast majority of unconsummated marriages, vaginismus is the sole reason that penetration is impossible (ignoring cases of male erectile dysfunction). Eventually, we were able to get a referral to a major university gynecologist, but she was only able to confirm biological normalcy. The gynecologist's unhelpful advice to us was to 'get drunk and try watching x-rated movies'. She apparently had no familiarity with vaginismus.
Misdiagnosis is rampant with vaginismus. William Masters (of Masters and Johnson fame) has been quoted as saying that vaginismus may be the most misdiagnosed of all medical conditions. Diagnosis is hampered by two quirks of vaginismus. In some cases, the spasms of the pelvic floor only happen with attempts at intercourse, so an examination by an unfamiliar medical professional - who notices no physical problem whatsoever - yields no results or suggests the patient may have psychological problems. In other cases the opposite happens, severe spasms during medical exams give unfamiliar physicians the strong impression that there is a physical abnormality. Sometimes rough physicians will try to 'force' their instruments into the tightened vagina causing the patient severe pain and further aggravating the vaginismus response. When it is impossible for doctors to complete an internal exam due to extreme tightness, they may falsely conclude that surgery is required to open up the vagina. Too many women with vaginismus have experienced unnecessary surgeries that either made no difference or left them with further complications. In yet other cases, busy physicians may simply be baffled and give 'use more lubricant or foreplay' type messages not knowing what else to suggest. Please understand that we have great respect for the medical profession. We merely emphasize the difficult time that many couples still find in getting the help they need through traditional sources where the problem tends to 'fall between the cracks' of professional disciplines or fall to the task of unfamiliar general practitioners.
After repeated attempts to find medical answers failed, we sought out a well-known psychologist and once again explained our plight. After spending a number of sessions exploring the possibilities of childhood abuse or 'hidden memories' we still were baffled. Although there are many possible triggers of vaginismus (see Causes), sometimes there is no explanation at all or the explanation is not evident initially. We sometimes hear stories of women who spent years in counseling trying to find the mysterious root of their vaginismus, thinking that it would just disappear if they could just remember some event from their youth. After drawing little direct help, but some good principles to help manage this difficulty as a couple, we began to seek resources that would help us in our research.
We finally decided we needed to become our own advocates and made it our personal mission to begin researching for answers and solutions for our problem and set everything else aside. Spending days at a time dusting off old volumes in university medical libraries, we slowly narrowed our search down to a handful of possibilities. With more and more and more digging and researching everything we could find that was related to the subject of female pelvic and sexual disorders, eventually the evidence seemed to be pointing to vaginismus. Since vaginismus was considered a 'rare' female pelvic disorder, we still had some skepticism about the diagnosis, but all the pieces pointed to this as being our problem. Having determined with some uncertainty that our problem was vaginismus, we next had to figure out if it could be cured and how to go about treating it. Much of the medical literature was mixed and vague on the subject of vaginismus treatment. Very few resources offered much more than a few paragraphs or maybe a page or two regarding treatment.
As we continued researching, we noticed that there were frequent mentions about the use of vaginal dilators in treatment. We immediately set out to locate some dilators, only to be again shocked and dismayed that after contacting every major health and medical supplier we could find, the only company anyone ever heard of that had made dilators had closed its doors permanently. After months of frustration, we finally gave up trying to locate dilators and hand manufactured our own. The set was crude and not nearly as refined as what we offer today, but it was all we had to work with. Later, when we decided to help others with vaginismus, we made it our personal mission to make affordable, quality medical-grade dilators available to women at all times.
After some time, we began to realize that treating vaginismus involves a lot more than simply inserting dilators. Although dilators are an important and valuable tool, they, in themselves, are only a part of treatment. Like many couples, we had the mistaken idea that the dilators would be used to stretch the vaginal opening larger, and then eventually the largest dilator would be replaced by a penis. This concept is still perpetuated today by outdated medical literature and misleading online 'treatment advice'. After much research we learned that in proper treatment, dilators are not used to stretch the opening at all. The vaginal opening of a woman is already naturally capable of stretching as large as a baby's head for delivery - much larger than a man. The vagina is a potential space that can accommodate a penis of any reasonable size without any significant pain (without vaginismus) when there is proper loving foreplay and arousal. With primary vaginismus, any attempt to insert the penis results in immediate tightness of the pelvic floor, and in particular the PC muscle group, a band of muscle that surrounds the vagina. The muscle spasms involuntarily, meaning that it is not under the direction or control of the woman and she can't simply 'will' the tightness to stop.
We discovered by trial and error and ongoing research that the answer to treating vaginismus lay in learning how to control and override the tendency of the pelvic floor to tighten up on its own. We realized that all potential triggers needed to be addressed as part of this process and realized that a methodical, step-by-step process was needed to address all aspects of vaginismus causes and treatment, and to transition to pain-free intercourse.
Researching every step as we progressed through treatment, we finally consummated our marriage for the first time. Intercourse seemed almost bizarre, as if it wasn't really happening. Initially, we were happy to just achieve entry without pain (in fact without any feeling at all when there was little movement). With continued experimenting with various exercises and techniques, we were able to fully transition to a normal sex life, as if nothing wrong had ever happened. We were overjoyed and so happy to be free of the horrible burden of vaginismus on our lives.
As we happily resumed normal lives, we had nagging thoughts about others facing the same pain and problems of vaginismus that we had to go through. We had done so much work and research, it seemed unkind to not make it available to others. We initially decided that writing a book would be the best way to make the information available to others. If it helped just one person we felt it would be worth it and also help bring meaning to our own suffering. We really never thought that very many people had the problem so we did not anticipate that our efforts would benefit many people. Today we know that vaginismus is a surprisingly common condition that garners surprisingly little attention given that it has very high treatment success rates when a treatment program is followed.
After many months of writing and formulating a robust program based on our experience, we had a finished manuscript and a 'kit' with books, dilators and a video. Our books contained a complete program, a ten step process that would take any person with vaginismus from start to finish through the whole treatment process. After we finished the project, we began to doubt if it was worth it emotionally to promote the materials. Working on it had been bringing up painful feelings from the past and we really wanted to move on with our lives. By this time we had well-developed careers and didn't want to be side-tracked with something that was painful. Yet, we still had a nagging concern about people who might be helped and we wanted to bring good out of our suffering. Finally, after more time had passed, we put together a website to help women understand vaginismus and made the materials available to the world. We knew that we would have given anything to have had a complete program available when we were going through our trial. Instead of suffering for years, we could have been over it in weeks.
We were somewhat surprised when people began coming to our website and began to write us with questions and personal stories. It turned out that many others were experiencing vaginismus and finding difficulty getting help. After that long journey, we began to realize that our hard work and research was truly going to help a lot of people. Today, we are amazed at the number of women with vaginismus that have been helped. Thousands of women have had restored sex lives because of our program. The program has become in wide use in many medical circles and is considered the only program of its kind. It has had many favorable reviews in popular media, medical journals, and among treatment professionals and vaginismus sufferers, and continues to change lives daily.
We now have an active private forum where there are hundreds of women going through the program. Some of those who have successfully overcome themselves have permanently 'stayed on' to help support women just beginning treatment. It is truly gratifying to see women helping women with this problem. Vaginismus.com has become a very active hub for women seeking help and every day we field questions like "We haven't consummated but we've been married for twelve years - what do we do?", "Sex always hurts now since I had my baby - could it be vaginismus?", "I'm an older woman having problems with tightness, burning and pain with intercourse - is this vaginismus?". At one point, we realized that our program focused mainly on primary vaginismus and so we broadened the program to cover secondary vaginismus as well so that it was more comprehensive and helpful for women with vaginismus triggered later in life. With the advances in the internet and growth in training about vaginismus treatment, there are now many more professionals equipped to diagnose and treat vaginismus effectively. Our kits have matured into effective aids for both professionals and individual sufferers treating vaginismus.
Our ongoing mission has intensified and we are trying to bring more media attention to this problem. With endless discussions about erectile dysfunction, why doesn't anyone seem to know or care about vaginismus in the popular media? Why is it that women's issues seem to get buried in shame and silence, while men's issues get the lion's share of attention? Hopefully, with ongoing efforts of us and others, we will eventually see this issue gain greater exposure in the popular media and those women hiding in the far-off shadows of fear and despair will finally get the help they need.
Thank you for reading our story. We hope that it helps shed light both into vaginismus and into the long and painful journeys that couples still face today. If we can be of further help to you, feel free to contact us anytime.
With all our hopefullness for victory over vaginismus,
Lisa & Mark
My husband and I struggled with the mystery of being unable to consummate our marriage after a full year of attempts. I had pretty much assumed that this was due to fear, but had no idea that this could be an actual physical condition. Before finding the invaluable hope Vaginismus.com offered, we worked on finger insertions to attempt to desensitize myself to the fear of penetration. After an emotional night and many tears, some intense internet research led us to Vaginismus.com where I self-diagnosed primary vaginismus. I later confirmed this with my doctor and began treatment, overcoming in February 2006 after a year and a half of marriage.
I have an innate compassion for women struggling with vaginismus and a strong passion to witness the chains of vaginismus being broken off of women throughout the world. As a vaginismus.com forum moderator, I hope to help contribute to the effort of making "vaginismus" a common term, helping to bring the hope of healing to women suffering in shame and silence. I have studied Music Education and am currently in the process of attaining my certification in Medical Transcription. I currently reside in New Jersey, USA with my husband of 3 years and our first baby is on the way!
I have truly experienced the meaning of being "more than an overcomer" and believe that every woman with vaginismus, who believes in herself and makes treatment a priority, can and will be able to claim that as well!
Hello! I am so honoured to be moderating on the forum and feel blessed to be able to be associated with such a wonderful group of loving, passionate and courageous women!
So what's my story?? Well, I am 30 years old, married for 7 years with a 2 year-old child and live in the beautiful country of Australia! I enjoy reading, writing, watching movies and entertaining with friends. I love chocolate and of course, cats.
I overcame vaginismus in November 2006 through this program after years of painful intercourse. I had thought that my lot in life was that sex would always be a struggle, and at times not even possible. In fact, when I gave birth to our beautiful child I did not have intercourse throughout the entire pregnancy. This meant my fears of sex escalated all the more and I became petrified at the thought of it, believing I may never have it again. If I did not have proof in the form of our child I may not have believed I had even ever had sex!
It was at THIS point, I found Vaginismus.com and started the program, and let me just say now, This program has changed my life! I am experiencing pain-free intercourse for the first time ever!! It's so surreal for me after years of pain and fear associated with sex. I desire sex now and look forward to it! And you know what? I know this can be true for each one of you.
I am so excited to be a moderator on this forum and to be able to walk along side each of you as you undertake this journey. It's not always easy but its reward is life changing.
I am living proof.
Hello, my name is Lori. I have been a part of the forum for 10 months. I found this program last September. It has empowered me so much. My husband and I dated for 4 years before we were married. We waited until our wedding night and thought intercourse would be this wonderful thing. Well, intercourse did not happen on that night or subsequent nights for 13 years until this past October. I thought I was a freak, even though my husband was very supportive. I had no idea how to fix the problem. I had a traumatic gynecological appointment when I was 18, and never really made the connection as to how traumatized I was. When I went to see a gynecologist ten years later at 28 to find out why I couldn't have intercourse, he was very nice and helped me to work towards pelvic exam success. His thinking being if I could do an exam and overcome the trauma, I would be able to have intercourse. Well, that thinking didn't work. My husband and I just continued to keep trying on our own. As I said, we found this program in September. We decided to give this all we had, there were some rough times in working through all of the steps, especially that first insertion. We overcame in October, eight months before our 14th wedding anniversary in May. I am now expecting our first child in September. I am a true believer in this program.
I have an elementary education degree and I love teaching. I am the oldest of four children. My hobbies include reading, quilting and gardening. I have three cats that I love like they were my children. I hope these spoiled creatures still love me after the baby arrives!
I look forward to encouraging and sharing with all of you in the forum.
Kate Cardwell lived with the devastating effects of secondary vaginismus for over 13 years without a diagnosis or even a name for her pain. She finally overcame vaginismus using the information, tools and encouragement offered by Vaginismus.com. She is now dedicated to spreading the word about vaginismus in hopes that other women can also find healing. Kate served as an online moderator within the Vaginismus.com forum for two years. Kathy (her real name) has recently completed life coach training and is leaving Vaginismus.com to begin a new chapter in her life as a Life Coach. It is Kathy's desire to help any woman who desires positive change including those with vaginismus. For more information about Kathy and coaching, go to FreedomSteps.org. Click here for more information about Kate's original article in Today's Christian Woman.
"I can recommend use of this resource by all patients with vaginismus" - APTA Journal of Women's Health Physical Therapy
- Beth Shelly, PT, BCIA-PMDB