How are Childhood Trauma and Vaginismus Related?
Nandini Bhatia

Nandini Bhatia

May 23Vaginismus

How are Childhood Trauma and Vaginismus Related?

What is Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that occur between the ages 1-17. It is “The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.” 

Children are particularly vulnerable to trauma and are also very dependent on their caregivers for care, protection, and nurture. Childhood trauma can occur when a child witnesses or experiences overwhelming negative events in childhood. 

It is trauma if a child or a young person:

  • Is sexually, physically, emotionally abused, exploited or trafficked. This can take place at home, in the community or in an organisation. 
  • Witnesses or experiences violence in the home, family or community. This can also extend to civil wars or unrest.
  • Is bullied in person or online. 
  • If the parent or caregiver is affected by their own trauma wherein they are not able to meet the child’s physical or emotional needs. This can occur when the caregiver has a chronic physical or mental illness, gets into a serious accident, misuses substances, die, is imprisoned, divorces, or separates. 
  • Is not well cared for, protected or nurtured. Physical and emotional neglect can be just as traumatic for a child and is often downplayed as a source of traumatic stress. This can be more common in situations of poverty or discrimination. 

Childhood Trauma is
Abuse of ChildTrauma in Child’s EnvironmentNeglect of Child
Emotional, physical, and sexual abuseParental substance abuse, parental separation and/or divorce, mentally ill or suicidal household member, substance misuseAbandonment, child’s basic physical and/or emotional needs unmet


Childhood trauma is more common than we think and the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study (Felliti and Anda, 1998) has recognized the connection between childhood trauma and adult health, showing that even till fifty years later adults with childhood trauma show worse health outcomes compared to those who don’t. There are associations between ACEs and an increased risk of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression in adulthood. Those with ACEs are also vulnerable to further traumatic experiences in adulthood.

Children of traumatised caregivers experience secondary trauma at witnessing distressing events as a result of the trauma or due to possible neglect or abuse they may become vulnerable to as a result of their caregivers’ own traumatisation. 


Vaginismus is Psychosomatic

Psychosomatic means relating to the interaction of mind and body. Traditionally, vaginismus was understood as a physical concern characterised by the vaginal spasm. However, there is a need to understand it from a multi-diagnostic framework as physical symptoms with underlying emotional and mental meanings. The factors that contribute to vaginismus are understood to lie on a spectrum and are understood as a combination of physical to psychological, influenced by relationships and one’s cultural context. Different blends of these factors will contribute to it in unique ways to each set of partners experiencing vaginismus. Some of these factors include: 

  • Beliefs around penetrative sex being painful or underlying fears about tissue damage or the hymen being torn, due to misinformation about the body and acts of sex
  • Beliefs around sex and masturbation being shameful or wrong including overly restrictive upbringing (in which sexuality was considered a taboo subject), repressive religious teaching resulting in unhealthy or sex negative messages, and inadequate sex education,
  • Negative beliefs around sexual organs including the vagina being too small or having a penis aversion
  • Excessive fears around negative consequences of sex including painful childbirth, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases etc. 
  • Experiences of pain around genitals including painful periods, vaginal injuries or surgeries 
  • Painful first sexual experiences 
  • Traumatic events including past emotional, physical and sexual abuse or being a witness of violence or abuse, or exposure to unsafe touch experiences, or excessive exposure to stories of sexual assault 
  • Having a general anxiety disorder that is characterised by hyper-vigilance, fixating on the worst possible outcome, and an excessive need for control as well as development of perfectionism
  • Relationship dynamics, particularly a lack of emotional safety with one’s partner (due to mistrust, lack of commitment or emotional detachment) which could create anxiety about being vulnerable.


Some of the aforementioned factors can result in negative, irrational, and persistent beliefs borne out of traumatic events one may have experienced, especially in interpersonal relationships. 


Understand your Past to Heal Vaginismus

Vaginismus is an example of emotional wellbeing impacting physical health. For women with vaginismus, it is important to identify the aforementioned emotional and psychological trauma and causes that would be contributing to their vaginismus. The earlier in life one has experienced a traumatic event, the higher likelihood of an adverse impact of it in the absence of balancing positive experiences. 

Usually, there would be multiple layers of underlying causes contributing to vaginismus including recent painful penetration experiences. A trained therapist can help uncover and identify the multitude of contributing causes and even set a hierarchy for the most significantly contributing experiences. Usually the healing journey starts with gaining insight into the trauma and psychological causes of the vaginismus. Knowing the “why” behind the vaginismus can chart out a pathway for healing from it. There are a multitude of trauma-focused therapy modalities that trained professionals should use to heal the traumatic material and shift the resultant negative, irrational and persistent beliefs that maintain vaginismus. This is definitely a challenging journey that requires the woman to be immensely supported by the people and environment around her to be able to embark on this trauma-healing, transformative journey. 

Proactive For Her’s award winning Vaginismus Healing Program offers the right amount of scaffolding for the women to heal from their past and change their present beliefs in order to have a fulfilling future. Apart from 1:1 therapy sessions with trauma-informed coaches trained in evidence-based therapies, there are educational spaces and support groups for the women and their partners that allow for community spaces where women can feel heard, empathised with, and understood with other like-minded women and partners experiencing the same condition. 

Understanding the role of the past can also help a woman liberate herself from the guilt, self-blame and low self-esteem that often comes packaged with vaginismus. 



If you or someone you know suspects they may be battling vaginismus, reach out to us for a screening call to understand your condition and healing options better. The vaginismus programme at Proactive For Her uses a multi-disciplinary, holistic and evidence-based approach to treating vaginismus.