Vaginismus through a social microscope
Sneha Annmary Chandy

Sneha Annmary Chandy

Mar 19Vaginismus

Vaginismus through a social microscope

What is vaginismus?

Vaginismus is a condition where the muscles around the vagina tighten involuntarily, making it very painful or even impossible to insert anything into the vagina, such as a tampon, finger, or penis for penetration. It can make sexual intercourse difficult or uncomfortable, and it can affect a person's relationships and quality of life. Think of it like this: imagine the muscles around your vagina are like a tight fist. When someone with vaginismus tries to insert something into their vagina, these muscles clench up tightly, making it feel like a barrier or a blockage. This can cause pain, discomfort, or even make it impossible to have penetrative sex.

Now, what causes this tightening? It can be due to a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's because of fear or anxiety about sex or penetration. It can also be linked to past traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse or painful medical procedures involving the genitals.

Why is vaginismus misunderstood?

Vaginismus is often misunderstood for several reasons, including societal taboos around sexuality, limited awareness among the general public, and the complex nature of the condition itself. Many societies have deeply ingrained taboos surrounding the topic of sexuality and discussing issues related to genitals or sexual function openly. This stigma can lead to a lack of education and awareness about conditions like vaginismus. People affected by vaginismus may feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their symptoms, therefore further contributing to the slack of discussion and understanding surrounding the condition. 

Vaginismus is also not as well-known or understood as other sexual health conditions. It can present with a wide range of symptoms and severity levels, making it challenging to recognize and diagnose, which can only be done by medical professionals and sex therapists. Some individuals may experience mild discomfort or pain during penetration, while others may find it completely impossible to insert anything into the vagina. Additionally, vaginismus can be triggered by various factors, including psychological, emotional, and physical causes.

There are many misconceptions surrounding sexuality and sexual dysfunction. Some people may inaccurately believe that painful sex is normal or unavoidable, leading to a normalisation of symptoms associated with vaginismus. Others may also incorrectly assume that vaginismus is solely psychological or that it can be easily overcome with will power alone, negating the physical aspects of the condition. It must be known that the contraction experienced in the vagina by the individual, is involuntary therefore needs attention in a physical as well as psychological manner. 

Another point to note regarding why vaginismus is misunderstood, is that the whole topic is rarely depicted or discussed in mainstream media or literature. The lack of representation can contribute to feelings of isolation and alienation among individuals affected by the condition, as well as evolve misconceptions and stereotypes about sexual health and dysfunction. In order to accurately understand vaginismus, addressing these barriers requires increased education, awareness, and de-stigmatization of sexual health issues, as well as improved training for healthcare professionals in recognizing and treating vaginismus effectively.

How social factors could impact your sexual life?

Vaginismus has a lot to do with the lack of understanding or exposure to one’s own sexual life. Social factors can have a significant impact on a person's sexual life in various ways, influencing their attitudes, behaviours, and experiences related to sexuality. Here are several ways in which social factors can affect sexual life:

  • Cultural Norms and Values: Cultural norms and values play a crucial role in shaping beliefs and attitudes about sexuality. Different cultures may have varying perspectives on sexual expression, gender roles, sexual practices, and acceptable behaviour. These cultural norms can influence individuals' comfort levels with their sexuality, as well as their willingness to explore and express their desires.
  • Family and Upbringing: Family attitudes and upbringing can profoundly influence an individual's sexual development. Messages received from parents or caregivers about sex, relationships, and gender roles can impact self-esteem, body image, and beliefs about sexual behaviour. If there is open communication and positive parental guidance, this can foster healthy attitudes towards sexuality, while stigma or shame surrounding sex can lead to feelings of guilt or confusion.
  • Religious Beliefs: Religious beliefs and teachings often shape individuals' views on sexuality and sexual behaviour. Some religions promote abstinence before marriage, prescribe specific sexual practices, or impose strict guidelines regarding sexual morality. For individuals who adhere to these beliefs, navigating sexual relationships and desires may involve balancing religious teachings with personal values and desires, making it quite difficult to dwell deep into their sexual side. 
  • Peer Influence: Peers and social networks can also influence sexual attitudes and behaviours. Adolescents and young adults, in particular, may be influenced by peer pressure, social norms, and cultural expectations regarding sex. The desire for acceptance or conformity within peer groups can impact decisions related to sexual activity, contraception use, and relationship dynamics.
  • Media and Entertainment: Media portrayals of sex and relationships can shape perceptions and expectations surrounding sexuality. Television shows, movies, music, and advertising often present idealised or unrealistic depictions of sex, which can create pressure to conform to certain standards or norms. Additionally, the prevalence of sexualized imagery in the media can influence body image and self-esteem, particularly among young people.
  • Social Stigma and Discrimination: Stigma and discrimination related to sexuality, gender identity, and sexual orientation can have detrimental effects on individuals' sexual well-being. Fear of judgement, rejection, or violence may lead some individuals to conceal their sexual orientation or engage in risky sexual behaviours. Discriminatory attitudes and policies can also limit access to sexual health resources, education, and support services for marginalised communities.
  • Socioeconomic Factors: Socioeconomic factors such as income, education, and access to healthcare can impact sexual health outcomes. Individuals facing economic hardship or social inequality may experience higher levels of stress, which can affect sexual desire, arousal, and satisfaction. Limited access to sexual health resources, contraception, and reproductive healthcare services can also contribute to disparities in sexual health outcomes.


Vaginismus and cultural and religious factors 

Culture and religion do play a huge role in the lack of discussion and awareness around sexuality, and therefore vaginismus and its treatment. It's essential to recognize that attitudes towards sexuality, gender roles, and health care vary widely across different cultures and religious beliefs. In some cultures, there may be strong taboos surrounding discussions of sexual health and dysfunction, making it challenging for individuals to seek help or support for vaginismus. Cultures that prioritise modesty and sexual purity may view discussions of sexual problems as shameful or inappropriate, leading to stigma and reluctance to seek treatment.

Likewise, gender roles and expectations can influence experiences of vaginismus. In patriarchal societies, there may be pressure on women to fulfil traditional roles as wives and mothers, including performing sexually without experiencing pain or discomfort. This pressure can increase feelings of inadequacy or failure for individuals with vaginismus and may impact their willingness to seek help.

Religious beliefs and teachings can shape attitudes towards sexuality and health care, including the treatment of conditions like vaginismus, therefore, seeking treatment for vaginismus may raise questions about religious morality, marital duties, and personal piety.

In some cultures, there may be barriers to accessing sexual health education, gynecological care, and mental health support due to cultural taboos, gender segregation, or limited availability of services. Religious beliefs regarding modesty and privacy may also impact individuals' comfort levels with seeking medical treatment for sexual health concerns. It is also important to note that supportive communities may provide acceptance, understanding, and encouragement for seeking treatment, while communities that stigmatise sexual health issues may perpetuate shame and silence surrounding vaginismus. Understanding the cultural and religious norms within a community can help one tailor their support networks to meet the needs of individuals with vaginismus.



In addressing vaginismus within cultural and religious contexts, it's essential to approach treatment with sensitivity, respect, and cultural competence. At Proactive for Her, we strive to create a safe and non-judgmental environment for individuals to discuss their experiences and concerns, while also acknowledging and respecting diverse cultural and religious perspectives on sexuality and health. If you or a loved one know or suspect you have vaginismus, please don’t hesitate to schedule a screening call with us.