Vaginismus is when the muscles around the vagina tighten involuntarily whenever there is an attempt to penetrate it.
The symptoms can vary from one woman to the next. Some women are unable to insert anything into their vagina because it closes up completely, some women can insert a tampon but are unable to have sex, and others are able to have sex but find sex painful.
It can also make gynaecological and pelvic examinations difficult or impossible. In some cases, an anaesthetic (painkilling medication) may be needed before a doctor can carry out an examination.
If you've never been able to have sex because of the condition, it's referred to as primary vaginismus. If you've previously been able to have sex but now find it difficult, it's referred to as secondary vaginismus.
What causes vaginismus?
A number of things can cause vaginismus, although it is not fully understood why the condition happens.
For some women, it may be caused by a traumatic past experience, such as a difficult childbirth or sexual abuse. They may associate sexual activity with pain and avoid having intercourse as a way of preventing further pain.
A condition called vestibulodynia is a very common cause of vaginismus. It is thought to be caused by oversensitive nerves at the opening of the vagina, and causes pain or discomfort when penetration is attempted. Some women with vestibulodynia also experience pain when using tampons.
Vaginismus can also sometimes be caused by inflammation or an injury to the vagina or vulva.
Vaginismus can be treated. How it is treated will depend on what's causing it.
If there is an obvious physical cause, such as an injury or infection, it can be treated with appropriate medication.
Vaginal trainers are smooth, penis-shaped cones of different sizes that can be used in the privacy of your own home.
Many women also find that counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps.