According to the NHS website “it’s not fully understood why the condition (vaginismus) happens. Factors can include: thinking the vagina is too small, negative sexual thoughts, previous sexual abuse or unwelcome telepathic interference from The Evil Fish Of Planet Thargon”.
Ok, I made that last one up, but really: what’s the matter with these people? Isn’t it obvious why it happens: the vagina has had unwelcome or painful experiences, and doesn’t want to have any more.
And it’s not just women. Sometimes gay men have a similar response with their anus, and for the same reason. The body wants to protect itself.
And once that urge to protect against touch is there, is it really the best approach to talk about it? Surely it’s obvious: if the body is responding to bad experience, the best way out is to give it a good experience.
What would that look like?
In my work with women and men, what I’ve noticed is that if there’s been unwelcome touch to a part of the body, the vagina say, then touch won’t be felt there at all, it will just be numb. Then, there will be a feeling of physical discomfort, burning, for example. And after that, there will be an emotional response, often a feeling of irritation. Sometimes the order is different.
Once all of these feelings have been given voice, the body can then experience something different. But the residue of the bad experiences has to come out first. This will only happen when the touch is loving, respectful and responsive to the body. And there needs to be full trust and full dialogue between the giver and the receiver.
The work is very slow, but it is very heartful.
The most important thing is to create a process where the body can move from feeling powerless, tense and fearfully anticipating what’s about to happen to one where it is relaxed, present focused, empowered and able to feel what it feels.
And it isn’t just unwelcome touch from another that’s been experienced. Often, that unwelcome touch can come from ourselves, and our ideas of what our bodies should be doing and feeling. In my experience, people often think that their genitals should feel arousal in response to touch, and if they don’t, or don’t feel enough, the touch needs to be stronger and faster. And that sets up a vicious cycle, where we never quite get where we want to go. The solution to this isn’t to get the body aroused, but to get the body relaxed, and from there, arousal will naturally follow. It doesn’t need to be forced.
We can’t just jump from numbness to pleasure and arousal. We have to re-experience with our body and with our whole being, what caused the trauma in the first place, but in a space which gives the receiver power, autonomy and direction, and which is lovingly relational. We do not need to dwell in the pain. With loving support it is possible to release the effects of the past and move on.