According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist, 3 out of 4 women will experience pain during intercourse at some point during their lifetime. Shelby Hadden has vaginismus, a pelvic floor condition making it painful for her to have intercourse. She had such a difficult time finding a diagnosis that she made an animated film, "Tightly Wound," to bring knowledge about the condition.
In the film, Shelby explains vaginismus is a pelvic floor condition in which the muscles in the vagina involuntarily contract making it too tight for penetration. This is why she says she was in her mid-20s and had never had sex. Shelby joins on Skype and explains the process to diagnosis was really difficult filled with a lot of pain and shame around her body and sexuality. It wasn't until she was 21 years old did she find pelvic floor physical therapy to help with the condition.
OB/GYN Dr. Nita Landry elaborates on pelvic floor conditions, saying they are very common; 1 in 3 women will experience one. This is one of the potential causes of painful sex. The involuntary contractions of vaginismus can make it very uncomfortable trying to insert a tampon or for a partner to penetrate. There is also an emotional component that many physicians don't address.
There are two types of vaginismus. Primary is when you've never experienced penetration without pain. Secondary is when you at one time were able to have sex without pain but due to some condition, like surgery or trauma, you now cannot experience penetration without pain.
Dr. Nita says it is difficult to know how many women suffer from this condition because many are embarrassed to talk about it. Some statistics say it occurs in about 2 out of every 1,000 women. It's unfortunate women with the condition do not discuss it, because there are options, like dilators or pelvic floor therapy, which can be very beneficial.
Shelby's advice for women experiencing similar pain is to see as many doctors as they need to. If they hear "it's in your head," keep moving on until a doctor validates your pain and gives you a treatment plan. Shelby went to pelvic floor physical therapy for four years but no longer needs to! She also has finally had intercourse!
If you think you may need pelvic floor physical therapy, Shelby recommends finding someone you feel very comfortable with since it is an intimate relationship. ER physician Dr. Travis Stork adds if in pain, get a diagnosis and then find someone who knows what they are doing to help you.