Vaginismus, Sex Toys, And You

Lydia Jupp talks about vaginismus, having a broken vagina, and road tests some sex toys to see if they help.

I had always known my vagina was broken.

A diagnosis of sexual dysfunction is never fun. It rocks your sex life in the worst ways. When I was diagnosed with vaginismus, my long held feeling that my vagina was broken was confirmed. I had never been able to insert a tampon growing up. And when I finally had my first pap smear at 18 I finally knew. Even the smallest speculum – the one they use for children – left me in tears. I felt broken, stupid and overdramatic, and tried to ignore the cramps I had for the rest of the day.

When I first started having sex, penetration brought on a burning, stabbing pain. So much so that it took me entirely out of the moment, but I thought it was something I had to get used to. Wasn’t it normal for it to be uncomfortable the first few times? In the recesses of my mind, I knew it wasn’t meant to be like this, that sex should never hurt so much. But I ignored my better judgment in order to feel some sense of peace.

Vaginismus: The Diagnosis

 For those who don’t know vagnismus is the tightening of vaginal muscles upon penetration. I first heard about it at uni, and it explained my body instantly. I went to a gynecologist immediately, only to find I was so tight that she couldn’t even attempt an internal exam! 


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A post shared by Jill Krapf, MD MEd | GYN (jillkrapfmd)

Vaginismus was likely, she said. 

In other words, yes, my vagina was broken. But there was a name for what was wrong with me, and there was a way to fix it. The bus ride home was spent in a frenzy, looking through any vaginismus related Instagram page I could find, saving podcasts to listen to later; meticulously combing through the community that I now belonged to. 

Living with Vaginismus: belly bands, dilators and bad sex

My pelvic floor physio was wonderful. I learnt how to view my body through a holistic lens, and began to understand that the muscles around my hips and pelvis were so tight from two decades of chronic anxiety. After spending years ignoring my pain out of fear, I started to acknowledge and deal with it. And when they suggested dilators might help, I was secretly excited. The photos I had seen on Instagram were so cute – all pastel colours and lovely, sleek designs. 

For those who don’t know, dilating is a very common way to treat vaginismus. It gives the vaginal muscles a chance to get used to being stretched, slowly, with lots of lube, and sometimes with a numbing cream. Unfortunately, the reality of it didn’t match up to the Instagram chic. I was handed a bright pink dilator set with a clunky handle and a silicone sleeve I never figured out. Each dilator locked onto the handle, like horrific little Russian dolls. I hated those dilators. Lube would always seep through the cracks, and after every dilating session, I’d have to wash the entire set. But I persevered, and after a while, I could successfully insert the third largest size. I was never able to get past the whole thing feeling awkward and uncomfortable, and wondered if I really could ever experience pleasure from penetration. 

Even so, I persevered. I walked around my house with a pregnancy belly band to support my pelvis and dilated while watching Parks and Recreation. Side note: not the best idea to watch a comedy while dilating. If you laugh too hard, the dilator will shoot out of you. I also did all the little exercises the physio prescribed me, and even had a yoga phase. 

And then the 2021 lockdown hit.

Crashing back to earth

After a few months of lockdown, vaginismus began to loom over my sex life like an unscalable mountain again. My vulva was hypersensitive to the point of numbness – a common side effect of the condition – and every sexual encounter, solo or partnered, ended with me crying. I was so constantly anxious that I started to avoid sex entirely to escape thinking about it. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to have sex. All I thought about was having satisfying, pleasurable sex, but that made everything so much worse!

My partner at the time was so incredibly supportive, but part of me wished they weren’t so I could just give up entirely. It was hard enough to understand my own feelings, let alone explain them to someone else. I was in my early 20’s, wasn’t I meant to be having bucketloads of fun, easy sex? What was I doing wrong? Should I see a sex therapist? What 22 year old is so broken they have to see a sex therapist? Everything was crashing out of control and I found myself falling into that familiar spiral of shame and self hatred.

Learning to focus on pleasure

A woman with water droplets sprinkled onto her torso runs a finger through the drops
There’s a lot more to sex than penetration, and learning to work with what your body enjoys is key to living – and thriving – with a vaginismus.

For all my years of talking about safe and pleasurable sex, I neglected the body and sex I already had by centring a heteronormative, penetrative, P in V notion of what sex was supposed to be. My hatred for my vagina crept into every pore of my sexuality, poisoning it until every sexual experience failed before it even began. Looking back to when I was first diagnosed, I now know I was so happy because I felt I could be fixed. There was a pathway to me becoming a Fully Functioning Human Being.

It wasn’t until 3 years later, at the age of 24, that I finally realised there was nothing to fix.

My body is not a machine. My vagina is not a broken cog in a system. I don’t need to spend all my time trying to have a “normal” vagina, or a “normal” sex life, whatever those even are.

My vagina is a body part, and one that is capable of pleasure at that. It doesn’t exist solely as a site to be penetrated. As long as my sex life is pain-free, consensual, and enjoyable, it’s inherently healthy. Our bodies and sexualities aren’t static, but fluctuate and change throughout our lives. Society has just conditioned us to believe our both could always somehow be better, rather than letting us be satisfied with what we have. I’m still learning to let go of the idea that penetration equals “true sex”, but I’m beginning to accept my vagina as it is – and just because penetration is not part of my sex life now, doesn’t mean it never will be.

But if it isn’t that’s okay too.

The mind matters

My change in mindset has revolutionised the way I feel about my body. While it’s difficult managing a chronic pain condition, it’s easier to remember that I have good days and bad days, and that my bad days don’t mean the death of my sex life. I’d poured so much of myself into treating my physical symptoms that I’d neglected the mental ones, which are just as important as the physio and dilators, maybe even more so.

My vaginismus journey isn’t over. I’ve only just scraped into my mid-twenties, after all. There is so much to learn about my body, sex, and pleasure. Will there be awkward casual sex where I have to unload my vagina baggage onto some poor unsuspecting partner? When will I be brave enough to find my G spot? Will I finally be able to use that nice dildo I bought while I was a bit drunk and feeling optimistic? My vagina and I have a whole life to live, and I don’t have all the answers. My vaginismus may never go away, and I’m going to have to be okay with that. Pleasure and sex are so much bigger than sticking things into a vagina, and I cannot let my life be curtailed by some mythical idea of what “normal” is.

Sex toys are life

Dilators and sex toys, especially vibrators, have made a huge difference to my sex life. They give me an opportunity to explore new sensations in my own time, and allow me to try new things in a non-judgemental space. I’m not having partnered sex at the moment, so my experiences with these toys didn’t include another person, but there’s plenty of opportunities for these to be used by more than one set of hands.

Sheology Dilator Set

The Sheology Dilator Set from Calexotics is an ideal set for people living with vaginismus.
Dilator sets like this one from Calexotics can help people with Vaginismus relax to aid penetration – if that’s the goal. Just use plenty of lube.

The She-ology dilators are exactly the sort of thing I pictured when I learnt I would be dilating. My old set made me feel like I was in a mid-2000’s tampon commercial. You know, hyper-feminine with too many white ladies on the box! These dilators, on the other hand, belonged on the socials of an Instagram sexpert. I love the flexibility their silicone build provides too! They’re also wearable, so I can dilate without having to lie down with a hand between my legs for half an hour. It’s super easy to just pop a dilator in and know that you’re training your muscles while doing whatever you want. I’ve had them for a few weeks now, and while I’m not entirely comfortable walking around while wearing one, it feels really good to have a more efficient way to dilate.

Dilators are great for play with a partner, even if they’re not a traditional sex toy. It may not necessarily be sexy, but having your partner insert a dilator into you can give them a better idea about your body, especially if you’re exploring penetration. Go slow, use lots of lube, and maybe get them to watch you dilate for a few sessions so they can get to know the most comfortable way to insert them.

Wild Secrets Kiss Bullet Vibrator

The Wild Secrets Kiss is a much loved travel friendly vibrator
The Wild Secrets Kiss is small, has a variety of settings, and with its full silicone body can be inserted – and is small enough that it can work for people with vaginismus

I will admit that the Wild Secrets Kiss bullet vibe didn’t make a great first impression on me. I’m the sort of person who has one designated vibrator that I adore and can always rely on. I felt like a bullet was very much a “starter vibrator” and that I had graduated to a more expensive, sophisticated model. Normally I think of bullet vibrators as great first toys, and I’ll be adding this to my list of suggestions for others. Bullet Vibes are great for learning what your body likes, and this one is more of a higher, buzzier vibe. It also has some really good and varied patterns to try. Personally I like the rumbly ones best!

One of the things this bullet is great for is internal stimulation. It’s really small and I found it super easy to insert even though I’m not super big on penetration. Especially after dilating. If you find insertion too daunting, try wearing one of the dilators and putting the vibrator on the base of it. You’ll then feel the vibrations through the dilator instead! It’s a good way to get your overactive nerves and muscles used to internal sensations, if that’s something you’re interested in. If not, this bullet is totally still in its element outside of your body.

Wild Secrets Envy Clitoral Stimulator

The Wild Secrets Envy is a clitoral stimulator with Air Pulse tech. Being non-penetrative toy, it
The Wild Secrets Envy mixes vibration and Air Pulse Technology – and while both together are too much for me, it could be your dream toy. Well worth the time in working out how it fitted best against my body.

Air pulse toys are all the rage at the moment, and it’s easy to see why. The Wild Secrets Envy suction toy has a lot of potential. On top of pulsing, it also vibrates! While the combination was too much for my hypersensitive nerves, it is definitely going to be someone’s dream toy. The vibrations were similar to the bullet’s in that they were a bit buzzy for me, but the air pulse was perfect. The patterns were really good and offered a great range of intensities, which is great for anyone exploring how their body responds to stimulation. However, the size of the simulator opening was a bit larger than I’m used to. Learning how to use it and fitting it against my body took a bit of time. It was time well spent though, I’ll be coming back to this one.

Overall, the Envy is quiet, easy to clean, and waterproof- what more could you ask for?

Choosing a sex toy for vaginismus

Now what works for me might not work for you. All bodies are different and that’s okay! Take your time, explore, research, and focus on what makes you feel good. There is no one rule that works for all vaginismus sufferers. Except maybe one: lube, lube, and more lube. Seriously, put a towel down.

At the end of the day, as long as your sex life is consensual, enjoyable, and pain free, it’s healthy. If penetration isn’t something you ever want to try, you don’t have to. You can have an incredible relationship with your sexuality without it. Your sex life is for no one but yourself. Be gentle with your body as you explore it, prioritise your pleasure, and remember that you are not broken.

If you know or think you’re strugging with vaginismus, you may like the following: