It seems to be common knowledge that what men need in the bedroom very much differs from what women want and need. However I think both genders would agree that feeling safe and supported are two common denominators towards successful intimate relations with their partner. If a woman ever experiences pain with vaginal penetration, whether during a physician’s exam or during intercourse, a pattern can become set in the nerves and muscles of the pelvis and affect the comfort of every experience afterwards. If the brain perceives that touch might be painful the muscles will guard or tighten to protect the area. Just imagine what would happen if someone is shutting the door tighter when you are trying to enter through it. So when honey winks at you across the kitchen, and we all know what “that look” is, the vaginal muscles might already be tightening before you ever make it to the bedroom. Tight muscles, poor stretching ability, can mean pain and discomfort with intercourse or vaginal exams.
There can be many causes as to why the muscles can lose the ability to lengthen properly. Hormonal changes that occur with menopause cause a shift in the amount of blood flow going to the muscles. Blood flow to muscles is imperative for their health. Vaginal dryness and muscle atrophy, or thinning, can occur affecting comfort with intercourse. Chronic tensioning in the muscles can happen for a wide variety of reasons such as chronic back or joint pain and constipation. History of sexual trauma can also affect the muscle activity and create a guarding affect causing pain on insertion. Pain can occur with initial penetration or with deeper penetration.
Education can go a long way toward helping these areas to heal, not to mention the relationship issues that go hand in hand with avoiding intimacy with your partner. Pelvic floor therapy can help you address many of the causes behind the dysfunctional muscle patterns, and therefore behaviors, that are affecting this quality of life issue. There are simple self-massage techniques to help improve blood flow into the tissues. Self-stretch techniques for the vaginal, hip, and back muscles will allow your tissues to re-learn what normal movement is and therefore not guard in response to fear of pain.
It is always important to remember that sex should be safe, enjoyable and pleasurable. If it has become something to fear and avoid know that you are never alone. The first step is to talk about it. Surround yourself with a healthy and supportive team including family and medical professionals. It is possible for you to get back to enjoying life and being with the people who make it special.
by Denise Nichols, OTR/L