Vaginismus: A Review of the Literature on the Classification/Diagnosis, Etiology and Treatment

Marie-Andrée Lahaie; Stéphanie C Boyer; Rhonda Amsel; Samir Khalifé; Yitzchak M Binik

Disclosures

Women's Health. 2010;6(5):705-719. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Vaginismus is currently defined as an involuntary vaginal muscle spasm interfering with sexual intercourse that is relatively easy to diagnose and treat. As a result, there has been a lack of research interest with very few well-controlled diagnostic, etiological or treatment outcome studies. Interestingly, the few empirical studies that have been conducted on vaginismus do not support the view that it is easily diagnosed or treated and have shed little light on potential etiology. A review of the literature on the classification/diagnosis, etiology and treatment of vaginismus will be presented with a focus on the latest empirical findings. This article suggests that vaginismus cannot be easily differentiated from dyspareunia and should be treated from a multidisciplinary point of view.

Introduction

Vaginismus is described as an involuntary vaginal muscle spasm interfering with sexual intercourse.[1] Since the term was first coined in the 19th Century, vaginismus has been conceptualized as a relatively infrequent but well understood and easily treatable female sexual dysfunction. In 1859, gynecologist Sims wrote that 'from personal experience, I can confidently assert that I know of no disease capable of producing so much unhappiness to both parties of the marriage contract, and I am happy to state that I know of no serious trouble that can be cured so easily, so safely and so certainly'.[2] This conceptualization was perpetuated by Masters and Johnson who reported a treatment outcome success rate of 100%.[3] It seems likely that this presumed high cure rate and lack of diagnostic controversy deterred new research. In fact, Beck described vaginismus as 'an interesting illustration of scientific neglect'.[4]

Since Reissing et al.'s review of the vaginismus literature, a few important empirical studies on the diagnosis and treatment of vaginismus have been published.[5] Interestingly, their results challenge the validity of the current definition of vaginismus as well as the notion that it is an easily diagnosable and treatable condition. The current article will examine the literature on the classification/diagnosis, etiology and treatment of vaginismus with a focus on the latest empirical findings.

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