Title: Women’s experiences of using vaginal trainers (dilators) to treat vaginal penetration difficulties diagnosed as vaginismus: A qualitative interview study

Authors: Kat Macey, Angela Gregory, David Nunns, and Roshan das Nair

Year Published: 2015

Main topics Covered: Background of vaginismus, description of vaginal trainers, women’s experiences with vaginismus treatment with vaginal trainers, areas of concern for improving treatment of vaginismus.

Written for: Women experiencing vaginismus, Male partners of women experiencing vaginismus, Therapists/Clinicians, Heterosexuals, General population curious about learning about vaginismus and dilator use.

Recommended for: Clinicians/Therapists, Women experiencing vaginismus

Type of Resource: Research Article

APA Citation:
Macey, K., Gregory, A., Nunns, D., & das Nair, R. (2015). Women’s experiences of using vaginal trainers (dilators) to treat vaginal penetration difficulties diagnosed as vaginismus: a qualitative interview study. BMC Women’s Health, 15, 49. http://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-015-0201-6

Article Overview:

The aim of this research study was to hear the voices of women experiencing vaginismus and explore their experiences of treatment with vaginal trainers (VT’s), along with the intention of proposing a new set of guidelines to encourage improved treatment delivery and outcomes. Past research had mixed reviews on vaginal trainer’s effectiveness, however, these research studies did not incorporate participants experience of their treatment. In this study, researchers used semi-structured individual interviews with 13 women who had used vaginal trainers for vaginal penetration difficulties – diagnosed as vaginismus – that were recruited through either a specialist clinic, university campuses, or online forums. The participants of the study could choose to complete the interviews in their own home, the university, or at the clinic to allow participants to feel as comfortable as possible. Participants were asked to describe their symptoms, the degree of difficulty they experienced with penetration, and if they had experienced these symptoms throughout their entire lives, or if the struggles occurred after a period of pain-free intercourse. In addition to outlining the specific research study, the article also provides an overview as to what vaginismus is, clarifies how the diagnosis has recently changed to Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder (GPPD), describes the purpose of vaginal trainers, and how they can be used.

The results from this study revealed that there is still much that needs to be done to improve the treatment for women experiencing vaginismus. The participants revealed they felt that medical professionals often did not respond appropriately, and did not know themselves how to use the vaginal dilators so felt they were of little help. Physical investigations with doctors were described as painful, humiliating, and traumatic. Embarrassment also made it hard for the women to go the doctor to get these examinations in the first place, so when they felt they were not helped in the appropriate manner, this was also very discouraging for them. The women found professionals the most helpful when they listened, were empathetic, and believed them. The women also stated that professionals themselves lacked knowledge about how to use the VT’s, therefore, they were left on their own to figure it out. Partner support, and the importance or usefulness of that, was also discussed in a heteronormative manner.

This study gave space for women’s voices and women’s experience with vaginismus and vaginal dilators/VT’s. Throughout the article, the researchers include quotes and stories from the women directly, which could make it more relatable and humanizing for other women experiencing the same pain. The study also helps readers to understand what women struggling with vaginismus are feeling, while illustrating the areas that need improvement. One critique of the study is that only Caucasian, heterosexual women were interviewed. The sample size was also very small which makes makes it harder to generalize these results to the wider population that is experiencing vaginismus.

For helping healthcare professionals, a major takeaway from this study is the women’s need for empathetic and understanding support from someone who believes their stories, and acknowledges the painful emotional and physical experience they are going through. The research also highlights the importance for professionals to learn about VT’s and how they are used, or refer them to a trusted source that does, so they may guide their clients on an effective path to healing.

Written by Westland Researcher Rachelle Diamond