Couples on the Couch is an innovative new series for BBC Three, following real-life couples as they bring their genuine relationships to therapists at our specially created relationship clinic. The series will follow their journey through therapy as well as provide genuine take-home advice for people who may well see their own lives reflected on screen and provide them with a framework to help in their own lives.
The sole aim of the programme is to improve people’s quality of life/relationship.
Couples will be offered three therapy sessions – this will all be bespoke and tailored to their individual needs and circumstances. Our therapists have years of experience and we’re looking to create a really positive experience for everyone that participates.
We are looking to hear from people who think they could benefit in some way and might be interested in taking part. We’ve seen on forums online people discussing the effect Vaginismus can have not just on them but also on their relationship – one of our therapists has experience working with clients/couples in this area so we wanted to reach out to your network to let people know a bit about our programme and the help that we could offer.
If anyone is interested in taking part or would like to find out more, please email Gorana.Jelovina@bbc.co.uk or give call/text 07712 872469 – there is, of course, no obligation to take part, Gorana is happy to chat with people and tell them more about the show to see if they think it might be something for them.
Want to take part? Register your interest by emailing or calling Gorana by the 26th of October 2018.
Did you know that at least 2 in 1,000 women experience Vaginismus once in their lifetime?
Vaginismus, a condition where the pelvic muscles spasm to prevent penetration, making sex painful or even impossible affects thousands, but many are too embarrassed or afraid to seek treatment. Sh! is now opening up the conversation about painful sex and Vaginismus with an in-store awareness event, featuring expert advice and non-judgemental discussions.
On Friday 14th of September, in honour of Vaginismus Awareness Day we have curated an in-store event as part of our mission to reach out and support anyone affected by this condition.
As well as a complimentary glass of bubbly and a free bottle of Sh! Pure Lube (25ml), our resident specialists will be on hand to present and share their expertise.
*Spaces are limited so make sure to book early to avoid disappointment.
About the Speakers
Sarah Berry, Sex & Relationship Therapist – Your Vaginismus Journey
Having had her own battle with Vaginismus, Sarah is honoured to be able to help sufferers and partners on their own journeys with this condition.
Sarah is an accredited, experienced, sex & relationship therapist, who uses traditional counselling techniques as well as specialists sex and relational tools to help people find answers to why they have the condition, what maintains it and how to overcome it. She works experientially with each person or couple. While there are patterns, everyone is different and needs to find their own way to achieve their own goals.
Sarah’s advice has featured in publications including:
Cosmopolitan, The Telegraph, DIVA, The Daily Mail, Bizarre, Metro, The Huffington Post, The Evening Standard, Time Out, Company, Fiesta, Forum and Men’s Health. Sara has been a guest on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour and various shows on LBC.
Renée Denyer, Senior Store Manager at Sh! – Vibrate Your Way Through Vaginismus
Renée is the multi-award winning Senior Store Manager & Sexuality Educator at Sh!. An expert in female sexuality, Renée’s knowledge of sex toys and their benefits is unparalleled and she has years of experience offering advice and recommendations to women (cis and trans) battling Vaginismus.
During the evening, Renée will do a short presentation of the specially designed Sh! Vibrating Dilator Kit and explain the benefits of using vibrations as a way of overcoming Vaginismus. After the presentation, she will be on hand to recommend suitable toys and their potential for your pleasure.
During her 11 years at Sh!, Renée has been invited to share views, insights, and tips & tricks with a wide range of online & print magazines and newspapers such as Grazia, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Glamour, BuzzFeed, The Debrief, Evening Standard, The Sun, Flavour Magazine, DIVA Magazine, Mirror, Amor Magazine, Bloomberg, SoFeminine and Hindustan Times.
We are delighted to welcome back The Vaginismus Network aka Lisa & Kat for a second meet up on 13th July at 6.30pm.
Co-founded by Kat and Lisa, the Network was set up as a relaxed, safe space for women living with Vaginismus to chat and connect. Their mission is to educate, support and empower women who are living with this condition, and they will each share inspiring parts of their personal journeys with guests.
Sh! Store Manager Renee will give a warm & humorous talk on the usefulness of vibrations, especially focusing on the Sh! vibrating dilating sets and how these kits can help overcome Vaginismus.
The Sh! dilating kit is the world’s first soft silicone vibrating dilating kit, a million miles away from the hard, blunt monstrosities often offered by the NHS. The kit was designed after meeting so many women desperate for something other than the above-mentioned plastic dilators, and we are proud to say ours are hand-poured in our in-store silicone lab. Guests attending the meetup will be able to touch and feel the dilators and accompanying vibrating bullet, and will also be offered a discount on these unique kits after the talk.
And as if that’s not enough, Sex & Relationship Therapist Sarah Berry will give an insightful talk on Vaginismus, its causes and what can be done to overcome this stressful condition. Having a wealth of experience, Sarah’s open & honest talk was hugely popular at the last meetup, offering valuable insight into a condition that often makes the sufferer feel alone and isolated.
The first Vaginismus Network meet-up was a great success with over 30 women coming together to discuss Vaginismus and their experience of living with it. We’re looking forward to an equally inspiring event and if you feel nervous or worried about attending, you needn’t be. The atmosphere is warm, supportive and welcoming. (And the relaxing glasses of wine to welcome guests work to settle nerves fast!)
We have been contacted by Burning Bright Productions who are looking for women to take part in a new Channel 4 arts documentary all about their womanhood. They are working with a renowned photographer/storyteller as they create a new project and are looking for people to speak about what being a woman is to them, told through their life experiences and their bodies.
They are looking to speak to women, but particularly are looking for people who may not have had a sexual relationship or experiences, or may be suffering from conditions such as Vaginismus. Taking part involves getting some intimate photographs taken in a sensitive and respectful environment, as well as doing a short interview. The photos are all anonymous and your photo will not be matched with your identity if you don’t want it to be. Each woman’s photo and story will be part of a large chorus of women, providing their testimony to explore how their experiences and bodies have affected their womanhood.
If you would like more information or would like to apply then contact Elle at ellemower@BBprod.co.uk or call her on 0203 696 5049.
Co-founded by Kat and Lisa, the aim of The Vaginismus Network is to break isolation and create a inclusive community for those living with Vaginismus.
Having only met in person as recently as 2017, Kat and Lisa have both been living with the condition for years, feeling isolated, ashamed and frustrated. Being all too familiar with the impact Vaginsimus has on relationships and self-esteem, they decide to do something about it:
“Our aim is to build a community of women with Vaginismus, and help make connections between women who live near one another or who are in similar situations.”
The evening will include short talks by Kat & Lisa (Co-Funders of The Vaginismus Network), Renee Denyer (Senior Store Manager & Sex Educator at Sh!), and Sarah Berry (Sex & Relationship Therapist). There will be ample time to meet, chat and connect with other women living with Vaginismus in a safe, relaxed space.
Vaginismus, a complex psychosomatic condition affecting thousands of women, yet so few talk about it.
At least 2 in 1,000 women experience Vaginismus at some point in their lifetime – and probably many, many more who are too afraid or embarrassed to seek medical attention and help.
Many of these women go for years without seeking help, or even realising that help is available. Or, another common thread, is plucking up the courage to look for help, only to be told the pain is imagined.
Vaginismus Awareness Day
In order to raise awareness of this painful condition, we created Vaginismus Awareness Day on the 15th September 2016.
We’re dedicate this day (15th September 2017) to talking about Vaginismus and raising awareness of issues associated with it. Vaginismus isn’t ‘only’ about sex, it’s about life.
Penetrative sex is not the only thing its victims loose – let’s be honest, not everyone prioritise that – but a sense of intimacy or self-worth too.
Join the discussing by using #VaginismusAwarenessDay, #Vaginismus or #PainFeeSex on when Tweeting at us (@Shwomenstore), or leave a comment below – we’d love to hear first-hand experiences of Vaginismus.
What is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is the term used to describe recurrent or persistent involuntary tightening of muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted. Penetration, in this case, does not refer to penis-in-vagina sex only, it refers to any type of insertion into the vagina, including use of tampons and cervical smear tests.
This tightening of the vagina may make any kind of insertion not only difficult and painful, but impossible.
Facts About Vaginismus
Approximately 10% of adult women have experienced painful intercourse in the last six months.
2 out of every 1,000 women has at least moderate Vaginismus.
Approximately 20% of women who seek help from sexual clinics are experiencing Vaginismus.
53% of clinical Vaginismus patients are married.
53% of women with Vaginismus are between 25 and 35 years old, with 18% younger and 29% older.
Is Vaginismus Treatable?
Yes, it is! Because it’s a condition that involves the head and body, the best thing to do is see a psychotherapist who knows about Vaginismus. All the therapists on the COSRT website will have had specific training in this.
The existing plastic kits were described by women we talked to as too blunt and painful to use, which is why ours are made from silicone, ensuring the maximum level of comfort.
The thrilling buzz from the removable vibrating bullet helps to relax tense nerve endings and can make the process easier, the discomfort less and the pleasure involved better than with the standard plastic dilator sets.
With a 95% chance of treating the condition, it is time to talk about Vaginismus, shatter the isolation, and eliminate the pain.
By using code DILATE0917 you will receive a 12% discount when you buy the Sh! Silicone Dilating Kit up until and including Friday 22nd September 2017.
The Sh! Soft Silicone Dilating Kit with vibrating bullet became a popular product with women living with Vaginismus and Vulvodynia, as well as the medical profession, as soon as it was launched on Vaginismus Awareness Day on 15th September 2016.
The very first of its kind, the Sh! Dilating Kit made pleasure waves by incorporating a small vibrator, delivering relaxing thrills to tense nerve-endings and exciting chills to the clitoris because – why not?
Considering pleasure was and continues to be an important aspect of the treatment for us – we want women using our dilators to not only overcome a stressful condition, we also want them to have fun whilst doing it.
This is where you come in!
If you are in treatment for Vaginismus or Vulvodynia; if you are in recovery from vaginal or anal reconstruction; if you are a post-op trans woman or if you have been diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser Syndrome, we’d love your take on the two designs below.
How do you feel about the following designs?
Does one design look more medical (less sexy)?
Does one design look more sexy/fun (less medical)?
Does the design (medical versus sexy) matter to you?
How do you feel about a gradual increase in length?
Do you prefer the look of each trainer/shaft getting longer?
Do you prefer the look of each trainer/shaft being the same length?
Do you think the length of the trainers/shaft affect how you feel about using the products?
What is you main reason for using trainer/dilators?
Post-Op Trans Woman
Do you have any further comments or ideas on what could make these design dilators better?
We’d appreciate your feedback on the two designs, and by answering the three questions in the survey below, you can be sure your comments count when it comes to improving the Sh! Dilating Kit.
I recently lost my virginity to a guy that I absolutely trust and am very attracted to. He was able to make me cum using his hands, but sex was incredibly painful for me. He isn’t particularly big but I’m pretty sure he caused some tearing as well (I bled a lot, although I think I started my period at same time). I was sore so we left it and recently tried again and it still hurt, perhaps marginally less but still far too much for me to continue.
I’ve heard that even your first time doesn’t have to hurt if you’re properly aroused and unarousal was the only explanation I could think of, but I enjoy everything else he does. I’m bisexual so perhaps it’s possible my attraction for men isn’t strong enough to be sexual? There’s also the fact I have never inserted anything besides tampons and in fact being fingered hurt first time round.
So I want to know: is it normal for it to hurt or should I be worried, and what can I do to stop the pain?
Many thanks for your email. We’re sorry to hear your first time was so painful but it’s not uncommon. Painful sex is never fun and can put people off for a long, long time.
First of all we’d recommend booking a check up to make sure all is well on the inside of the vagina. There could be a number of reasons for the pain, and it’s always best to have it checked out. It’s not impossible that you have a vaginal infection that may require antibiotics, for example. Or Endometriosis which is a common condition that causes pain during and after sex. There is another condition called Vaginismus that causes pain when penetration is attempted. But – the good news is that most conditions causing painful sex are treatable.
Secondly, did you use lube? We always recommend generous amounts of lube for all sex play. There is always the possibility that your vaginal membranes were dry, especially if you felt nervous for your first time. Other factors such as dehydration caused by alcohol, medication or tiredness are very common and these can all make penetrative sex uncomfortable.
Positioning can make a whole world of difference. It might be an idea for you to be in control of penetration, when you decide to give sex another go. Being on top means that you can stop if it begins to feel uncomfortable at all.
We can’t comment on whether or not you felt aroused at the time – only you know that. It could be that you didn’t feel turned on because there was no chemistry with the guy or it could be that you didn’t feel aroused, or lost your desire exactly because it was painful!
The good news is that sex usually gets much better with time so you have lots of exciting experiences to look forward to!
Vaginismus Awareness Day is a think we made up. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a very important thing. In fact for next year we’re thinking about broadening our umbrella and holding a Pain Free Sex Day.
As we hope you know, vaginismus is the term used to describe recurrent or persistent involuntary tightening of muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted.
We’ll be hosting a webinar on the evening of the 14th of September with Krystal Woodbridge a Psychosexual & Relationship Therapist and Qualified nurse. If you’d like to join in please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll also be hosting a live event in London on the 15th of September, featuring talks from Psychosexual therapists, including Sh! advice columnist Sarah Berry. We will also hear from vaginismus sufferers and the Sh! Team.
You may have heard of Vaginismus? Maybe you have a friend or partner who have told you about it? Or maybe you are one of the estimated 2 in 1000 women who have experience of this painful condition first hand?
Whilst occasional minor pain and burning sensations during sex may not mean anything more serious than your vagina needing more lube, ongoing pain and burning sensations needs investigating further.
With more and more women coming forward to seek help for painful & difficult sex, we see an increasing number of customers with Vaginisimus.
What is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is a sexual pain disorder where the muscles in and around the vagina tighten and go into spasm – the vagina can close up completely. It can make penetration, gynecological and pelvic exams difficult, or even impossible. Some women may need anaesthetic before a doctor can examine them.
It is important to note that Vaginismus is not triggered deliberately or intentionally by the women suffering with it. It happens involuntarily without their intentional control and often without any awareness on their part. Tackling the psychological implications and the physical symptoms simultaneously is the most effective way forward, but most important of all is to realise that having Vaginisimus need not mean an end to a woman’s sex life.
There are two types of Vaginismus:
Primary vaginismus: when a woman has never been able to have sex because of the condition.
Secondary vaginismus:when a woman has previously been able to have sex but now find it difficult or impossible.
Symptoms of Vaginusmus differ between women:
Some women are unable to insert anything into their vagina.
Some women can insert a tampon and complete a gynae exam, but cannot insert a penis or dildo.
Other women can partially insert a penis or dildo, but it is very painful.
Some are able to fully insert a penis or dildo, but tightness and pain prevent orgasm.
Some women experience years of intermittent difficulty with sex and have to be constantly ready to control and relax their vagina when the symptoms occur.
Symptom severity range:
Minor discomfort or burning with tightness is experienced with vaginal entry or thrusting but may diminish.
More significant burning and tightness is experienced with vaginal entry or thrusting and tends to persist.
Involuntary tightness of the vaginal muscles makes entry and movement difficult and painful.
Partner is unable to penetrate due to tightly closed vaginal opening. If entry is forced, significant pain results.
What Causes Vaginismus?
Many factors can cause Vaginismus, but it is not always fully understood why the condition happens. For some women, it may be caused by a traumatic past experience such as a difficult childbirth or sexual abuse; they may associate sexual activity with pain.
Example: we met one woman who had been a victim of childhood abuse. Not surprisingly, her body didn’t want any kind of sex – but she was determined to grit her teeth and go through with it to please her boyfriend, who was unawares of the past trauma.
Other factors causing the condition include, but are not limited to: yeast or urinary infections, menopause, hysterectomy. cancer, surgical procedures or deep-rooted beliefs that sex is “bad”… The list goes on.
How Many Women Suffer With Vaginismus?
According to a Vaginismus information website, the estimated number of women suffering with Vaginsmus is roughly 2 in 1000. Whilst we’re unable to give a definite number, our estimation – based on the number of women with Vaginismus we meet – is a lot higher than that. Every year, we see large numbers of women who have been informally referred to us by their doctor, therapist or nurse specialist – but those are only the ones who have actively looked for help. Add to this all the women who have yet to pluck up the courage to seek help, or those who feel too uncomfortable to talk about their vagina and how it feels during sex.
Every six weeks we host Cafe V in collaboration with My Body Back Project. Cafe V is a support group for female survivors of sexual violence, and it’s been estimated that 1 in 4 women have been subjected to non-consensual sex. We know that many of these women go on to developing Vaginismus. All of a sudden the numbers don’t add up – the ‘roughly 2 in 1000’ become much higher.
Why is it that women feel so uncomfortable talking about their vaginas that they prefer to suffer in silence rather than seeking out help?
Part of the problem, we believe, is the number of sex-negative doctors, nurses or therapists out there. Many women are reporting back to us that health professionals are unwilling to discuss sex. Over the years, we have met women who have been told to accept their sex life is over, or that they just have to “get through it”. This attitude is incredibly damaging, and just adds to the feeling of “failure” on the woman’s part.
Vaginismus – Self Diagnosing
We regularly meet women who have self-diagnosed, which isn’t recommend. If sex is painful, we always advise booking an appointment with a (supportive and sex-positive) doctor. There may be an underlying cause and it’s important it is investigated. Self-diagnosing can miss vital clues for other conditions. For example, endometriosis is notoriously difficult to diagnose, and a woman with endometriosis may mistakenly diagnose herself as suffering from Vaginismus.
Treatment for Vaginismus
Here at Sh! we believe in making the ‘treatment’ process for vaginisimus as pain-free and easy as possible – it can even be fun!
We have created the world’s first soft silicone vibrating dilating kit – a set of four trainers that’ll help the process of relaxing the vaginal muscles. Vibration can help relax tense nerve-endings, plus it can make the tiresome process of dilation immensely enjoyable. We believe women are much more likely to accomplish training sessions if the procedure can also be made arousing and pleasurable. The clitoris and its lively nerve-endings tend to react favourably to vibration, so you may even find yourself looking forward to the training sessions!
If the cause is psychological rather than physical, it can be treated using sex therapy, where you are helped to gradually overcome it by using vaginal trainers and relaxation techniques. Dilating means gradually introducing the vagina to the whole idea of penetration by inserting trainers of increasing width/length over a period of time. There is no time limit for overcoming Vaginismus – it may take weeks, months or, in some cases, years.
Whilst the time scale may be off-putting, it’s important to try and remain positive. It is absolutely possible to overcome Vaginismus.
Sex Can Still Be Great!
Having Vaginismus doesn’t mean a woman’s sex life has to come to a halt. Thinking in broader strokes, sex doesn’t have to be penetrative to be great. This is a fact.
A woman’s biggest sex organ (apart from her brain, that is) is her clitoris. The clitoris has a whopping 8000 nerve-endings, and their sole function is to offer pleasure. When under treatment for Vaginismus, it can often be a fantastic idea to take penetration off the sexual menu for a while. This will help the brain relax – and if the brain relaxes, so will the vagina. Remove the pressure of having to “perform” and provide a warm place for a penis or dildo to nestle (the penis will survive – we promise) and you may find that the warm nestling place wakes up and starts responding to sensual sensations again.
Spend time working on arousal and desire. We often hear from women with Vaginismus that their desire has hit an all time low, and they never feel in the mood for “sex” (sex, in this case, meaning penetration). Work out what turns you on, read erotica, watch something sexy and spend time playing stroking skin, playing with nipples and consider investing in a small clitoral vibe for some me-time. You may find that play time becomes fun again, which opens up new opportunities as you start to think creatively. Take (non-penetrative) sex out of the bedroom: try the sofa, or the bathroom, or why not the hallway! All of these rooms can be sexy and enjoyable.
Make sure to always have a bottle of lube handy, as it’ll make play more slip-slidey and gentle. We recommend trying our Pure Plus Lube which is extra thick and creates a nice layer of padding between fingers/toys and vulva. Pure Plus if water-based and paraben-free, meaning you shouldn’t suffer any itching or irritation. It’s very gentle on delicate skin.
In terms of suitable sex toys, take a little peek at our teeny tiny Sh! Tickler vibe. This is so small, making it easy to use for building confidence. It offers three different settings, giving you options for exploration. Use it for relaxing thrills along the neck, nipples, stomach, inside of thighs and along labia. If you feel up to it, and only if, you can try inserting the teeny-tiny tip into the vaginal opening.