Your wedding night is considered one of the most special moments in your life. In Islam, consummating your marriage is so important that it’s known as an act of worship.
Ibn ‘Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) reported:
The Prophet ﷺ said, “If anyone intends to have (sexual intercourse) with his wife, he should say: Bismillah! Allahumma janibnash-Shaitana, wa jannibish-Shaitana ma razaqtana.
“In the Name of Allah, O Allah! Keep us away from Satan and keep Satan away from what You have bestowed upon us);’ and if Allah has ordained a child for them, Satan will never harm him.”
It is a beautiful moment. But what happens if you can’t do it? Not because of the initial discomfort, but because you physically cannot do it?
This year, I’ll be married for five years and in my third year of marriage, I discovered that I had vaginismus. Vaginismus is a result of a dysfunction in the pelvic floor, which leads to an uncontrollable tightening of the vagina, often making penetration excruciatingly painful. Whenever my husband and I attempted penetrative sex, we only achieved it partially, and sometimes not at all because of how painful the action was for me.
Although we tried alternative ways to be intimate with one another without penetration, we knew our experience was not normal. We also wanted to try for a baby and to achieve that, penetrative sex became a necessity. It was at this moment we decided to pay a visit to a gynaecologist, and during the consultation, I discovered that I had vaginismus.
Once the gynaecologist realised that even a pap smear was debilitating for me, she recommended me to both a sex therapist and physiotherapist whose aim was to treat the mental and physical aspects associated with vaginismus. During one of my first sessions with the physiotherapist, she advised me to purchase a set of dilators and lubricant which would be used throughout my treatment. This, along with my husband being fully involved in my journey, made the world of difference.
The time period of treatment and how it improved my marriage
The time it takes to treat vaginismus depends on the individual as each person’s pace of their body reacting to the treatment is different. It took me about six months to achieve full penetration and beyond that, I underwent continuous sessions to sustain the treatment and maintain the progress I’d achieved. It is a matter of getting your body aligned with your mind which takes time. Practising Sabr and being patient with yourself is crucial because it’s easy to get frustrated when you’re not progressing at the rate you want.
One of the conditions during the treatment phase is that penetrative sex is not allowed until the process is complete. The Sex Therapist played a crucial role in counselling both me and my husband about the importance of avoiding penetrative sex. She taught us several ways to be sexual with one another without penetration.
It can be easy to assume that delaying penetrative sex and our attempt at conceiving children would put a strain on our marriage, but it actually brought us closer together. The counselling sessions helped us communicate our feelings towards each other better which helped us develop a strong understanding. By the time we attained penetrative sex, we had connected on a much deeper level than we would have before our counselling sessions. The goal was not only to have penetrative sex, but to facilitate a pleasurable experience for both spouses.
My journey with vaginismus has been a long one and it’s an ongoing process. Occasionally, I still find myself tensing up before any attempt of penetration. However, I now have the tools to achieve pelvic floor relaxation and manage any anxiety associated with penetration. If my story resonates with you and you’re struggling with vaginismus, I would recommend the following:
1. Communicate with your Partner
It took me a long time to communicate my pain and anxiety to my partner and I wish I had expressed myself as soon as I felt discomfort. I am blessed to have a husband who is open-minded and understanding, but I do know that everyone is different. If you are afraid to bring up the conversation with your partner, just remember that your body is sacred and deserves compassion. Sex is something that should be enjoyable for both of you. It is therefore crucial that you are forthcoming with your partner about your needs and they support you on your journey to recovery.
2. Make an appointment with your GP (General Practitioner) and ask for a referral to a Sex Therapist
Thankfully, the internet has facilitated access to sex therapists, providing an avenue to seek guidance. You can browse websites and social media pages dedicated to discussing vaginismus and learn more about the condition. Regarding treatment, I would advise you to schedule an appointment with your local GP and request a referral to a certified Sex Therapist. This ensures that everyone involved in your care is properly qualified. While I personally discovered my vaginismus through a gynaecologist, going through a GP first can potentially save costs. However, if you already have a gynaecologist that you trust and are comfortable with, discussing vaginismus and explaining your symptoms to them would be a good starting point.
If you don’t have medical aid/insurance, consider arranging consultations with health practitioners affiliated with institutions that offer free services to the public. I’m based in South Africa so I am only familiar with medical services in my local country. I recommend browsing the website My Sexual Health. Although they are based in South Africa, they offer free webinars and you can reach out to them to refer you to practitioners that specialise in the field of sexual health. I purchased my dilators and lubricant through their website which helped me tremendously.
3. Choose a Sex Therapist and Physiotherapist that you’re comfortable with
One of the things I discovered through my journey is that not every medical practitioner you meet will demonstrate necessary empathy. During one of my consultations, my therapist mentioned that she was happy the gynaecologist I visited had chosen not to proceed with my first pap smear. This made me wonder about the number of women who endure pain during pap smears, not knowing that they have vaginismus and if it is something that all medical practitioners take seriously.
The most important part of your journey is to find therapists that you’re comfortable with. If you feel like your referral is not a good fit for you after your consultation session, request another referral. Building trust is crucial as your health is at stake. Once you’ve developed trust and comfort with your chosen practitioner , it is essential to follow their guidance meticulously, including the smallest action they ask you to undertake.
4. Be committed to your consultation sessions and follow through each exercise
The severity of your vaginismus will determine the exercises prescribed by both your sex therapist and physiotherapist. These include sensate focus, pelvic floor relaxation exercises, dilator therapy sessions and a range of treatments that focuses on a holistic approach as per the needs of the individual.
The thought of inserting dilators into your vagina opening can be scary at first, but a dilator set allows you to start with the smallest one which is more or less the size of your small pinky finger. If this is too intimidating, your therapist might recommend starting with a cotton swab. You are only required to move up a dilator size once you’re confident enough to insert and remove a dilator comfortably without any tightness or pain.
5. Educate yourself through additional material
Gaining knowledge about sex is essential as it will enhance your understanding of your body. While you’re on your road to recovery with your chosen sex therapist and physiotherapist, make an effort to read extensively about the subject. Follow social media platforms that discuss sexual health such as the Instagram Page Amirah Zaky and the YouTube Channel The Flower Empowered.
The best part about these social media pages is that you’ll often find women in the comment section with similar sexual health issues. This fosters a sense of community and can help alleviate the common feelings of loneliness experienced during a recovery journey.
6. Connect with Allah through the Qur’an
Even though I have placed this as my final point, it holds the utmost significance. At the start of this year, I resolved to deepen my connection with the Qur’an. The healing and transformation this has brought to my life is indescribable.
It made me realise that Allah tests us in order to bring us closer to Him. He SWT guides us in situations to cultivate empathy for His creation. I started understanding that the term “Nikkah” encapsulates both marriage and intimacy. If there is an issue relating to sex in your marriage, it is important to seek help, because Allah has placed being intimate with your spouse in high regard.
Allah mentions in the Qur’an:
“It has been made permissible for you to be intimate with your wives during the nights preceding the fast. Your spouses are a garment for you as you are for them. Allah knows that you were deceiving yourselves. So He has accepted your repentance and pardoned you. So now you may be intimate with them and seek what Allah has prescribed for you. ˹You may˺ eat and drink until you see the light of dawn breaking the darkness of night, then complete the fast until nightfall. Do not be intimate with your spouses while you are meditating in the mosques. These are the limits set by Allah, so do not exceed them. This is how Allah makes His revelations clear to people, so they may become mindful of Him.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:187)
The word “garment” is used to describe the closeness between spouses, we are meant to be a cover for one another. It is a beautiful illustration for intimacy and shows the importance of it in marriage.
Throughout the whole journey of my vaginismus treatments, three significant moments stand out for me. Firstly, achieving the ability to engage in pleasurable penetrative sex with my spouse. Secondly, completing a pap smear successfully. And thirdly, gaining self-confidence in my own body.
Occasionally, I get moments of anxiety that prompt me to go back to the dilator therapy sessions, but majority of the time, I feel empowered and accepting of myself, including all my imperfections. While we haven’t achieved a pregnancy yet, the consultation sessions and the growth of my relationship with the Qur’an have instilled within me a sense of peace and contentment for Allah’s decree. My journey has given me hope and the conviction that whatever obstacles come my way, I will continue to seek help and put my full trust in Allah.
I hope my story can offer you comfort and support. If you’re struggling with something as personal as a sexual issue, please know that you’re not alone and that you don’t have to feel ashamed of it. Seeking help and understanding is a sign of strength. May Allah ease any difficulties you have and bestow His infinite mercy on you.
This piece was written by a member of the Amaliah community. If you would like to contribute anonymously, drop us an email us on email@example.com