Vaginismus is an involuntary muscle contraction of the outer third of vaginal barrel causing sexual penetration almost impossible. It is generally classified under sexual pain disorder (SPD). In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-5), it is classified under the new rubric of Genito-Pelvic Pain/Sexual Penetration Disorder. This fear-avoidance condition poses an ongoing significant challenge to the medical and health professionals due to the very demanding needs in health care despite its unpredictable prognosis. The etiology of vaginismus is complex: through multiple bio-psycho-social processes, involving bidirectional connections between pelvic-genital (local) and higher mental function (central regulation). It has robust neural and psychological-cognitive loop feedback involvement. The internal neural circuit involves an inter-play of at least two-pathway systems, i.e. both “quick threat assessment” of occipital-limbic-occipital-prefrontal-pelvic-genital; and the chronic pain pathways through the genito-spinothalamic-parietal-pre-frontal system, respectively. In this review, a neurobiology root of vaginismus is deliberated with the central role of an emotional-regulating amygdala, and other neural loop, i.e. hippocampus and neo-cortex in the core psychopathology of fear, disgust, and sexual avoidance. Many therapists view vaginismus as a neglected art-and-science which demands a better and deeper understanding on the clinico-pathological correlation to enhance an effective model for the bio-psycho-social treatment. As vaginismus has a strong presentation in psychopathology, i.e. fear of penetration, phobic avoidance, disgust, and anticipatory anxiety, we highlighted a practical psychiatric approach to the clinical management of vaginismus, based on the current core knowledge in the perspective of neuroscience.
ASJC Scopus subject areas