How to use vaginal dilators more successfully
Many women struggle with how to use vaginal dilators successfully and it's fairly easy to find information online about the PHYSICAL processes of inserting a dilator (things like angle and depth). However, guidance on how to optimise your thinking and mindset to achieve success is just as important (and i'd suggest, crucial), but is much harder to find.
If you are like many women with vaginismus, you may feel less than enthusiastic about using dilators. They're clinical and often associated with discomfort and trepidation. Your approach may be less "Ooh I can't wait to see what I'm able to insert today!", and more "Before I dilate, I just need to clean the kitchen/check my phone/watch this programme". On top of that, you might be just a bit p***ed off and resentful that you have to use them at all!
Taken from the Cure your Vaginismus and Thrive programme, the following guide contains essential knowledge to make your use of dilators (or other objects of penetration) as successful as possible.
Try to make friends with your dilator
Many women have negative feelings towards their dilators, frequently commenting that they are too ‘cold and clinical’. I’m not suggesting you take it out for dinner and drinks, but it's helpful to see it as a very useful tool for which you can objectively measure how relaxed your mind and body is.
The most positive advances that women make in overcoming their vaginismus often involve the experiences that initially felt the most out of their comfort zone and took the most effort. Small and steady steps forward are always recommended, but anything that requires very little effect and feels too easy, is unlikely to be moving you ahead very far. If you’re taking little steps, just make sure that they are little and often. A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.
The power of your Imagination…use it well
A vagina, by default, is more than capable of being penetrated. It’s what it was designed for. Imagining and anticipating pain will interfere with the natural process of penetration. As you prepare and brace for pain, your muscles will respond accordingly.
When you use a dilator, if your sole focus is on detecting pain it's understandable that you'll feel anxious and hesitant. This is similar to a nervous learner driver trying to park a car in between two others. They focus on trying not to hit the other cars, rather than aiming for the space inbetween.
Up until now, you’ve had thousands upon thousands of 'pro-vaginismus' thoughts about your vagina and its inability to do its job. With the power of your imagination, you’ve built up a mental representation of your vagina being blockaded by an impenetrable wall, or the opening and walls within being so incredibly narrow.
If you’ve imagined the equivalent of squeezing Apollo 13 through the eye of a needle, no wonder you’ve been tensing up.
The good news is that you don’t need to have thousands or millions of positive thoughts to correct these erronous ones. A few really well processed positive experiences will go a long way to help bring your imagination more in line with the reality that you having a normal, fully functioning vagina.
Visualise your vagina opening up to accommodate the dilator. If you’ve had previous success with any form of penetration, capture that memory in your mind and focus on how your vaginal muscles must have relaxed enough to achieve that success. The more time and effort you put into focusing your thoughts and imagination on these new positive images scenarios, the quicker and more completely you will change your beliefs.
How often you should use the vaginal dilator
Without exception, my clients who put in the effort to use dilators nearly every day, rather than once or twice a week, overcome their vaginismus quicker. If you only set aside time occassionally do this, you’re not giving yourself much opportunity to create positive experiences. It is also likely that you will build up more anticipatory anxiety, and put too much pressure on yourself when you do get round to using it.
I appreciate that you may have a busy week, but you only need to allow 10-15 minutes of focused effort every day or two. It’s a small proportion of your day, but an important one. Make using a dilator a habit: one that you tell yourself you must do. That way you won’t have to battle with the ‘agony of choice’ of whether to do it or not.
Wheres and Hows
Choose a time and place where you feel physically comfortable and will not be disturbed. The best time to try is when you are already fairly relaxed. Take advantage of that positive emotional state. I appreciate the thought of inserting a dilator is not the most relaxing one for you, but manage your thinking well and you will begin to tolerate and change that.
Take nice deep breaths and relax your body as much as you can. However, remember that the depth of relaxation in your body will be as a result of the content of your thoughts. Make those as positive as possible, and your body will follow.
Take your time and don’t rush. However, having said that, if the seasons are changing outside your window during an attempt, you’re probably being too careful and tentative.
Don't forget to breathe
Quick shallow breathing is an indication that you are creating anxiety, and your muscles will tense up in response. Instead, focus on breathing from your belly, which promotes the release of muscular tension. Rest a hand on your belly to see it rising and falling. Breathing from your belly will aid relaxation of the PC muscles and will also give you something else to focus your mind upon as you insert the dilator.
Use it. Use lots. Make your dilator and vaginal entrance as slippy as Sally the slippery salamander sliding down a soapy sink.
Tolerate the sensations
During insertion, you will be hypervigilant about pain. Even slight discomfort may be misinterpreted as pain. Bear in mind that you can’t compare the feeling of vaginal penetration with anything else – it’s a very different sensation to any other that you have experienced. Learn to tolerate these new sensations.
Also, women who dislike feeling out of control (ie, you!) are wary about new experiences generally. I’m not suggesting that you continue with the dilator if it does feel very uncomfortable, but challenge your existing notions about vaginal pain.
If you quit your attempts too early, without giving yourself the chance of success, this will only help to strengthen your feelings of ‘learned helplessness’ around overcoming vaginismus.
For women who don’t have vaginismus, sex can also sometimes be mildly uncomfortable. This is particularly the case if the women is not well lubricated enough and/or not really in the mood. There may also be a feeling of resistence as the penis first enters the vagina. However, for women who do not have black and white thinking about sex are not hypervigilant around pain, then this brief, initial discomfort is easily tolerated, even ignored.
Give yourself credit for what you have achieved
Even if you’ve only been able to insert the vaginal dilator by another few milimeters, that’s still progress on your last attempt. You’re heading in the right direction. Give yourself credit for not only the physical success you’ve had, but also effort you put in to create this success. Challenge your perfectionist thinking!
Being able to overcome vaginismus has seemed like such a far away, unachievable goal, that you’ve probably not made the connection that the success you’ve had with your dilator/tampon/finger are taking you closer and closer to your overall goal. In learning how to use dilators successfully, make sure you process every success as each one will take you a step closer to where you want to be.
The ONE easy thing that you can do that could have a massive positive impact upon your success when doing penetration exercises.
Challenge vagina half-empty thinking
Most of my past clients would beat themselves up for not being able to insert the whole dilator, completely ignoring how much they WERE able to insert. You’ve heard of the ‘glass half-empty’ perspective – this is the ‘vagina-half empty’ version.
To help you process your achievements, you could write them down your achievements in a diary. Allow yourself to feel proud of what you’ve done. Many women can be too focused on how far they have to go in overcoming vaginismus, ignoring how far they have already come.
Feel really proud of yourself with every bit of progress you make. Try to see the connection between these successes and your ultimate goal of being able to enjoy sex
Use a mirror
When you have inserted the dilator, even part of the way, I suggest you view this in a mirror. This will allow you to see that your vagina has the capacity to accommodate the dilator. This concrete visual evidence will help you to correct your unhelpful mental representation of a brick wall or tiny, narrow vaginal canal. Really process what you see and embed the image in your mind. Processing this experience well will help you to believe you can do it again next time around.
One of your biggest hurdles will be challenging your learned helplessness. You have a number of unhelpful beliefs about sex and your vagina, and the most effective way to change them is to give yourself actual evidence that they are untrue. You will not significantly change those beliefs while your dilator sits in the box in the cupboard. All the while that you remain in your (dis)comfort zone by protecting yourself from perceived pain, failure and disappointment, your vaginismus is being maintained and reinforced.
After years of having had vaginismus, The idea of finally being able to have sex may feel so distant and unachievable. If this is the case, it will have an impact upon how much effort you put into use the dilators. There will always be housework to do, stressful days at work, hair to wash. Be honest with yourself and make sure that you are not using these as excuses to challenge your vaginismus.
Bear in mind that the conditions for using a dilator do not need to be perfect. It is likely that you are apprehensive about using one, so it can be easy to postpone the event. If you’re waiting for a solar eclipse in a spring equinox to try out your dilator, it probably means you’re making excuses and stalling.
And more bloody excuses…
Having a period can also be a handy excuse for putting the dilator attempts on hold. A whole week may pass by, slowing your progress and affecting your momentum. Yes, it may well be a bit messier, but what a great challenge to your disgust propensity (this is the ease with which you experience feelings of disgust and squeamishness). Put an old towel under you and crack on! You may well be more naturally lubricated but I would still advise using an artificial lubricator as well.
The advantages of practicing with a dilator over practicing with a partner
If you don't have a partner, or prefer to challenge vaginismus independently,
Regardless of whether or not you have a partner, all women with vaginismus can benefit from using dilators. They provide a helpful substitute 'tool' and will save you the time and effort of having to find 4 or 5 boyfriends with varying sized penises.
Dilators give you the means to take control over conquering vaginismus independently, without having to think or worry about your partner. The other advantage is that if self consciousness in the bedroom is an issue for you, you don’t need to worry that your dilator is judging you for taking too long or is thinking that your bum looks big.
Take ownership over insertion
It’s important that you learn to feel comfortable and confident about inserting the dilator yourself. Do not defer that responsibility to your partner because you may also end up attributing any successes or difficulties to him too. You need to learn how your body responds to penetration and it’s difficult to do that when your partner is taking the lead and you are detaching yourself from the process. Asking your partner to do the insertion because you feel too nervous is a form of avoidance that really needs to be addressed. When YOUR take control over it - YOU can feel good about it!
The Cure your Vaginismus and Thrive Programme can help you regain control over your body to make enjoyable sex truly achievable in just 6-8 weeks.