I cannot insert anything into my vagina. What should I do?
Jenna replies:I am 20 years old and I cannot insert anything into my vagina, not even a tampon. After a month of practice, I have managed to be able to insert a finger about halfway into my vaginal canal. After that I freak out because it's uncomfortable and I pull out very quickly, which hurts a bit. I know I'm not the only one with this problem because one of my close friends has it too, but I haven't figured out what to do about it. I would really like to be able to have vaginal sex sometime in the future, if not exactly now, or at the very least be able to use tampons! I haven't figured out anything that works.
amenie358's question continued:
I should mention that I've seen a gynecologist and she says there's no sort of physical impediment involved and that if I practice I'll be able to do it, but it's so uncomfortable. It's not getting easier. When I visit the gynecologist I have to be tanked up on valium, and I'm the sort of person who can go through major surgical operations without flinching.
I haven't been able to find any information or advice! Would using more lubrication help? Should I try practicing a certain way? Just how unusual is this problem? Thank you for all of the work that you do.
Thank you for your question. You are not the only one to experience discomfort with vaginal insertion. I am glad that you visited a gynecologist, just to rule out any other possibilities and ensure that you do not have any health issues. There are different types of vaginal conditions that make putting something inside the vagina painful or impossible, but a gynecologist would be able to tell you if you had any of those.
Many people with vaginas, in different places in their lives, experience vaginal discomfort during partnered sex, masturbation, or during non-sexual penetration like putting in a tampon. An important part in dealing with vaginal discomfort is understanding your body and how it works and how it can change when you're aroused. Being in touch with your body and what works for you can make a world of difference in your sexual life.
Exploring the Vagina
The vagina, or vaginal canal, changes size depending on your level of sexual arousal. When one is not aroused, the vaginal walls are usually touching each other, and the vaginal canal is a few inches long. However, once someone becomes turned on, it can expand in both width and length, kind of like a balloon! In addition to expanding in size, the vagina also might produce more fluid when one is turned on. While everyone's level of vaginal lubrication and degree of vaginal length and width expansion is different, generally speaking, these are the changes you would expect to see when aroused. These changes are what can make solo or partnered sexual activities easier, more comfortable, and more enjoyable than they would be if physical and mental arousal weren't happening.
Sometimes when people explore their vaginas, it is when they are not turned on at all or very much, so the vaginal canal can feel smaller, or less lubricated. Waiting until one feels sexually aroused, or exploring what one needs to increase one's feelings of arousal, can often help. If you want to learn more about arousal, I suggest taking a look at Sexual Response and Orgasm: A User's Guide.
In addition to being affected by arousal, your vagina can also be affected by stress!
When you are stressed or feeling any type of pressure, tension, or frustration, your muscles tense up. This can affect the muscles around your genitals. This is really important to understand, particularly when you are exploring putting anything inside the vagina, because being relaxed and going slow can make a huge difference.
Muscle tension can sometimes be hard to detect. You may not be feeling tense. Whether or not you feel tension, you can try breathing slowly and deeply, and consciously relaxing your pelvic area, or even your entire body.
If you are putting pressure on yourself with an end goal of being able to insert your entire finger or tampon, then it is less likely that your muscles will be relaxed. Mental tension can lead to physical tension, which can lead to the kind of discomfort you're describing.
Many people do find that putting something inside of the vagina, especially the first few times, can be uncomfortable. However, it shouldn't be painful, and it's helpful to differentiate between the two sensations. Pain is your body's way of telling you that you are doing something that isn't good for your body, but being uncomfortable sometimes simply means that you are experiencing a sensation that your body isn't used to. For many people, the first few (or several) times of putting something inside of the vagina feels weird, because it might be a completely new sensation. Uncomfortable, weird, or unfamiliar feelings aren't necessarily pain, though they can feel scary. I definitely encourage you to pay attention to what you are feeling, figure out whether it's pain or something less serious than that, and stop whatever you are doing if you are feeling any pain.
Where to Start?
Now that you have some more information about how the vagina can change depending on your state of mind and physical arousal, here are some things that you can take into consideration.
- Position. When putting in a tampon, the position that you are in can affect how easy or difficult it is to insert a tampon. Some people find that sitting on a toilet, bending forward can work for them. Others might find that laying down on the bed or leaning back in a chair works better. Exploring these various positions might help you find that one is more comfortable for you.
- Tampon size. I don't know what size tampon you have been trying to use, but for some first-time tampon users, using lighter-flow tampons can be easier and feel less unfamiliar.
- Arousal. For self-exploration beyond putting in tampons, being turned on beforehand can make a big difference! Many people find that instead of diving right in and inserting something into the vagina, it feels really good to start with stimulation on the outside of the body. Enjoying the physical sensation instead of focusing on a goal of being able to insert your finger inside your vagina. For some more information on how bodies respond to stimulation and sexual pleasure, I would recommend checking out Sexual Response & Orgasm: A Users Guide. If you are new to masturbation, I would also read How Do You Masturbate?.
- Lube. Lubrication can definitely make a difference in putting anything inside of the vagina! Everyone has different levels of vaginal lubrication, and many people find that using store-bought lube can feel really great and also make vaginal insertion much more comfortable. Lube is something that you can also use with tampons, though you may need less of it depending on how heavy and liquid your menstrual flow is.
- Relax. As I mentioned above, being relaxed and comfortable is important for anyone putting something inside their vagina, regardless of whether they are just beginning self-exploration or have been sexually active for years--or are just using a tampon. Being relaxed and stress-free will hopefully help your muscles also relax, and make insertion much more comfortable. This also ties back into not having a goal exploring your body. Just relax!
- Go slow. You mention that after inserting your finger halfway into your vaginal canal, you get uncomfortable and freak out, and then pull it out quickly. Something that might make the experience of self-exploration more comfortable is to try and not do anything quickly at first, because it sounds like that is possibly what is causing some of the pain you are experiencing and maybe making you more anxious about the whole experience. Something that can help ensure that you are able to go slow is carving out a chunk of time in your schedule the next time you try to insert a tampon or your finger. Not feeling rushed can also help with feeling relaxed.
- Start small.As you are exploring this, starting with your most slender finger might feel more comfortable as well. Not focusing on putting your entire finger inside of your body, but rather halfway (or even less), is also a way that you can start small.
- Communicate. Communication is key in pretty much every relationship, even in relationships with your gynecologist! Ensure that your doctor is slow and gentle too, and understands your previous experiences with discomfort during exams. Communicating with yourself is just as important, so give yourself plenty of permission for this to take as long as you need it to take and put the brakes on if you find that you're judging yourself. Additionally, when or if the time comes to where you are ready to engage in a sexual relationship with someone else, communicating your boundaries and what you are comfortable with is also necessary. For tips on talking about sex, check out Be a Blabbermouth! The Whys, Whats and Hows of Talking About Sex With a Partner.
The best thing that you can do for yourself is to listen to your body. If you feel pain or a lot of discomfort, don't push it! If you feel like the discomfort is more due to unfamiliarity and nervousness, try taking a deep breath, consciously relaxing, and see what happens. Only you know what is best for you, and what your body is okay with. There's no timeline you have to follow in terms of what your body can do or how ready you feel for any sort of sexual activities.
Now that you have a better idea of how your vagina changes and responds to insertion depending on how turned on you are, whether you are using lubrication, whether you are stressed out, et cetera, hopefully you are able to explore your body in a safe, comfortable and enjoyable way.
If you continue to experience discomfort or pain, I would recommend seeing a healthcare provider again. Sometimes having a second opinion is helpful, especially if your initial doctor's feedback doesn't seem right. You'll want to be as specific as you can with your doctor about what your experiences are, and make sure they conduct an exam. Having extreme difficulty with insertion can, as I mentioned above, indicate a medical condition, such as vaginismus.
For help finding a different doctor, feel free to look around on Scarleteen's Find-a-Doc search tool.
Below are some resources that might be helpful in your journey in exploring your body: