While you might hear a lot about various sexual dysfunctions in men, erectile dysfunction isn't the only problem out there.
In fact, there's a whole other half of the population who can be — and are being — impacted by disorders that affect their sex lives.
Sexual dysfunctions in women are intricate, sensitive issues made no less complicated by modern dating. While the norm seems to encourage sex first and emotional attachment later, sexual dysfunctions — like vaginismus — mean that penetrative sex is painful or impossible to have, particularly when the woman is not comfortable.
Vaginismus is a condition that causes a vagina's muscles to spasm when something is entering it, whether that is a penis or a tampon. It's unknown how many women have the condition exactly, but the estimate is about two in every 1,000.
That's not enormous number, but it definitely means that there are many women out there who are navigating the uncertain terrain of casual dating -- an already difficult process for those who don't have a medical complication.
Despite this, I've seen few mainstream resources reflecting those experiences, particularly for young women in what is thought of as their "sexual prime." So I asked two experts about how dating can be made easier when you have vaginismus, particularly when there's such a heavy emphasis on sex.
Don't jump into sex.
Those with vaginismus are better off waiting to jump into sex, which might seem inhibiting at first glance. But, as both experts stressed, hookup culture is full of illusions — the most prominent one being that people are only interested in sex.
Noted licensed psychotherapist LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D, author of Smart Relationships and founder of www.lovevictory.com, tells Elite Daily that waiting to explore the sexual side of a relationship might actually be an emotional advantage, as well as tending to physical needs.
"It slows down the pace of your relationship, and it allows you to know the person without your brain being hijacked by the hormones of sexual arousal!" she said.
Fran Greene, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and author of "Dating Again With Courage and Confidence," says that casual hookups are overplayed and don't even provide what women are looking for anyway.
"It's so difficult to separate sex from the emotion," she said.
Consider joining a support group.
Greene stressed that the first thing somebody should do when dating with vaginismus is join a specific support group for the dysfunction, either in person or online.
In addition to helping women navigate the challenges of dating, a support group puts a system in place so that women won't feel pressured to share their story on their first date. With other people listening, you will have other outlets for your emotional needs.
This means you won't feel the need to rely on a casual date to provide support before they're ready, and it will also boost your confidence, so you don't feel the need to play the role of victim.
Don't feel pressured to reveal your dysfunction too quickly.
"You are not your affliction," says Dr. Wish. "Just about everyone has something that is difficult to reveal to another person -- a future partner or even a friend."
Greene agrees that choosing when to reveal a sexual dysfunction like vaginismus is almost the same as choosing when to share any trauma or medical complication that will impact a relationship.
"When do you disclose you have diabetes? When do you disclose you suffer from depression? That you're estranged from a family member?" says Greene.
"At the point in the relationship when there's a connection," she answers.
Take things slowly, and dictate the terms of your relationship.
Slowing down the pace of a relationship means there's time to foster that authentic connection, and there are plenty of emotional topics to discuss besides a dysfunction. Even if vaginismus does seem all-consuming, it isn't. There are many other things to do together besides have sex.
"Most relationships are spent in the ordinary things in life," says Dr. Wish, adding,
Get to know your partner. Be you on casual dates. Show your quirks. Discuss other important emotional topics. Don't avoid other topics. Don't avoid speaking up. Learn about each other's values, goals, interests. Make your time together resemble real life: run errands, watch television, hang out with friends, your families.
If your love interest brings up the subject or possibility of sex before you are ready, there are a few courses of action you can take. Dr. Wish suggests telling your date that "you don't separate sex from love and that you would like to get to know each other and see if you are compatible."
If you're worried that dropping the L-word might cause your date to flee, you can try another approach. Greene suggests coming out and stating the issue as clearly, yet as gently, as you can:
"'Sex has hurt me in the past; I hope it doesn't happen for us, but I'll certainly let you know. Maybe I can set the pace,'" she suggests, using phrasing that also allows you to dictate the terms of the relationship.
Be patient with yourself.
Greene says that a woman dating with vaginismus ought to try and extend as much warmth and receptivity to herself as she does her partner.
"It's about being patient, loving, and understanding -- feeling that way for yourself and for your partner, and telling her partner what you need from him that will minimize your discomfort and fear and maximize your pleasure," says Greene.
She also stresses the importance of recognizing that the relationship involves two people. Navigating a balance between your needs and his means that you can identify that obstacles to sex can be challenging for them, too.
"Everybody comes to a relationship with their flaws and their imperfections," Greene says. "It's not only about you."
Dr. Wish adds that, with time, it's likely that anxiety will decrease as you gain trust for your partner, as well as for his feelings and respect for you. You can use that time to ensure that the partnership is actually a good love match, and that you are not feeling inhibited by your dysfunction.
Discuss your condition when you feel safe and comfortable having sex with your partner.
"Tell yourself: I am someone who has an issue to discuss, but this issue does not turn me into a Little Orphan Annie who is willing to stay in an unhealthy relationship out of gratitude or fear that no one else will be understanding," says Dr. Wish.
The best way to know that you are ready to have a sexual relationship is because you feel safe and comfortable with your love interest. This is true whether you have vaginismus or not, says Greene.
When you've reached that certainty, it's time to have a follow-up conversation. "Explain what [vaginismus] is -- and help your partner know how to help you so that sex can be mutually satisfying," says Dr. Wish.
Greene says that whatever is mutually satisfying depends on both you and the person.
"It might be using whatever kind of lubricants, whether it's a certain time of the month that feels better for you," she explains.
When you're having sex, do what you need to help yourself relax.
Greene cites anticipatory anxiety as a major factor in making a person's worst fears come true. The more a person is afraid, the more they will focus on their fear, and that is the very thing that will make a person tense up.
"It's hard to tell yourself to relax, but I'm a firm believer in deep breathing, visualizing what you want, telling yourself that it's going to be OK, that you want it to feel good, that you deserve it to feel good," she explains.
When it comes to finally having sex, Greene recommends taking things very, very slow at first -- which, come to think of it, can be pretty arousing.
"Even if it feels good just a little bit, that's better than not feeling good at all. Approach it in small steps," she suggests.
That might not mean that you and your partner have penetrative intercourse right away. It might mean that you both take creative steps in the bedroom to ensure one another's pleasure.
It also probably means that you and your partner will find plenty of room for intimacy and mutual delight in that process.
Whatever happens, you can rest assured that your experience will be one of a kind. After all, by this point in your relationship, you can be certain that you and your partner are being uniquely yourselves.
And that's the biggest turn-on of all.