New Film on Vaginismus Helps Raise Awareness of Pelvic Pain

Tightly Wound, a new short film about one woman’s journey with vaginismus and pelvic rehab, gives an insight into the real social struggles that can beset sufferers of pelvic pain. The 10 minute animated film was created by Shelby Hadden and Sebastian Bisbal, and it can be viewed at

Vaginismus is a condition in which the vaginal muscles contract involuntarily. The muscle contraction makes it impossible to insert anything into the vagina, and the condition can have a number of causes. Shelby discovered that she suffers from this condition when she first started attempting to use tampons. In the film she describes a “tearing, stabbing pain; the worst pain I’ve ever had”.

When Shelby Hadden found herself seeking treatment, she might have expected a gynecologist to be able to clear things up right away. Unfortunately there was no clear solution to her pain. She tells us in the video that a number of doctors weren’t able to identify the cause of her vaginismus. Many even prescribed unsuccessful treatments like inserting small candles during menses, or using alcohol to loosen her muscles.

Vaginismus and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

The scientific and medical community do not have a great grasp on vaginismus and female sexual pain disorders quite yet. A 2014 literature review published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry by Simonelli et al. “did not provide clear evidence in support of the superiority of any treatment” and established that there is a need for more placedo-controlled trials. “A lot of work remained to be done to understand such a complex and multifaceted disturbance as genital sexual pain, but the articles examined showed that we are slowly adding more knowledge on the etiological cause and treatment models for such conditions.”

Women who suffer from vaginismus can often feel isolated. A 2018 study by Stout, Meints, and Hirsh published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior demonstrated that “more frequent and severe pain during intercourse leads to more loneliness, which then leads to increased depressive symptoms.” The authors show that women with pain during intercourse also experience higher rates of loneliness and depressive symptoms. This study suggests that having a sense of community is an important factor in patient care.

Creating a sense of community

That’s one reason that so many pelvic rehab professionals are excited to see this new film raising awareness of the condition. Upon it’s recent publication, Tightly Wound has been getting rave reviews from patients and clinicians around social media.

A review by Talli Rosenbaum, who is an active researcher and lecturer in the field of pelvic floor dysfunction and sexual health, shares what some of her patients experience. Talli writes that “[Tightly Wound] reflects the experience of many women with vaginismus and other forms of pelvic and vaginal pain syndromes. They feel isolated and alone, they are offered treatment solutions that are painful and embarrassing, and they frequently expose themselves to distressing and painful examinations only to be told by the examining practitioner that he or she can’t find anything wrong.” Talli’s excellent review goes on to address the role of vaginal penetration in sex and sexuality, which is definitely worth a read at

Vaginismus impacts millions of women around the world, and many don’t know that treatment is an option. Women’s health support groups can help patients share resources and link up with adequately trained medical professionals. Online groups like the Vaginismus Support Facebook group are a great place to start for patients seeking peer support.

Thank you to Shelby for telling her story, and for helping to raise awareness of pelvic pain conditions.

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