How Military Deployments Reinforced the Vaginismus Cycle

This patient and her husband are currently overseas on a U.S. military installation and will be moving back to the states. She is 29 and has been struggling with secondary vaginismus for nine years. Her dyspareunia (painful intercourse) progressed to vaginismus (very painful intercourse, “hitting a wall”). She was treated using Kegel exercises for more than a year and failed to progress with physical therapy which included biofeedback, 16 weeks of antidepressants, lubricants and topical anesthetics. This spring, she is scheduled to be treated with Botox plus progressive dilation under anesthesia.

My husband deployed to Iraq four times in our first four years together

We were apart more days than we were together. Each military deployment only lasted up to six months, but each one had a much bigger impact on our lives when you factor in the preparation and reintegration time. This resulted in a year long process that repeated itself over and over again, contributing to an increase in pain with intercourse and reinforced the vaginismus fear cycle.

During the preparation phase of each military deployment, tasks that were typically completed by my husband transitioned to me. I start handling all the finances, paying all the bills, and preparing to handle chores and maintenance that come with cars and a home. Also, any home projects that we were working on (which were numerous) now had a hard deadline. Not surprisingly, the added stress increased the number of fights between us. It’s fairly common for couples to argue at this stage, because it becomes a coping mechanism for the upcoming separation. Although normal, it was still upsetting since he was about to leave and we were spending our last couple of months together arguing. So for three months out of the year, before he left, we distanced ourselves from each other.

deployment_smallThen came the military deployment, he was gone every Christmas and New Year and our communication was via email and instant message, whenever it could be arranged based on the time difference. For those six months, it was lonely and I worried about him even though he said he was safe.

After his military deployment was over, it’s a very exciting time and initially also a little awkward. A lot happens in six months, and it feels like a stranger moves back into the house. The reintegration process lasts for about three months, as we try to get familiar with having each other around again, develop new routines, change responsibilities and resume a normal life again. Most military spouses are excited about a passionate reunion with their deployed spouse that typically resulted in a baby nine months later. Friends and coworkers joked about the reunion and mentioned that they’ll be sure not to call or stop by because they assume that we’ll be “too busy” for any kind of interruption. Or they would jokingly ask if they should expect us to make a pregnancy announcement in the next few months. Rather than imagining a romantic reunion, those insinuations intensified my fear of a ravenous man who’d been without sex for nearly six months basically attacking me. Although, my husband would never try to hurt me, the idea of him being completely uncontrollable, forceful and insatiable sounded painful. Of course, I wanted to be intimate with my husband but the fear that he’d be sex craved to the point where he may not go slow or stop if I needed him to, only fed this anxiety after he returned.

It should also be mentioned that my husband is also physically much larger than me. He’s 220 lbs and 6’0 tall while I’m only 120 lbs and only 5’2”. His penis is bigger than average, and it was difficult for me even when we started dating (before the deployments) to semi-comfortably achieve intercourse, although it was possible. His physical size and presence continues to support my fear of being completely overpowered by him.

I’ve gone through two separate pelvic floor physical therapists and used at home dilators to try and overcome the issue.

I even purchased my own vibrator to try and make sure that even when he was gone, I could keep my body used to penetration. I’ve found that I can successfully use the vibrator without any pain, but unfortunately the pain still exists during intercourse.

Once we are used to our life again, it’s time to switch back to preparations for his next military deployment. What was only a six month deployment, turned into a year-long process; which we handled on four separate occasions. Then add in several exercises and TDY’s, that even after returning from deployment, kept him away from home for several weeks or on a different work schedule; making it nearly impossible to see each other. Year after year, our sex life grew less frequent to the point where we were only sleeping together once or twice a year, and each time it hurt more, only serving to reinforce my fear of intercourse with him. As a military spouse, I expected to make sacrifices. I just never anticipated that it would affect us in this way.

Postscript: One month before her scheduled treatment we received notice that her husband was deployed once again and treatment had to be cancelled. I don’t think most of us are aware of the many heartaches for families helping to protect us.