Sex educator Grace Alice O’Shea on embracing and resolving vaginismus, self-care and mindfulness

Grace Alice O’Shea is a qualified sex educator, sex and intimacy specialist and an award-winning author of the recently published book Sex Educated. In this vaginismus series blog, the wonderful and enthusiastic women’s sexuality advocate Grace Alice shares her personal experience of vaginismus and how a multi-level approach combined with self-care and mindfulness worked for her.

I hope that her experiences of managing and resolving vaginismus help readers to understand that healing the condition is about something greater than just being able to have penetrative sex. It is about having a better relationship with self, a better quality of work-life balance and learning how to tune into your body and make time for sexual development, self-intimacy and awareness for many.

“Yes, you are a lovable, desirable and worthy sexual being. And vaginismus does not need to stop that from happening and from you embodying that and enjoying sex and intimacy.”

These are all aspects of deep conversation in psychosexual therapy – helping to redefine and reconnect with themselves as worthy and wonderful sexual women.

Her experience of vaginismus, a sexual dysfunction and Genito pelvic pain/penetration disorder (GPPPD) affecting many women led her down the path to becoming a sex educator so that she could spread factual information, support and compassion to those who would benefit from it. Spreading the word that everyone deserves a life of joy, pleasure, intimacy and connection.

She is Ireland’s most outspoken and enthusiastic sex educator, sharing her experiences, expertise and hope with all women with vaginismus and GPPPD.

I invited Grace Alice to share with our readers what she learned about herself on her journey through managing, treating and resolving vaginismus and becoming a confident and connected sexual woman. She says…

Vaginismus and enjoying intimacy are something that you can work on. You might want to resolve it now or not, but either way, don’t wait around until it is resolved to start enjoying sex and having the type of intimacy you’d like now.

I started to understand and enjoy intimacy during those years when I couldn’t have penetrative sex. I did everything else, had great fun, and learned much about myself. As a result, I became a much better, more creative and attentive sexual partner.

For me it was a multi-layered approach to resolving vaginismus. Botox treatments is what really worked for me because I had severe vaginismus symptoms. I also use dilation therapy with dilators in the months after botox. At the same time, I went to psychotherapy also. Learn more about… everything you need to know about choosing the right dilator for dilator training.

I had no understanding of how much tension was being held in my body before that, tension all the way from my forehead down to my toes. Of course, now I know that this tension contributed to vaginismus.

I remember going to a psychosexual therapist when I had severe vaginismus. She asked me to, physically right there in the therapy room, get into the position that I would have gotten in as a child when my parents were arguing or when something was distressing me.

And right there, in front of her, I curled up into a ball on the therapy room floor, like a small little ball facing the wall. And in that moment, an a-ha moment! Realising that I am closing my body up, all of it, my whole body to make myself smaller. My body is simply being… protective.

You can read about the bodies natural protective response in the article… Dr McEvoy on her research insights, compassionate practices & understanding Vaginismus as a sociocultural phenomenon.

Sex education and getting to know my body was so incredibly important in managing and resolving my vaginismus symptoms. To be honest, I didn’t understand much about my body until after I had Botox treatments for vaginismus.

I wasn’t given that type of education in school or understood the importance of many things like the clitoris, how the pelvic floor works, how tension all over the body can be related to tension in the vagina and how stress and psychological tension contribute to physical tension.

It was very empowering all this new learning, and I’m still learning about my body! We need to approach this self-work for vaginismus and sexual empowerment as a lifelong learning journey – not just something we learn once.

Self-care is a huge part of resolving vaginsmus and self-caring is actually talking too. Talking openly about vaginismus breaks down shame and stigma because shame is half the problem. For me talking about it with friends, people I trust and those who love me and see me beyond having the condition of vaginismus was hugely beneficial.

Self-care is also making time to do meditation, breathing, feeling grounding, some mindful pleasure, and not just sexual pleasure, but even just slowing down experiences of like having a cup of tea or eating a nice cake – really tapping into all the experience.

Other things that were beneficial for me were and still are mindfulness Learning to tap into my body, what’s happening in my body and asking myself, what do I need right now?.

Learning to make time for pleasure and masturbation is very powerful and important for women. With vaginismus, even things like masturbating mindfully, taking time to touch different areas of the body, and bringing that mindfulness in to deepen pleasure help. Doing things that feel good, like using a toy or touching the clitoris.

That learning to tune in helps knowing when my body is relaxed enough to begin some form of penetration, it is a practice of making time to spend time with my body.

I’m learning more and more about the connection between the mouth and the throat and between the vagina and the pelvic floor. Opening your mouth and open-mouth breathing. I work on breathwork with my clients; opening everything up and relaxing everything a little bit more is a helpful exercise.

‘We need to approach this self-work for vaginismus and sexual empowerment as a lifelong learning journey – not just something we learn once.’

There was so much self-care learning for me that has been beneficial in resolving vaginismus. Simple things like learning to switch off from work and drawing those clear boundaries. Because if I’m at work all day, it’s so easy to hide behind work stresses. There are so many stresses in life that you can easily lose yourself. We have to consider that a lot of that may be to actually avoid deeper stress.

You might like to read…[9 Health professionals for a Holistic Integrative Approach to Resolving Vaginismus]

For example, someone with vaginismus may be struggling and suffering, but they may not be sitting down and doing the breathing or doing the exercises, or dilators because they tell themselves, ‘i’m too busy‘ or ‘i’m too stressed‘.

But sometimes, that is a subconscious choice. You’re actually making a choice to put that energy into worrying about work and life stressors rather than making time for yourself, so that you don’t have to face this vaginismus condition that you have.

So, a big reaslising for me that that my personal life and my sexual-being life are inter-connected, and that these parts of me are more important than my working life. There will always be more work to do. I will be replaceable work-wise, everyone is, but I’m not replaceable from a personal level. Life is short, and that time I want to put into enhancing my experiences and life.

Addressing vaginismus gives women hope and empowers women to make progress on their vaginismus journey rather than sweep the problem under the rug.

Women’s relationships with their bodies and with their sexuality impact many things:

  • Her happiness
  • Her sense of fulfilment and contentment in life
  • Her experiences of joy, pleasure and self-intimacy

I want you to know that you are not a burden. You are not undesirable. You are not unlovable. 

Yes, you are a lovable, desirable and worthy sexual being. And vaginismus does not need to stop that from happening and from you embodying that and enjoying sex and intimacy.

Grace Alice features as a special guest on many podcasts talking about vaginismus, sex education and sexuality, listen to her podcasts via alicegrace.com here.

Follow Alice Grace O’Shea on Instagram @/grace_alice_oshea/ and Orlagh Reid on Instagram @orlagreidpsych

Want to read more great informative articles? Check out the Vaginimsus Blog Series.

Orlagh Reid Psychotherapy

Orlagh Reid

Orlagh Reid is an IACP accredited Counsellor & Psychotherapist, Addiction Counsellor, Gottman Couples Therapist and Fertility Counsellor in private practice based in Co. Kildare, Ireland and worldwide online via DOXY. She specialises in addiction, recovery, well-being and clinical sexology. To find out more or to book an online consultation visit www.orlaghreid.ie

Orlagh Reid Psychotherapy MIACP Therapy Ireland

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