Vaginismus: Heightened Harm Avoidance and Pain Catastrophizing Cognitions

C. Borg*, M.L. Peters, W.W. Schultz, P.J. de Jong

*Corresponding author for this work

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Introduction. Catastrophic appraisal of experienced pain may promote hypervigilance and intense pain, while the personality trait of harm avoidance (HA) might prevent the occurrence of correcting such experiences. Women inflicted with vaginismus may enter a self-perpetuating downward spiral of increasing avoidance of (anticipated) pain. In vaginismus the anticipation of pain may give rise to catastrophic pain ideation. This may establish hypervigilance toward painful sexual stimuli, which consequently results in negative appraisal of sexual cues. This process could impair genital and sexual responding, intensify pain and trigger avoidance, which in turn may contribute to the onset and persistence of symptoms in vaginismus and to certain extent also in dyspareunia. Aims. To investigate whether women suffering from vaginismus are characterized by heightened levels of habitual pain catastrophic cognitions, together with higher levels of HA. Methods. This study consisted of three groups: a lifelong vaginismus group (N = 35, mean age = 28.4; standard deviation [SD] = 5.8), a dyspareunia group (N = 33, mean age = 26.7; SD = 6.8), and women without sexual complaints (N = 54, mean age = 26.5; SD = 6.7). Main Outcome Measures. HA scale of Cloninger's tridimensional personality questionnaire, and the pain catastrophizing scale. Results. Specifically women inflicted with vaginismus showed significantly heightened levels of catastrophic pain cognitions compared with the other two groups, as well as significant enhanced HA vs. the control group, and a trend vs. the dyspareunia group. Both traits were shown to have cumulative predictive validity for the presence of vaginismus. Conclusion. This study focused on the personality traits of catastrophizing pain cognitions and HA in women with lifelong vaginismus. Our findings showed that indeed, women suffering from vaginismus are characterized by trait of HA interwoven with habitual pain catastrophizing cognitions. This study could help in the refinement of the current conceptualization and might shed light on the already available treatment options for women with vaginismus. Borg C, Peters ML, Weijmar SchultzW, and de Jong PJ. Vaginismus: Heightened harm avoidance and pain catastrophizing cognitions. J Sex Med 2012; 9: 558-567.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)558-567
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of sexual medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


  • Harm Avoidance
  • Pain Catastrophizing
  • Sexual Pain Disorders
  • Vaginismus
  • Dyspareunia
  • Personality Traits


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