No two vaginas are the same. Indeed, the length, shape, depth, and size of a vagina will vary from woman to woman. Nonetheless, many women who experience painful penetration may have a shallow vagina.
In this article, we’ll discuss the facts & myths surrounding a shallow vagina, what causes it, and how to treat it.
What Size is The Average Vagina?
The average vagina is believed to measure 3-6 inches long, which is more or less the length of a female hand. That said, vaginas are susceptible to small daily changes that can alter the length of the vaginal canal.
For example, when women feel nervous or stressed about something the vaginal canal is known to shrink or tighten in response. On the other hand, when women feel sexually aroused the vaginal canal normally lengthens, causing the cervix and uterus to rise slightly to allow for more comfortable penetration.
The average vagina also changes as life progresses from puberty to menopause. Pregnancy, childbirth, hormonal fluctuations, and injuries or surgeries can change the length, shape, and size of a vagina. So theoretically, there is no “normal” or “average” length, depth, shape, or size of a vagina.
Just like women’s body shapes, personal features, and abilities are unique and susceptible to change throughout life, so are vaginas. What’s most important when it comes to your vagina is that it feels healthy.
So if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort during penetration, schedule an appointment with your doctor to understand what the root cause might be.
What Is a Shallow Vagina?
According to gynecologists, the length of a ‘normal’ vaginal canal ranges from 3-6 inches, and any vagina measuring under that length is diagnosed as a shallow vagina.
Symptoms of a Shallow Vagina
While the definition of a shallow vagina might refer to its ability to accommodate an erect penis during intercourse, it is not only penises or sex that can cause pain for a woman with a shallow vagina. Discomfort while inserting a tampon, or sex toy, or undergoing a gynecological exam can also cause symptoms.
The owner of a shallow vagina often experiences symptoms such as:
- Resistance or pain during the insertion of a penis, tampon, or during medical exam
- Throbbing pain during deeper penetration, movement, or thrusting during intercourse
- After penetration - whether from a tampon, gynecological exam, using a sex toy, or sex, - women report a burning or aching sensation in the vagina and groin.
What Causes a Shallow Vagina?
Should you experience pain during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia) or discomfort when inserting a tampon, schedule a consultation with your doctor or gynecologist to determine the root cause of the pain.
These symptoms may be caused by pelvic floor muscle tightness, which is resolved with pelvic floor physical therapy. If your doctor diagnoses a shallow vagina, medical research shows that it has more than likely been caused by one of the following conditions.
Fibroids are described as non-cancerous tumors, in or around the uterus, that can be as small as a piece of corn or as large as a cantaloupe. When fibroids are large they are known to push against the wall of the vaginal canal, causing pain and discomfort during penetration or intercourse, and possibly resulting in a shallow vagina.
As many as 80% of women have fibroids, but most are unaware because the tumors are small. That said, the earlier fibroids are detected the easier it is to deal with them and avoid future pain during penetration.
Scheduling annual check-ups with your OB/GYN is the best way to avoid experiencing a shallow vagina or pain from fibroids. Treatment, depending on the size of your fibroids, can range from medication to surgery.
Vaginal dryness, also referred to as atrophy, is common at different stages of life and usually leads to painful intercourse. This pain can cause tightening of the pelvic floor muscles which can make penetration difficult or uncomfortable. Additionally, with vaginal dryness the tissue can be less pliable, making it more difficult to tolerate penetration.
Dryness, or lack of natural lubrication in the vagina, is typically due to a fluctuation in hormones, particularly a drop in estrogen. Women who have just given birth, are breastfeeding, going through perimenopause, or have entered menopause are typical candidates to experience vaginal dryness. However, certain medications are also known to cause atrophy.
To treat vaginal dryness and prevent it from escalating into a shallow vagina, hormone replacement therapy is an option. Alternatively, a natural remedy called Chasteberry (Vitex) is highly recommended to treat symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances and is especially effective in treating menopause symptoms as well as PMS.
When considering HRT or natural supplements to treat hormonal fluctuations always consult with your doctor first to ensure treatment will not adversely react with other medications you are taking.
Vaginismus is described as an involuntary spasming of the vaginal tissues and pelvic floor muscles at the mere prospect of something entering the vagina, such as; a penis, tampon, or gynecological instrument during a pap smear or exam.
As a consequence of this constriction, women suffering from vaginismus often experience a burning sensation during sex or the feeling of the penis hitting a wall in the vaginal canal during penetration - essentially experiencing what feels like a shallow vagina.
Although the exact cause of vaginismus has not yet been determined, female health expert understand that it can triggered by a psychological fear of sexual intercourse, in that, the patient’s mind is already expecting penetration to be painful and so the pelvic floor muscles tighten to protect and guard against the perceived pain.
That said, the anxiety surrounding vaginal penetration is usually linked to a physical condition such as; a pelvic injury, vaginal dryness during menopause, discomfort from a yeast infection, vulvodynia, interstitial cystitis, or pelvic surgery.
For others, the fear of penetration can emerge from a lack of sexual experience, pain during previous sexual encounters, worries about falling pregnant, or suffering from sexual abuse in the past.
Vaginismus is normally treated with a combination of counseling or sex therapy, pelvic floor physical therapy, and the use of vaginal dilators at home to help patients become more comfortable with penetration.
As one of the more common conditions affecting the female reproductive organs, vaginal infections are not only uncomfortable but also lead to more serious problems when left untreated.
Caused by an overgrowth of bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses, these types of infections typically result in discomfort, itching, unpleasant vaginal discharge, and swelling. When left untreated, symptoms can escalate and make penetration painful or impossible due to a narrow or shallow vagina.
Should you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, schedule a consultation with your doctor to diagnose the root cause and start treatment for a possible infection to avoid the pain associated with a shallow vagina. Treatment for vaginal infections is usually medication-based.
Located just above the vagina between the bladder and rectum, the uterus typically tips slightly forward in the direction of the abdomen. When the pelvic floor muscles are weakened after certain life experiences like pregnancy, childbirth, or menopause, the uterus can tilt backward and result in a tilted uterus and shallow vagina. Women also experience a tilted uterus when it is enlarged by fibroids, pregnancy, or a tumor.
One in three women experience a tilted uterus, and while it might not necessarily shorten the length of the vaginal canal for every woman, a tilted uterus can result in painful penetration.
Treatment for a tilted uterus usually involves working with a pelvic floor physical therapist to address fascia or soft tissue contributions, and to manage pelvic floor muscle pain that may be associated.
Vaginal stenosis is a condition caused by scar tissue residing in the vaginal canal. The presence of scar tissue can cause the vaginal canal to become shorter or narrower, which can result in pain during penetration. Usually, the scar tissue is the result of previous surgery, radiation therapy, pelvic injuries, childbirth, or sexual trauma.
Treatment is based on relaxing the muscles of the vaginal canal, releasing the stiffness of scar tissue, mobilizing, and strengthening the pelvic floor. To do this, vaginal dilators and plenty of lubrication are recommended along with designated pelvic floor exercises.
Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome is diagnosed when a woman is born with outer genitals, but without a vagina or uterus, or with an underdeveloped vagina or uterus. Not surprisingly, many young women don’t know they have MRKH until an absence of menstruation during puberty signals that something is not right.
MRKH can make penetration uncomfortable or downright impossible, depending on the extent of the condition. If it’s something you are concerned about, speak with your doctor about treatment options.
Dilation therapy to gently stretch an underdeveloped or shallow vaginal canal can work for some. For others, surgery is performed to create a vaginal canal.
Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome
Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) is when a person who has one X and one Y chromosome, is resistant to male hormones (called androgens). They often have the physical appearance of a female, and the vaginal canal is often absent.
How to Treat a Shallow Vagina
Treating a shallow vagina will depend on what is causing it in the first place. As discussed above, a shallow vagina can be a result of genetics, psychological fears, underlying conditions, or hormone fluctuations.
Typical treatments for a shallow vagina include the following:
- Pelvic floor therapy with a pelvic floor physical therapist
- Vaginal dilator therapy – Imagine the vaginal canal as a muscular tube that can tighten and contract when injured, stressed, dry, underdeveloped, or moved. Using dilator therapy to gently stretch and gradually lengthen a shallow vagina can reap great rewards.
- Counseling or therapy – If painful penetration due to a shallow vagina is caused by a psychological issue associated with a fear of intimacy or previous sexual abuse, patients can learn techniques to relax the vaginal muscles with the help of a counselor or sex therapist.
- Medication – When symptoms of a shallow vagina is the result of an untreated vaginal infection, medication like topical creams or antibiotics will usually solve the problem.
While the depth, length, shape, and size of a vagina differ for each woman, some females are diagnosed with having a shallow vagina. This does not mean that there is something wrong with your vagina, but it does mean you have a condition that requires treatment.
Should you experience pain or discomfort during vaginal penetration, don’t be embarrassed to speak with your doctor about it. A shallow vagina is normally caused by an underlying condition that is treated with either physical therapy, dilation therapy, counseling, or medication. Only in very rare cases is surgery required to treat a shallow vagina.
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