Vaginal Dilators Can Be Used To Treat Pelvic Pain and Painful Sex—Here’s What To Know
Below, two pelvic-floor therapists explain the purpose of these medical tools, as well as how to determine if they may be useful for your personal pelvic-floor issues or sexual pain.
What are vaginal dilators and how do you use them?
Aesthetically, vaginal dilators are akin to dildos, but their intended use is as medical devices to gradually stretch, relax, massage, or mobilize the pelvic-floor muscles. “Just as you might use a Theragun on tight quad muscles, you might use vaginal dilators on tight pelvic-floor muscles,” says Uchenna Ossai, DPT, an ASSECT-certified sex educator, pelvic-floor therapist, and founder of online sex-education platform YouSeeLogic.
“Just as you might use a Theragun on tight quad muscles, you might use vaginal dilators on tight pelvic-floor muscles.” —Uchenna Ossai, DPT
Designed to enter and stay in the vagina for a prescribed duration of time (usually five to 20 minutes)—or manipulated to massage the internal vaginal walls—vaginal dilators are sold in kits of three to seven total dilators of increasing size, says Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in sexual dysfunction and incontinence, and is the author of Sex Without Pain.
The intention is for you to start with whatever size you can insert comfortably. Then, after a few days, weeks, or months, when your vaginal canal has learned to relax around and accommodate its size without pain, you size up. This progression continues until you reach your end-goal girth and length. Some folks have the goal of being able to comfortably have penetrative intercourse with their partner’s penis, and thus will work up to a dilator of a similar size. Others wish to use a regular-size tampon comfortably, and thus will work up to a dilator of similar size to that.
When using dilators, patience is key. “You have to respect the time your body is asking for to work up in size and through the kit,” says Dr. Jeffcoat.
Who are vaginal dilators for, exactly?
The short answer: Vaginal dilators are for anyone who has been to a pelvic-floor therapist who has recommended the use of the tool, says Dr. Ossai. And according to Dr. Jeffcoat, this may include anyone who experiences pelvic or penetrative pain, including folks with endometriosis, vulvodynia or vestibulodynia (pain around vaginal opening), vaginismus (constricted vaginal muscles), hypertonic pelvic floor (non-relaxing pelvic-floor muscles), painful bladder syndrome, and genitourinary syndrome of menopause (genital atrophy). “Vaginal dilators may also be used by people who have had pelvic-floor surgery, radiation for abdominal or pelvic cancer, or vaginoplasty to promote pelvic-floor health,” she says.
Even if you suspect you have one of the aforementioned conditions—or already know that you do—Dr. Ossai recommends against buying and trying vaginal dilators without approval from a pelvic-floor specialist. "It’s a horrible idea to use these on your own without first talking to a practitioner,” she says. “Because while you may know that you have pain, a pelvic-floor practitioner can help determine the underlying cause of the pain, as well as work with you to develop a treatment plan suited to your specific, individual needs.”
Those individual needs may include other treatment supplements, such as medications, pelvic-floor or trauma-informed yoga, meditation, or other supplemental therapies, Dr. Ossai says. And depending on your case, you made be prescribed a certain type of dilator. Dilators available in a variety of materials including silicone, stainless steel, ABS plastic, and glass. Whichever material you use will depend on a variety of factors including personal preference, underlying condition, and end goals. “Some patients need a mix of plastic and silicone,” says Dr. Jeffcoat. "Other patients need stainless steel, which is best for also delivering internal massage." It's best to decide on the best dilator for you under the guidance of a medical provider.
So, if you are experiencing pelvic pain or painful sex, have seen and expert, and landed on vaginal dilators as treatment plan, keep reading for several options available to try.
3 vaginal dilator sets your pelvic floor therapist may recommend
Designed in collaboration with Sherry Ross, MD, a gynecologist known for championing vulvar and vaginal health, this five-piece silicone from Calexotics set includes dilators ranging from .53 inches by 2.67 inches (about the size of a small pinky finger) to 1.18 inches to 3.33 inches (about the size of super tampon). All on the short(er) side, this dilator set is most likely to be recommended to vagina-havers who struggle with pain at the opening and/or front of their vagina. Big bonus: This set comes with a guide on dilator use written by Dr. Ross.
Made from extra-heavy, body-safe borosilicate glass, the Crystal Delights Dilators may look like science-lab fodder, but rest-assured, these luxe-looking dilators are designed for vaginal insertion. The set includes three dilators, all of which are four inches long. What varies amongst them is their thickness—one measures in at 1-inch thick, the second at 1.25-inches, and the third at 1.6-inches.
If your pelvic-floor pain and discomfort is located deeper inside your vaginal canal, your health-care provider may recommend a set like this. Featuring five silicone dilators that graduate up to 5.5 inches long, the Sinclair Select Deluxe Silicone Dilator Set features greater length diversity compared to other sets. Another perk: Each dilator rocks a large base, which makes them easier to grip onto and use for internal massage.
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