Stelko [Abstract]

Practicing vaginistic femininity: Doing bodies, enacting normative heterosexuality [Full text]

Stephanie Stelko [1]

Abstract: Vaginismus is a female sexual pain disorder, characterized by contractions of the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle that surrounds the outer third of the vagina, which makes penetrative penile-vaginal intercourse (coitus), insertion of a finger or tampon and gynecological examinations hard or impossible, and painful for the woman. The condition is believed to be associated with negative beliefs, attitudes or experiences related to sex. Vaginismus has important social repercussions in everyday life, which acquire meaning in the context of hegemonic heterosexuality. In line with theories of performativity, heterosexuality and gender are normatively and performatively linked sets of practices, with coitus being the central practice of heterosexuality and thus defining for one’s gender. Thus, the inability of vaginistic women to perform coitus impairs their performance of normative heterogender. In this article I address gender experiences of women with primary vaginismus, by looking at social and bodily practices they engage in. In the first part of the article, I explore how women with primary vaginismus do (vaginistic) heterogender. In the second part I address the practices they do in order to ‘overcome’ vaginismus, thus improving their performance of normative heterogender, and argue that these practices are gendering themselves.

Keywords: Coital imperative, doing vaginismus, hegemonic heterosexuality, ‘overcoming’ practices, practicing heterogender

[1] Independent Researcher, Croatia,