Vaginal Dilators: Issues and Answers

Sex Med Rev. 2021 Apr;9(2):212-220. doi: 10.1016/j.sxmr.2019.11.005. Epub 2020 Jan 31.


Introduction: Vaginal dilators are often prescribed to facilitate an adaptive brain-body connection to decrease anxiety and pain that can be experienced in anticipation of sexual intercourse among populations of women with sexual pain syndromes. Postmenopausal women, cancer survivors, and women with a wide variety of pelvic floor disorders who experience genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder (GPPPD) are often advised to incorporate vaginal dilators into their pelvic floor rehabilitation program and treatment regimens to enable penetrative intercourse with less pain. However, little is known about the behaviors of dilator users, what treatment protocols are most effective, how patients are currently using their dilators, and how effective are clinicians in helping their patients achieve success with their dilation therapy.

Methods: A recent PubMed literature search was performed using the key words vaginal dilator, vaginal dilator therapy, sexual quality of life, vaginal stenosis, vaginal dilation, vaginismus. A total of 29 English articles were reviewed and summarized. Articles were excluded for the following reasons: not in English and unrelated to dilator therapy.

Main outcome measure: This article will summarize the current research on vaginal dilators and discuss needs for future research to maximize patients' compliance and success with this treatment. Much of the summary data regarding user behavior will come from the early survey data with Milli, a novel, patient-controlled electronic dilator that slowly expands 1 mm at a time from its smallest diameter, 15 mm to a maximum diameter of 40 mm. Milli is currently being used by more than 1,000 women, and 3-month follow-up data were recorded on 335 of those patients.

Results: Dilators exist in multiple forms (plastic, latex, and medical grade material), may come individually or in sets, and many have special features such as vibration or the ability to be heated or cooled before use. Little is known about patients' use of dilators and the Milli's 3-month survey serves as an insight to patient dilator behavior. The most common medical goals for patients undergoing dilation treatment were return to penetrative intercourse and pain reduction during coitus. Patients were dilated on average 2.72 days/week; 56.8% of patients had suffered from sexual pain for 2 or more years and 36.3% had previously used static dilators. More than 70% of Milli users purchased Milli and are using Milli without the direct guidance of a clinician. The most common emotions patients used to describe their treatment were not only "anxious," "frustrated," but also "empowered" and "optimistic." The most common dilatory session duration was 6-10 minutes, mostly in the evening/bedtime (68.3%), located in the bedroom (96.8%). Adjunctive treatment included the following: vaginal moisturizers, local estrogen products, coital lubricants, and genital pelvic floor physical therapy. During the dilation sessions, women most often watched TV/videos, practiced mindfulness, or listened to soothing music. Factors that showed trends toward improved patient outcomes were length of dilation treatment (greater than 3 months) and use of meditation and soothing music. Factors not associated with improvement trends were as follows: when/where patients dilated and patient demographics including age, race, or religious preferences.

Conclusion: Patients who purchase dilators have often suffered with their condition for a long time and had difficulty finding a competent health-care clinician well versed in sexual pain syndromes that can help them. When patients did find a clinician, there were no clinically proven standardized protocols or formalized guidelines to give to patients about how to best use their dilators. Larger long-term interventions investigating a standardized dilation protocol are planned in future studies to better elucidate the effective and optimal dilation treatment plans. Liu M, Juravic M, Mazza G, et al. Vaginal Dilators: Issues and Answers. Sex Med Rev 2021;9:212-220.

Keywords: Dilators; Pelvic Floor Hypertonus; Sexual Pain; Vaginal Dilation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Constriction, Pathologic
  • Dilatation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life*
  • Vagina
  • Vaginismus*