Vaginal dilators are used as a form of pelvic therapy for women who experience pain during sex or anxiety about vaginal penetration.
Typically prescribed to treat vaginismus, vaginal dryness after menopause, or to help women readjust to intercourse after surgery, pelvic trauma, or childbirth - vaginal dilators work by gently stretching and opening tight or narrowed vaginas.
Keep reading to understand all about the different types of dilators and which one is best for you.
What are Vaginal Dilators?
Vaginal dilators are tubular medical devices that are designed to mobilize, relax and stretch the vaginal tissues and pelvic floor muscles when they have tightened.
Typically purchased in sets of incrementally increasing diameters and lengths, vaginal dilators are designed to gently widen narrowed vaginas, relieve tightness, improve natural lubrication, and train the pelvic floor to tolerate tampons, medical exams, or sexual intercourse.
Although vaginal dilators are usually recommended by a physical therapist, gynecologist, or female health practitioner, only initial guidance is required before patients are encouraged to practice regularly at home for best & long-term results.
What Conditions Benefit from Vaginal Dilators?
The main goal of using vaginal dilators is to eliminate anxiety surrounding vaginal penetration and treat painful sex to improve not only women’s sexual pleasure but also their life in general. The main conditions that benefit from vaginal dilators are:
Dyspareunia is the medical term for painful sex. Usually felt in the vagina or pelvic area, dyspareunia can occur due to atrophy, endometriosis, pelvic injury, childbirth, uterine fibroids, hormone imbalance, or vaginal infections. Regular practice of vaginal dilation in the comfort of your own home is one of the best treatments for dyspareunia.
Typically, ring-shaped or half-moon-shaped, the hymen is a stretchy piece of tissue that surrounds the vaginal opening but does not cover it. Although rare, some women are born with an imperforate hymen, which completely covers the vaginal opening, prohibiting menstrual flow, the insertion of tampons, and vaginal penetration.
Usually identified during puberty, surgery is typically performed to open the hymen, and vaginal dilator therapy during recovery helps to keep it open permanently.
During perimenopause, when estrogen levels start to drop, vaginal lubrication slows, and the vaginal tissues typically begin to lose elasticity. This causes the vagina to become drier and can lead to vaginal atrophy. Additionally, the vaginal canal can be narrow over time, which can result in the aforementioned dyspareunia.
With the help of vaginal dilators, postmenopausal women can gently stretch vaginal tissues to widen the vaginal canal and re-stimulate the production of natural lubrication to avoid vaginal dryness and enjoy more pleasurable sex.
Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome is a rare congenital disorder that results in a woman being born with underdeveloped or absent reproductive organs (vagina and uterus).
Because the vaginal canal, ovaries, and fallopian tubes are normally intact, the vagina owner can still ovulate and have sex, but intercourse is often painful due to narrow or short vaginal canals. In this case, vaginal dilator therapy is helpful to widen the vaginal canal for more comfortable sex.
Pelvic Surgery Recovery
Women recovering from pelvic injuries, pelvic surgery, vaginal surgery, or gender affirming surgery also benefit from using vaginal dilators to help improve vaginal and pelvic muscle flexibility during recovery.
Post-Treatment for Cervical Cancer
Following a hysterectomy, surgery, or radiation for cervical cancer, vaginal dilators are helpful during the recovery phase. In addition to increasing blood flow to the area to improve healing, the regular use of vaginal dilators can prevent the formation of scar tissue after radiation. By preventing scar tissue, cancer survivors can keep the vaginal canal open and return to an enjoyable sex life after recovery.
Vaginismus is described as the involuntary contraction, or tightening, of the pelvic floor muscles at the prospect of vaginal penetration. In addition to sexual penetration, vaginismus can also set in when trying to insert a tampon or undergoing a gynecological exam.
Because the tightening of vaginal muscles is usually linked to anxiety related to a previously painful sexual experience or fear that sex will be painful after surgery, menopause, or childbirth, vaginal dilators are helpful to allow vaginismus patients to gradually adapt to the feeling of penetration without pain.
A vaginal septum is a congenital disorder that forms a wall of tissue in the vagina that separates it into two parts. Vaginal septum are vertical or horizontal and can result in painful sex for many patients. Surgery is normally required to remove a vaginal septum and dilators are usually prescribed to keep the vagina open during recovery.
Types of Vaginal Dilators
The vagina is an extremely sensitive part of the body, so understanding the different types of vaginal dilators before placing anything in there can help women to choose which type is right for them and their particular condition.
Traditionally made from glass, the more recent versions of vaginal dilators are made from either plastic or silicone.
Plastic and Silicone Dilators
While glass is no longer commonly used, the main differences between plastic and silicone vaginal dilators are the feel, firmness, variety of sizes, and value for money.
That said, additional factors should also be considered when choosing vaginal dilators, such as the safety of the material used in production, the weight of each vaginal dilator, whether they can be used for warm & cold therapy, and if they require a handle to hold them in place.
Safety & Feel
Silicone dilators are made from body-safe, medical-grade silicone that feels soft, life-like, and flexible in the vagina. Plastic dilators, on the other hand, are firm, unbending, can feel like foreign objects in the vagina, and are sometimes made with phthalates or Bisphenol A (BPA), which can be harmful to the body.
Given that the goal of vaginal dilators is to reduce the fear of penetration and pain gently and gradually during sex, the softer, safer, and more life-like feel of silicone dilators is proving preferable for most vagina owners.
Warm & Cold Therapy
When it comes to “the feel” of vaginal dilators, another factor to consider is that warm & cold therapy is often helpful to promote healing. In this respect, both silicone and plastic dilators are easily chilled in the fridge or warmed in a bowl of warm water. However, research shows that women prefer the feeling of cooled or warmed silicone dilators in the vagina to cooled or warmed plastic dilators.
Firmness & Weight
The weight and flexibility of silicone vaginal dilators are also considered more natural than their plastic counterparts. Combined with the life-like movement, the natural weight of silicone dilators provides more realistic proprioceptive feedback, allowing the body, brain, and vaginal tissues to relax. This type of mental-physical relaxation is central to healing when it comes to more comfortable penetration and pain-free sex, and ultimately prepares the vagina owner for real penile penetration.
Variety of Sizes & Value for Money
According to pelvic health physical therapists, the best-sized vaginal dilators are those available in sets of ascending dimensions of width, length, and diameter. Although a one-size-fits-all dilator might sound easier, it is the act of gradually increasing the size of dilators that encourages the vaginal tissues to stretch slowly and safely. Becoming used to the feeling of incrementally larger dilators in the vagina is essentially what expands the vaginal canal over time.
If a complete set of vaginal dilators is too costly for your budget, some brands sell individual dilators from their sets. In this case, you can one or two of the smaller sizes from a set to begin and purchase the larger sizes when needed.
Vagina Dilator Handles
When it comes to dilator handles, it becomes more of a personal choice. While some women prefer to have something to hold their dilator in place, there is normally no need for this. A dilator cannot disappear into your body so there is no need to hold it but a handle may help to reach or control the dilator on insertion or removal.
The Best Vaginal Dilators on the Market
Taking the above-mentioned criteria and customer feedback into consideration, Intimate Rose Silicone Vaginal Dilators are certainly top of the list. As the only FDA compliant silicone vaginal dilator on the market, they are also used for training courses at the Academy of Pelvic Health.
Made with body-safe, medical-grade silicone, they come in a set of ascending sizes or can be purchased individually, and with a lip incorporated at the end of each dilator to let you know it has been fully inserted, there is no need for a handle.
Described as easy to use and highly effective, Intimate Rose silicone vaginal dilators also offer value for money as one of the most reasonably priced and best quality vaginal dilators available for purchase online.
How to Start Vaginal Dilator Therapy
Before beginning with dilator therapy, or even purchasing a set of vaginal dilators, it is best to speak with a pelvic health professional or pelvic health physical therapist to ensure you begin with the correct type and size dilator for you. Once you understand what size to begin with, your health professional will explain how to use your vaginal dilator, how often you should use it, and for how long you should leave it inserted.
Used to relax and gently stretch tight vaginal tissues, the main purpose of vaginal dilators is to reduce the fear of penetration (vaginismus) and relieve painful sex (dyspareunia). Also known as vaginal trainers, most are made from either plastic or silicone. However, understanding the differences between the different types of vaginal dilators is what helps women to choose which one is right for them.
If your pelvic floor physiotherapist or gynecologist recommends vaginal dilator therapy to treat your condition, consider the above-mentioned tips before choosing the best vaginal dilator for you.
Very Well Health – Vaginal Dilators: What You Need to Know - https://www.verywellhealth.com/vaginal-dilators-5220401
Intimate Rose – Vaginal Dilators; Frequently Asked Questions - https://www.intimaterose.com/pages/frequently-asked-questions-vaginal-dilators
My Cleveland Clinic – Vaginismus - https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15723-vaginismus
Mayo Clinic – Dysapeurnia - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/painful-intercourse/symptoms-causes/syc-20375967
My Health Alberta – Female Sexuality & Cancer – Vaginal Dilators After Radiation Therapy - https://myhealth.alberta.ca/cancer-and-sexuality/female-sexuality-and-cancer/vaginal-tightness/vaginal-dilators
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.