Overview: Vaginal Dilators

What are Vaginal Dilators?

Vaginal dilators are tubes of differing sizes that you can insert into your vagina to help dilate or widen the vaginal canal. This stretching or widening can help increase comfort during sexual interactions.

Some cancer treatment side effects and even just natural menopausal changes can result in narrowing and tightening of the vagina. This can result in pain during penetration. Vaginal dilators can assist in reducing this pain so that a healthy and comfortable sex life can continue.  

When Can Vaginal Dilators Be Beneficial? 

  • After radiation therapy: If a woman has radiation therapy aimed at or near her vagina, she may be given a dilator towards the end of treatment. Using the dilator can help prevent the vaginal walls from sticking to each other and scarring shut during healing. As healing goes on, the radiation can cause fibrosis (a scarring process) in the vaginal walls. Using a dilator or having intercourse for a total frequency of two to three times a week may help the vagina stay as deep and wide as possible. 

  • After vaginal reconstruction: If a woman has surgery to rebuild her vagina after cancer treatment, she may be given a custom-made vaginal dilator to wear while she sleeps as well as for some hours during the day. The dilator helps the new vagina stay as deep and wide as possible during healing. 

  • To maintain vaginal size after cancer treatments and/or menopause: Vaginal dilators may help women keep enough vaginal size and stretch to have pain-free intercourse or pelvic examinations after menopause, during long periods when they need to take anti-estrogen hormone therapies, or to prevent scarring during graft versus host syndrome after a stem cell or bone marrow transplant from a donor. 

How Do I Prepare to Use My Vaginal Dilator? 

  • Try to schedule 10 to 15 minutes every other day for practice. 

  • If possible, find a quiet place to practice where you have privacy without being interrupted. 

  • Choose a time when you are feeling relaxed, like after a bath or shower. 

  • Experiment with different temperatures. 

  • If the dilator feels cold to touch, you can run it under warm water prior to use.  

  • If you still have irritation or tenderness, you can try keeping the dilator in your refrigerator as cool temperatures may reduce pain. 

Good to Know

You can use the dilator while lying in bed, sitting up against some pillows or a headboard, or even lying in a warm bath. It often helps to have your thighs somewhat open, and your knees bent, in a relaxed version of the pose you would take for a pelvic exam. 

Where Do I Get a Vaginal Dilator? 

Several companies make dilators that come in convenient sizes and can be ordered without a doctor's prescription; however, your provider may be able to provide recommendations on where/what type they would suggest. Typically, vaginal dilators can be purchased online or in stores that sell adult toys. 

Are There Risks to Using a Vaginal Dilator? 

Before incorporating a dilator into your daily routine, please talk first with your oncologist or gynecologist. Depending on your current treatment, you may be advised to avoid penetration of any type.

Talk to your doctor before using a vaginal dilator if any of the following apply: 

  • You are undergoing cancer treatment (surgery/radiation/chemotherapy/stem cell transplant/hormone therapy). 

  • You have a vaginal or cervical tumor.  

  • You have graft vs host disease. 

 For more information on how to use a dilator, click here