From the very dawn of my sexual journey I experienced pain. I will never forget him touching me and repeatedly demanding, “does it hurt? Does it hurt?!”. I felt too afraid to say yes. Was I exaggerating? Maybe it was because it was my first sexual experience; I’d heard stories of people bleeding and hymens getting torn, so perhaps this was normal. Fast forward a year and I was out of an abusive relationship and enveloped in the warming embrace of my loving boyfriend, who actually knew what he was doing in the bedroom because he listened. But yet, despite the pleasure I felt during foreplay, penetrative sex would not work. Not even a bit. Biologically I was ready, mentally and emotionally I was ready, yet every single time we attempted penetrative sex it was like hitting a brick wall. It made me feel like a freak: how could my body betray me like this?
After a palm-sweating, nausea-inducing visit to Sidwell Street Walk-In Centre, I was told by a doctor that he was “95% sure” I had vaginismus, as I had expected. Even the word sounded horrible – I wanted to squirm away from it. Vaginismus is the involuntary spasming of the pelvic muscles, usually owing to the fear, (subconscious or otherwise), of penetration. It can make sex painful or impossible. He handed me numbing gel to apply to the entrance of my vagina, because who cares if women enjoy sex providing they can have it, right? I never used it. My boyfriend and I ordered a set of vaginal dilators and a good lube. The doctor had referred me to sexual therapy and I was on a waiting list.
As I began the steady journey of healing from vaginismus, I learnt that it wasn’t the only condition in which people experience pain during sex. Vulvodynia causes the vulva to hurt to the extent that it cannot be touched; endometriosis occurs when tissues similar to those found in the womb grow in other places, which can lead to pain during or after sex. People can experience pain after surgery, after giving birth or after certain medical treatments. Pain during sex is a lot more common than we think yet, generally, we are too scared to talk about it. Wouldn’t it be so much better if there were actual communities in which we could come together and share how we feel? Looking back, I know it would have been better for me to have had that experience as I felt abnormal. I felt I was letting my boyfriend down – I was letting myself down, because I wanted to experience the pleasures of sex like ‘normal’ people did. I should never have thought these things, but I feel as though I have to share the emotional impacts because they are real. These conditions are more than just physical, they can wear you down. The constant toil of having to use dilators is not be underestimated. I felt fed up of having to insert hard plastic into me that brought me zero pleasure. I felt fed up of waiting for counselling. How much longer would this go on?
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel for people dealing with these issues. I know this because I have recovered from vaginismus and there were times when I thought I would be stuck with it forever. My biggest piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. I would really recommend dilators, but I would advise checking with a medical professional first. Make them less of a chore by putting on some music that either calms you, or makes you feel sexy. Light some candles. Show your partner how to use them on you and associate them with positivity. I realised that if I was to be successful in healing, I needed to change my mindset. When you feel more confident, order a sex toy. For me, this was a gamechanger: finally, I had an element of control over my pleasure. Use sex toys or dilators before penetrative sex to show yourself that your vagina does work: its yours. I realised that my vagina was a muscle that could be trained much like any other muscle in my body. You can seek counselling if you feel it would benefit you: I think having the mental health and the physical help simultaneously really helps. And remember, other forms of sex are just as valid as penetrative sex.
Last autumn I finally received my counselling. I learnt that I had been experiencing PTSD as a result of the abuse I received from the guy I was involved with before, which manifested into vaginismus. I underwent EMDR therapy, which really helped me reprogramme the traumatic memories. Trauma can often contribute to or cause pain as a defence mechanism: muscles will remember bad experiences. This is why it is so important to be with a partner you can trust.
What I want people to take away from this is simply that sex can be enjoyed. Speak to somebody you trust and do some research on what the best path of treatment would be for you. And please remember that, much like any other medical issue, the conditions I have mentioned are nothing to feel ashamed or guilty about. Treat your body with kindness! We are worth more than our sex lives!
–Anonymous RAZZ Writer
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