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Vaginismus in the age of Google

November 7, 2012

I have been fortunate enough to have had relationships with some truly wonderful men, none more so perhaps than the man I met during my second year of university. I was his first girlfriend, and it was perhaps this that kept him incredibly kind, patient and caring during what must have been a frustratingly sexless year.

At this point, I didn’t know I had a condition. I knew I had difficulties with sex, having been with several men before this boyfriend, but the frustrations of our physical counters often paved the way to a breakup rather than resolution. I wish I had known that I’d had vaginismus. My inability to have sex was not defining factor of my relationships in and of itself, but combined with an embarrassment of discussing sex frankly, plus the fact that I was a teenager, meant several of my early relationships ended unhappily. By contrast, my university boyfriend was incredibly understanding of my discomfort. It was only after almost ten months together, that he finally struck on Googling my symptoms. We did split up not long after (nothing to do with the sex), but I am eternally grateful for the one moment he ditched his patience to find out why the heck we couldn’t sleep together.

It took me a long time to get the ball rolling on treatment, meaning I never slept with my lovely university boyfriend. I was in the midst of my finals, with a man I didn’t love – despite the kindness and patience – and trying to work out what I was going to do with my life. But I began reading about my condition on the NHS website, and that was the first step towards a diagnosis. So, Mr W., thank you for that.

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Hello again

November 7, 2012

I’d completely forgotten the existence of this blog until a new comment popped up on my last post (from June 2009!).

Re-reading my ‘about’ section, I see that I’ve fallen woefully short of achieving anything I set out to do with this blog. Sorry to anyone that’s ever come here seeking guidance or help!

Just an update on my situation. Perhaps six months after that very first post, I had full-on, penetrative sex for the first time. More about that in another post, perhaps. It was difficult and at first I, quite frankly, couldn’t really work out what the fuss was about. But then I tried again, and again, and some years later, I finally began to enjoy sex. It has taken immense patience, both for me and on the part of the men I’ve slept with, to get me to this point. If I’ve completely failed to document my journey to this point as promised, I’ll try and rectify that with some retrospective anecdotes in the hope it’ll help anyone else coping with this condition.

Re-reading my very first post, I stand by what I said then, and would perhaps broaden it. The mainstream media is extremely coy about sexual dysfunction, and particularly so when it comes to women. During just a few years of dealing with this problem (and I know many women deal with it over a lifetime, under much harder circumstances, such as sexual abuse), I have come across at least three women in my immediate circle who have difficulties enjoying sex. It would be wonderful to fight the tide of silence, in whatever small way is possible.

 

Medicalising your mind

June 1, 2009

Vaginismus is a medical condition and, as I’ve said, there’s a definite dearth of supportive personal information in the mainstream media or on the web.

I was just grateful that the problem could be diagnosed, but apparently my gratitude is wrong, says  Jennifer Drew over at the F-word. That I should feel penetration is the be-all and end-all of sex is ultimately reflective of how modern sex works – for the gratification of men:

How dare a woman’s body attempt to reject the thrusting penis! Women’s bodies must not say no to the mighty phallus! Of course, the penis can, and often does, forcibly penetrate a woman’s body, but women then experience considerable pain and discomfort. But, once again, the blame is on the woman’s body and her feelings, she is not relaxed enough, she has not lubricated enough, she is rejecting her male partner sexually.

Though the sense of outrage is a touch overdone, there is some truth in this. It’s telling that I wasn’t aware that my condition was a medical one. It was a boyfriend who concluded that something must be ‘wrong’ and therefore set out to find out what it was. Perhaps all those times he tried to help me with my condition, he was just trying to get a little closer to his own gratification.

In Drew’s sexual uptopia, presumably women should revolutionise sex and refuse penetration. Potentially for a lifetime, if you have vaginismus.

Well, I guess it would sort out overpopulation.

Where I am now

May 31, 2009

If boys had penises like this, I'd be all over it. It’s been over a year since I realised I had vaginismus. The only cure is seeing a therapist really, and taking practical action. First, you deal with your attitudes to sex, whatever they may be. Mine are a hotch potch of misguided wisdom from overbearing Asian parents, twelve years at an all-girls’ Anglican school and a romantic literary streak which makes me believe everything I read.

All of this has added up to make me terrified of actual sex. Sexual activity is good, but speculating about penetration with a gaggle of neurotic adolescent girls has scarred me permanently in that department.

Secondly, you have to learn to put things inside yourself, and not cringe at the thought. I’ve tried to sleep with three guys now, with varying degrees of success. Theoretically there was penetration. I got a tampon in yesterday, I almost cracked out the champagne – literally the most momentous occasion of my life. You can get special vaginal dilators but that sounds horribly clinical to me. My therapist advised household objects, but I can see that leading to comedy A&E situations.

I think I’ll stick to tampons for the moment.

Vaginismus: the unspoken taboo

May 31, 2009

I used this condom for the banana on the masthead. Awkward social situation has arisen, because both belong to a housemate and I don't quite know how to put them back.I have vaginismus – an awesome name for a slightly less awesome problem. It’s the clamping of the vaginal muscles before sex, to the point where a boy/tampon/vibrator is unable to penetrate. It is, to paraphrase one former lover of mine, ‘like hitting a brick wall’.

It can happen to women who have been having sex for years, or it can happen to newbies. It can happen because of trauma, like rape, or because of conflicting attitutes to sex.

And it doesn’t go away, it’s not just a momentary tightening of the muscles. The more you try forcing anything up there, the more it hurts.

So no sex for Sablefish. Medically, I’ve lost my virginity. I couldn’t tell you who with – every attempt at sex has been painful, frustrated and occasionally distressing.

I didn’t even know it was diagnosable, until one resourceful (and desperate) boyfriend googled my symptoms. And there are no quick cures – the muscle spasms are involuntary, and usually psychologically driven. Given that this is one of the most powerful muscles in the female body, getting drunk and hoping to get it over with quickly wasn’t going to cut it.

So I had medical proof that this thing existed, and started seeing a therapist on the NHS to get cure my inhibitions. And find my spark plug, as it were.

But I kind of wanted to relate to someone other than my therapist. Find other British women with the same problem and talk about it online. And I couldn’t – I couldn’t find a single publication which had done a feature, no charity, no acknowledgment that some women (whisper it) can’t have sex.

It’s not like I’m breaking a massive taboo here by talking about it. It seems like most people aren’t aware that there is a taboo. So for that reason, I’ll be documenting my progress as I try and conquer my fears about sex – through talking, tampons and maybe, eventually, a boy!