‘I feel like as a woman, I’ve failed.’
It’s a funny thing. Those words slipped out of my mouth before my brain had a chance to process them. Funnier still; the word woman carries so much gravitas. I could’ve chosen to say girlfriend, lover or sexual being, but I didn’t. I feel like as a woman, I’ve failed.
Of course, there are so many ways in which I haven’t ‘failed as a woman’. I’m an intersectional feminist, trying to do my bit for other people with vaginas. I stick up for women, I use my democratic right as a woman to vote, I’m getting an education, I’m talented in my field; I’m succeeding in aspects of life other women have paved the way for. For that one night, however; I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d failed.
‘How can I possibly be a great woman if the most vital thing about being a woman doesn’t work properly?’
I’ll outwardly address that I wouldn’t normally take this view; it’s trans-exclusionary and heteronormative. For that, I apologise. Like I said, words were streaming from my consciousness long before my brain had time to process any greater meaning behind it. The lump in my throat grew deeper, and the heaviness in my stomach was undeniable. I was a late bloomer when it came to sex. For most of my teenage years, I was this… repugnant, acne-covered, greasy-haired emo. I deeply wanted a sexual connection with someone, but it didn’t work out. When I got to sixteen and ‘blossomed’, I found that boys were suddenly interested in me. I agreed to a lot of things; and while I ‘wanted’ sex, thought about sex, craved sex… I didn’t really want sex. It didn’t sit well with me at the time.
I spent years building up the notion that first-time sex was painful; gruesome, bloody and unsatisfying. I feared the hymen; and the stigma around female masturbation at my middle-class, gossip-laden secondary school meant that I never so much as saw my vulva until long after I left. Years-and-years of build-up amounted to nothing, in the end. At the age of eighteen, I masturbated for the first time. The vagina, however – not the vulva, labia or clitoris – the vagina; was still a foreign concept.
I started wrecklessly ‘hooking up’ with men from Tinder at the age of nineteen; ignoring the fact that everything was excruciating. It’s thought that I lost my hymen during one of those non-entity half-hours, which is a source of both great pain and relief to me. To not know exactly when or to whom I lost my virginity hurts; figuratively and literally. To know that it didn’t happen with anyone special hurts more.
After I got into my first relationship; we tried penetrative sex. A lot. A countless amount of times, in fact. Nothing happened. It was like there was a wall, rejecting penetration time-after-time-after-time. It was May 23rd, 2018 when I decided I’d failed. There was nothing we could do; we couldn’t share that famed special moment together. Maybe we never would. I wouldn’t be able to have children, naturally; I wouldn’t be able to join in a game of Never Have I Ever, which is perhaps the greatest disappointment of all. I didn’t know what was going to happen, all I knew is that I’d tried. For a year and a half.
I was exhausted.
Towards the end of last year; I finally decided to Google it. The results surprised me, in a sense; the NHS website called it Vaginismus, and the BBC website informed me that it was incredibly common. Often misdiagnosed as HPV, Chlamydia and Thrush; Vaginismus is a condition in which the vaginal muscles frequently spasm whenever penetration begins to occur. This makes using tampons, some methods of foreplay, and penetrative sex painful, occasionally bloody and virtually impossible. Bad sexual experiences, stigma and sexual trauma are thought to be the three most common causes. You also don’t have to be a virgin in order to experience it. Unlike myself, some sufferers may have previously enjoyed painless sex before the condition manages to set in. You can’t control it. There is, however; a giant, fluorescent, guiding light at the end of the tunnel…
On the 12th March 2019, I spoke to a doctor about it for the first time. We talked about it for twenty minutes before undergoing some tests; a urine sample, a speculum insertion and two swab tests.
“Getting my fanny out for the doctor seemed really daunting, but she was so good with me! She gave me a modesty cloth, reassured me that we could stop at any time, and guided me through breathing exercises while the speculum went in!”
Vaginismus is a chronic condition. The recovery process is a marathon, not a sprint. Taking that vital step and visiting my GP was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. So many women go through this on a day-to-day basis; suffering in silence, thinking they’re looking at a bleak future. It doesn’t have to be that way. Talk to your friends, parents, doctors, therapists about Vaginismus. Stop convincing yourself that five minutes of a trained stranger looking un-objectively at your vagina is worse than a lifetime of miserable sex. If I can do it; so can you.
It was on 14th March 2019 that I, Hannah Van-de-Peer, decided that I am not a failure. Nor will I ever fail as a woman simply because my vaginal muscles have a life of their own. Begin the conversation. Tell your friends today that they will never be a failure.
For more information on Vaginismus, visit the NHS Choices website.
For stats, facts and figures, visit the Vaginismus Awareness website.
If you, or anyone you know may be struggling with this condition; please consult your General Practitioner as soon as possible.
Want to chat about Vaginismus? My Twitter DMs are open 24/7. Click here to reach my account.
For more from Hannah, click here.