As much as I’ve longed to have the same vaginal capacity as my sex-loving peers for, essentially, the last five years; I can’t help but section off my fellow Vaginismus sufferers as our own, exclusive club. On a personal level, the condition has taught me many aspects of myself I perhaps wouldn’t have learned if I were perfectly capable of having standard (boring), penis-in-vagina, heteronormative sex. One of which being the following;
I’M TIRED OF FEELING UNDER-REPRESENTED!!!
Apparently, it’s absolutely the norm to pop an advert for erectile dysfunction in the pre-watershed advert slot between The Simpsons and Hollyoaks. Oh yes, a man sitting hunched over in a Hygge-esque white room, complete with beige sofa and frank dicks-course about ‘not getting it up 😉’; interspersed with clips of a faceless man and woman getting steamy to Rebel’s Come Up And See Me is branded as progressive, healthy and honourable.
Let’s flip the script, though. Imagine the middle-aged-man, cisnormatively speaking, was replaced with a middle-aged-woman. Imagine, instead of being hunched over, this woman was sat up tall; confident and self-assured, while speaking of her experiences with Vaginismus. Imagine, if you will, this clip being interspersed with a man failing to penetrate a woman; accompanied by 50 Cent’s I Get It In. Imagine that with your Monday evening tea.
I bet it makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t it?
You know what’s really uncomfortable?
Come here, come closer…
I won’t bite, come here…
PENETRATIVE SEX FOR A VAGINISMUS SUFFERER.
Here’s a list of several other things we find uncomfortable!
Everyone Losing Their Virginity Before You
Now, I like to think we’re all advocates on JNSQ.
Whether you own a penis, or a vagina; whether your sex organs work or not, whatever your sexuality (even Asexuals aren’t exempt from sexual pressure!), losing your virginity is personal to you. So, whether you view it as a social construct or not (and trust me, I know that better than anyone), it’s still your prerogative. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time to lose it.
But, low-key? Teenagers are sexually carnivorous beasts, mostly. More hormones floating around than a biologist’s test tube – and when everyone around you is losing their virginity to whoever, you want in on the action. Between the ages of sixteen to nineteen, I didn’t have a clue what was happening to my body, or exactly why I found it difficult and painful to be penetrated… but it sucked, truly. One of the best decisions I ever made was to visit my GP about the problems I’d been having, and I wish I’d have done it sooner! I’d actively encourage every mid-late teen vagina-owner having problems with penetration to visit a GP as soon as they can. It may be life changing, in more ways than one.
Learning How to Insert a Tampon at the Age of Twenty
Sometimes I wonder exactly why I have Vaginismus. I’ve never had anything traumatic happen to me, I’ve never given birth, I don’t have any secondary infections… and then I remember how I used to feel sick to the stomach at the mere thought of any form of penetration! I was first educated about tampons when I was eleven years old, and I had this panicky feeling in my stomach which wouldn’t go away. I was sat, in a sweaty classroom, with butterflies; as I shakily asked, ‘w…we don’t have to use tampons though, do we…?’.
Of course we didn’t. But, it took me nine years to get over that initial fear (along with the added phobia of Toxic Shock Syndrome, when I learned about that). About three months ago, on the first day of my period; I decided to take a leap of faith. I stood, leg-cocked like a weeing dog, at the side of my bath. And read the instructions. And read them again. And again. Before attempting to slide the tampon in while it was still encased in plastic.
So, twelve (count ‘em) discarded tampons later, I’d hit the jackpot. We’d struck red gold, and the result was… underwhelming. The cotton-like material of the tampon chafed, like the time I wore a thong three-sizes too small for me at uni and came home to red imprints on my labia.
Hannah: 1, Vaginismus: 0 though, right?
The Speculum Test
This is one you’ll know if you’ve been to the GP for your Vaginismus, or if you’ve had the ooooool’ pap smear. You’re sat in the waiting room, and it’s like a scene from The Fear Factor. You know what’s coming. You have several thoughts racing through your head:
Not that I care, but what if I stink?
What if I fart in their face?
What if it hurts so much I pass out, Tina Fey style?
What if I inadvertently squirt for the first time in my entire twenty-one years on this planet?!
…That last one’s a bit specific.
Then, you’re up on the cold, clinical table with your knickers round your ankles. Your doctor comes over with a head torch like she’s about to mine for gold, and produces the… Jesus… the biggest bottle of KY Jelly you’ve ever seen. There must be, what, a year’s supply in there? You’re told she’s going to start with a virgin speculum, about the length and width of two fingers. Luckily, you’re both practising mindful breathing, so you try to focus on the breath as she’s counting you down. You feel a lot of pressure… you’re very aware of the penetration, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. You champ. You star. You-
‘Excellent! You’re doing really well! Now, I’m just going to open it so I can have a little peek of your cervix…”
Open it?! Before you know it, you can feel the speculum expanding in the nether zone; boldly going where no man has gone before.
Working Out Your PoP (Positions of Penetration) Definitely Counts As Cardio… Right?
Or, at least some kind of endurance test. So, missionary is a no-go for me. I’ll put it out there. I’m not entirely sure why, my pelvic floor often feels very locked in that position, causing problems in relaxation. This is essential, because Vaginismus is ALL. ABOUT. RELAXATION. If you’re at the stage where you can tolerate penetration in any way, shape or form; you definitely need to be looking at which positions are right for you. Sex isn’t generally a selfish act, but Vaginismus sufferers; I think McFly put it best when they said; it’s all abooouuuutt yoooouuuu. Penetratively speaking, of course. Make sure you find a partner who’ll slow down when you need to slow down, experiment when you need to experiment; and won’t force you into any awkward situations, particularly positions you don’t find comfortable. Vaginismus certainly isn’t a condition which can be cured by forcing yourself into painful positions. This may even worsen things.
Having to Explain to People You Have Vaginismus
Let someone know you suffer from the condition, and I guarantee you’ll provoke one of these three responses;
…You have… what?
Oh. Is that an STD?
…Can you eat it with Pita?
The fact is… it’s unique. It’s hard for penis-owners to understand, shit, it’s even harder for other vagina-owners to understand. The most dangerous, stigmatising – and, unfortunately, common conclusion people often jump to is that it is an STD. As much as the symptoms presented (painful sex, occasional bleeding, inflammation) through the condition can be likened to those of Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia; I bet you’re pretty tired of explaining how Vaginismus is a condition, not an infection. You simply can’t catch it from someone else; and it isn’t necessarily a biproduct of anything more serious. While attempting penetration is one of the most strenuous activities for a Vaginismus sufferer to endure physically; ‘coming out’ as a Vaginismus sufferer isn’t an easy task mentally. Being misunderstood, grossed out or not believed is, sadly, a common occurrence for many sufferers.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom…
If you, or someone you know may be suffering from Vaginismus, please read this NHS page for more information on the condition; and how it may be treated.
Sign the petition for the compulsory introduction of Vaginismus to the Sex Education curriculum here
Vaginismus Awareness is a non-profit organisation, dedicated to raising the profile of one of the most common sexual disorders in the UK. Did you know, 1 in 5 vagina-owners will develop the condition during their lifetime?
The Vaginismus Network is a wonderful blog surrounding the condition; featuring sufferers’ stories, opportunities to connect with other sufferers – and some brilliant artwork by ambassador (and all-round superhero) Hazel Mead!