Vaginismus: I think there’s something wrong with me
Part 2 of a series
Did you know that most individuals with vaginas and vulvas have never seen it? And I don’t mean a funky cartoon diagram in sixth grade sex-ed. I mean their own. We are told from a very young age not to touch it, to leave it alone. But why? There’s no sound answer to that question, and yet from a very young age, we are told to leave it alone, and that’s the last we hear about it until we’re much older and expected to know everything there is about our bodies. In fact, many people with or without female genitilia couldn’t tell a labia from a vagina in the first place. The world must not yet have realized that when you grow up forced to pretend that something doesn’t exist, that not only do you learn nothing about it, but the idea of learning about it feels wrong.
Discovering from a young age that you have vaginismus is very confusing and isolating. When I first got that tingle down below that most kids get during puberty, I quickly learned not to touch it. It wasn’t someone telling me no, it was that when I did try to touch my vulva for the first time, it hurt and I snapped my fingers away from it and didn’t try again for a very long time. As an older teen, my friends would discuss their blossoming sex lives. This was confusing for me, I kept wondering about all the things people said felt good, and made girls scream in pleasure, and were apparently the most fun things they’d ever discovered. I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t wear tampons, I wouldn’t let my boyfriend touch me, and I had to be mindful of what clothing I wore.
The thoughts going through my head ranged from “maybe my body is a lesbian” (note, I am bisexual, and this idea was only an issue to me because of my committed teen romance), to “I will be alone forever.” I broke up with my boyfriend because I didn’t feel that I was worthy of a relationship. Not being able to have penetrative sex made me feel like I wasn’t in a real relationship and that my boyfriend deserved better. It was a depressing, time where I learned the true meaning of teen angst and loneliness. Now as an adult with a lifetime of experience beneath me, I know well that there is more to sex than penetration, and that a person’s worth in a relationship does not come from their abilities in the bedroom.
Vaginismus is extremely underdiagnosed because people don’t know it exists. Doctors don’t know about it more often than not and people are stuck going from doctor to doctor, waiting for one to finally tell them, “I get it. It hurts. I can see that it does, and I can help you.” There are also an impressive amount of doctors who have heard of the condition, but whose solution to it is, “Just drink some wine first to loosen up,” as if substances have ever been a reasonable and healthy option to deal with problems. Another issue is that when people are diagnosed with vaginismus, they have little to no help afterward. General practitioners (family doctors) can only recommend things to patients for treatment. After that it’s often very costly and time consuming for patients to get help, and many people lack the support system they need in order to begin treating themselves at home.
This is what I’m trying to change with this series. I want people to know that treatment is accessible and possible without outside help, and I want people to know that if they do have access to outside help, who they should be reaching out to. What’s equally important is that partners and other supporting relationships know what’s going on, and how to approach it. No one is alone in this. No one is undeserving of love because of this. No one is “weird” or “less of a person” or “a red flag for relationships” because of this. You are you and you are wonderful. And brave. Especially brave. And in this series I will be sure to let you know what else you can do with your partner to reach intimacy and sexual pleasure without having penetrative sex before you feel ready. You’ve got this.