Hello, I’m Louise, I’m Scottish, I’m twenty-two, I own a tiny cat who is currently yelling right into my ear, and, oh yeah, my vagina doesn’t work.
Well, no, that’s not true – it performs a good chunk of the functions that a vagina is meant to. But when it comes to getting anything up in there, whether it’s a tampon or a penis, my vagina has decided to make that pointlessly and painfully difficult for me. I suffer from a condition known as Vaginismus, and I’m here to tell you about it. Buckle in, folks: it’s time to talk about my vagina.
Vaginismus describes the involuntary spasming of the vaginal walls upon attempted insertion of an object into the vagina; essentially, whether I’m trying to get a tampon or a penis up there, but my body goes “I don’t think so, honey” and slams down the shutters. This manifests itself in intense pain upon penetration – it’s not always there, but periods of exceptionally painful penetration have lasted from a few months to several years at a time. While it sometimes feels like all my peers were off having fun, uninhibited sexy times, I’m over here fainting in agony trying to get a tampon in and feeling like an idiot for not being able to figure this out. It’s a f*cking vagina, for Christ’s sake! It’s pretty self-explanatory!
You probably won’t have heard the word “vaginismus” unless you or someone you know has suffered from it; as with many things revolving around the vagina (now there’s an image), we don’t like to talk about what’s going on between our legs. In fact, it was this fear about coming off as gross that kept me from seeking treatment for my own issues with my Venus-fly-trap of a pussy when I first started exhibiting symptoms at fourteen. I got into my first sexual relationship around this time, and I honestly believed that the feeling of someone tossing a match into my nether regions was just the normal pain that I’d been taught came with having a penis in you for the first time.
It took months of frustration, confusion, and being seized with fear every time I so much as looked at a condom for me to realize that there was something wrong with me. When I eventually went to get it checked out… well, you remember that scene from The Simpsons, when Lisa goes to get braces, and the dentist shows her the variety of tools he’ll be using on her? “This is the scraper, and this here’s the gouger”? That’s how I felt when the woman treating me swabbed inside me with a cotton bud. It hurt like a demon. I cried.
Okay, I figured, maybe there was actually something wrong with me. But by this point, my self-esteem had already taken an absolute battering at not being able to have sex – it seems like a stupid thing to get so worked up about, but I truly thought I was broken in some profound and unfixable way. Why would anyone want to be with me if I couldn’t have sex? Did this mean I could never have children? Was I repressing some childhood trauma that made this happen (no, as it turns out, but that didn’t stop people from suggesting that)? I felt ruined, humiliated, and was certain deep in my soul that anyone who knew this about me would see me the same way. This fundamental part of being an adult, of being a human, and I couldn’t do it.
I eventually got that diagnosis – well, I got given the word, vaginismus, and that was it. I was given a website to check out and then left to deal with this sh*t on my own. Nobody seemed to know how to talk to me about it, and nobody could come up with even the most basic solutions for treating it. I ended up frantically searching for solutions online, and eventually ordering a stack of baby-pink dilators and spending one very drunk Christmas break from university lying in my childhood bed with gritted teeth wondering if this is what sex would feel like. I eventually did wind up having sex, even painless sex, even sex that I could actually enjoy, but flare-ups are still common and I still shudder even glancing in the direction of a tampon.
But the thing that got me more than the pain was that nobody seemed to want to talk about it. Okay, yeah, I get it – genital conversations aren’t something you can generally just drop into small talk. But we have no problem creating treatments and advertising for sexual dysfunction relating to penises, but when it comes to what’s going on downstairs for lots of the be-vagine’d among us, we don’t want to discuss it. And that’s leaving a lot of people in a lot of pain for no good reason other than we won’t discuss these extremely common afflictions. Vaginismus is estimated to effect around 10-15% of the population, and that’s not even touching on other pain conditions that effect vaginas – such as vulvodynia or vulvar vestibulitis, amongst many others.
And yet, we’re not talking about it. We’re not talking about it because we don’t want to hear about vaginas unless we’re using ‘em for good, pain-free sex. But I wanted to write this article because we need to let people with vaginas know that this kind of thing is, not just possible, but common. We need to come up with more well-rounded treatment for these conditions. We need to teach that penetration is not the be-all and end-all to sex. And, more than anything, we need to give support to the confused little fourteen-year-olds in all of us who are just desperate not to feel broken or wrong any more.
If you think you may be suffering from vaginismus or are having any other issues with your vagina or other parts of your reproductive anatomy, please see your GP.