I used to have a vagina many would be jealous of.
I was hypersensitive and an orgasm – or five – was never far away. With my own hands, I could climax within minutes and even a clumsy sexual partner could bring me over the edge.
Then a silent torturer reared its head and took that special power away.
First I experienced intense periods of pins and needles in my pelvic area, followed by a change in vaginal sensation.
As time went on, I noticed sharp pains inside my vagina whenever I became aroused, and during sex I found penetration more and more uncomfortable. I even had to stop using tampons.
I’d read about studies showing that doctors often do not take female pain as seriously as male pain, and I was terrified that my symptoms would be brushed off by my GP. I had never heard of anyone dealing with symptoms like mine, so I kept quiet and hoped it would eventually go away.
One year ago, I plucked up the courage to discuss it with my gynaecologist who did a very gentle pelvic exam and later determined that I had vaginismus, a condition that causes involuntary contractions in the muscles around the opening of the vagina, which can make penetration painful or, in some cases, impossible.
My doctor stressed that diagnosis only comes as a result of excluding all other possible conditions. Like many chronic pain issues, it is difficult to properly diagnose. This news made me feel as though it was all in my head and I was at a loss for what to do next.
While I waited to be referred to a specialist physiotherapist, I knew I had to start healing on my own.
Losing the intense connection I had with my body felt like a part of me had been torn away, like a part of my identity had disappeared inside the trickery of my own vagina. I had been betrayed by the one body part I had always found reliable.
I had to take a break from being physical with my partner. I knew that reconnecting with myself first was far more important than trying to force penetrative sex before I was ready. I could not find pleasure with another person until I had recovered my own.
Unfortunately, there is no medication to magically fix the condition. It all comes down to psychology and physiotherapy.
My gynaecologist thought that my condition was probably related to past sexual traumas, so I decided to try reconnecting with my body through pleasure. I found self-pleasure to be a powerful tool for my psychological and physical recovery because it helped me to reclaim my body.
To start with, I had to take a break from being physical with my partner. I knew that reconnecting with myself first was far more important than trying to force penetrative sex before I was ready. I could not find pleasure with another person until I had recovered my own.
I spent a lot of time horizontal in bed with various forms of vibrators. I explored every inch of my body, rediscovering erogenous zones and a newfound love for my vagina.
While my symptoms have not disappeared, I am learning how to manage them better and to use relaxation to ease any discomfort. I am still waiting to see a specialist physiotherapist but I have already made progress and I am hopeful that I will return to my orgasm glory days in the future.
The condition can feel incredibly lonely. Few people want to talk publicly about how your vagina is too painful to enjoy sex and those who do are few and far between.
This is clearly a symptom of our wider social issues, which continues to devalue female pleasure and prioritise the male orgasm. While erectile dysfunction gets a global stage and fundraising to match, conditions that affect people with vaginas are all too frequently ignored, misdiagnosed or treated with disbelief. I refuse to acquiesce to this trend any longer.
To combat this, we have to become our own advocates so that we can raise awareness of condition such as vaginismus and improve diagnostic rates.
I hid the condition and my symptoms from my partner for a long time before I finally stopped prioritising their pleasure over my comfort. It’s time for all people with vaginas to do the same.
Although it is a frustrating condition to live with, in some ways it has been positive. Enduring the discomfort and pain has reminded me to maintain a strong connection with my body and sexuality, especially because pleasure is far more intense when the physical and the psychological are in sync.
I have to work harder to orgasm, but I am more in touch with my body and sexuality than ever before. At least now I know that although vaginismus is a pain in the vagina, it is not a death sentence for pleasure.
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