Dear 16 year old Fran,
You are going to the Doctors today for the first time about… a problem. You’ve not named it yet. You don’t know how to. It’s not something you feel you can talk to your friends or family about. The only reason your boyfriend knows about it is because he was there each time, entirely naked, so it’s been pretty impossible to hide it from him.
You have really worked yourself up for the appointment, practiced saying the word ‘vagina’ over and over again.
You’ve said it so many times, it barely sounds like a word anymore. You’ve been worried that in the moment, sat in front of a Doctor you’ll get flustered and fake a cough, or a sneeze or summon up a verruca. Because nothing can be scarier than saying the word ‘vagina’.
Well, nothing except saying the words ‘vagina’ and‘ painful’. Even scarier is saying, ‘my vagina feels like a brick wall’ or ‘my vagina is a dead end’ or ‘I think my vagina is broken’.
You are sure that in sex education class, nobody mentioned not being able to get a penis inside you. In fact, you are certain it was just hours of being told of the perils of semen. There was no mention of this. There was no suggestion that you might not even be able to have sex in the first place.
At 16 everyone around you seems to be having brilliant sex. All the time. Endless shagging without a single hiccough. Everyone else is finding it so easy. So, you don’t speak about it, because you don’t want to be the odd one out. You’ve tried Asking Jeeves about it on the school library computers, but he hasn’t got a clue.
But today you’re gone to the doctors and that is huge. I’m in awe of you.
I wish I had better news to tell you. After all of that prep, running on the spot to gee yourself up, you weren’t listened to. Instead, you were told,
‘You just have a very underused vagina, get out there, relax and have more sex.’
You’ll see the Doctor type the word ‘Dyspareunia’ (the sexiest sounding of words) on his computer but he won’t mention it to you.
You leave the doctors feeling like you shouldn’t have gone at all, like you’ve wasted their time, like the pain was all in your head. Your boyfriend will wonder if it is his fault, he’ll ask ‘is my penis too big?’ You’ll tell him, ‘maybe?’.
I’m really sorry to say it doesn’t get better for a while. You’ll go back to the Doctors multiple times, determined and resolute. You’ll be told to ‘Pop some Savlon on the problem area’, even though Savlon shouldn’t go anywhere near your genitals, ever. Others will tell you to ‘have a glass of wine to loosen yourself up a bit,’ or to ‘wait until you have children to enjoy sex’.
At 30 a Doctor will tell you to ‘maybe to just not have sex’ and wish you ‘good luck’.
This is where the good news starts trickling in. You start talking about it. The secret that’s slept silently in bed with you, gets a little louder. You read books, join networks, you even attend a Sex Camp. You learn that penetrative sex is the kind of sex most likely to make a partner with a penis come, but not you, 75% of people with vaginas only orgasm with clitoral stimulation. You’ll learn that the clitoris isn’t just the little tip you can see, but a much larger structure, enormous. You’ll learn that sex doesn’t equal penetration and ‘foreplay’ is a word that isn’t useful for you.
You’ve been chasing penetration because of wanting to make your partners happy. You’ve been worried they’ll leave you if you can’t have sex the way they want. You spend a lot of time pretending to enjoy it, and become a real connoisseur of the fake orgasm.
I promise you will learn to stop being passive in sex, to ask for what you want and feel safe saying when you aren’t enjoying something. You’ll still feel angry at your vagina from time to time, but you find positions and solutions that work for your body. You discover lube and that using it doesn’t mean you are a dry husk, or that you are in any way deficient.
At 34 you will have written a book about your vagina. I know, I know, horribly embarrassing, I’m sorry. Except I’m not really sorry at all, because speaking about this has been one of the most powerful things that has ever happened to you. It’s made you feel so much less alone. It will make you realise that everyone’s body is different and there is no one type of sex that works for everyone. You’ll learn that for you dancing, and talking and having your ears kissed are a huge part of what works for you.
Mostly I want you to know, that you are not broken. The way that sex has been sold to you is broken. Your sex education and the sex you see in films is broken. The shame people feel if their sex life doesn’t fit the norm is what is broken.
You and your vagina are just perfect.
My Broken Vagina - the book
This book is one woman's funny, moving, and sometimes awkward quest to fix her sex life, but it's the story of millions of women everywhere - half of all women have felt pain during sex.
During award-winning writer and performer Fran Bushe's journey towards building a better relationship with her genitals, doctors advised her to have a glass of wine to loosen up, and male friends suggested she simply hadn't 'tried' the right penis yet. Unsurprisingly, neither worked.
After a visit to Sex Camp and many attempts to fix her 'broken' vagina, Fran decided to share her own hilarious, excruciating, and sometimes upsetting experiences. With the help of her 16-year-old self's diary, expert advice, candid and enlightening interviews with others about sex, and some self-care exercises, Fran sets about trying to make herself, and other people, feel like they're not being gaslit by their own vaginas.
About the Author
Fran Bushe is an award-winning comedian, writer and performer. She has had sold-out runs and a UK tour of her multi-award winning show Ad Libido, and wrote The Diary of My Broken Vagina for Channel 4 Comedy in 2019.
Fran has spent years 'boning up' on sex. She has spoken with leading researchers, pleasure coaches and interviewed a growing number of people about their sexual experiences. It has also meant flustering many helpful members of staff at The British Library, with endless requests for books on the clitoris. She's popped crystals in her vagina, attended a vulva massage workshop and visited a sex camp where she had her 'Yoni' (...vagina) workshopped.
Her candid approach to discussing sex and pleasure has led to her speaking with BBC Woman's Hour, Cosmopolitan and Jameela Jamil's 'I Weigh'. In 2018 she won Performer of the Year at the Sexual Freedom Awards (the statuette of which is a large golden-winged phallus, which lives on her parents' mantlepiece).