This year, Sh! marks Vaginismus Awareness Day with an online event providing support and advice to those living with painful sex and will give out dilator sets, donated to women on limited income, through our Pay it Forward scheme. To raise awareness about the impact of this condition, Sh! is gathering real-life stories to publish on the vaginismusawareness.com blog. The story below has been shared with us and the author has given us permission to share it with you.
The thing I was trying to hide under the rug ever since I was 18…
At 18, I tried penetrative sex with her first boyfriend, but it was like hitting a brick wall!
During another couple of attempts, I did my best to relax and some penetration was possible but just a little bit of him being inside me felt like a constant stabbing sensation. A knife inside my vagina, which I desperately wanted out, yet I also wanted to satisfy my partner...
So for longer than I should have, I gritted my teeth and bared the pain with silent tears streaming down my eyes…
At my first appointment with my family doctor on the topic, I couldn’t get through a PAP test and I was simply told that I was too young for penetrative sex. My body must not be ready yet... And I should just wait! (cue eye roll..)
Unsatisfied with this conclusion, I decided to do some research online and came across the term Vaginismus.
After my family doctor added some more medical recommendations, including to have a glass of wine and just relax, I made my way to a gynaecologist who did a brief pelvic exam, but the word Vaginismus wasn’t mentioned either.
Only later did I get to see a sex therapist for a couple of sessions. Although these short sessions did not help me make progress with overcoming Vaginismus, she was the first to mention Vaginismus to me and recommend that I try dilators! I felt relieved that at least someone else agreed with the fact that the pain was not in my head and that this is a real thing.
I was given a 2-pager of instructions (that I only later discovered were just scratching the surface of what dilating was all about)… And oddly enough, my parents were the ones to set me up with a set of dilators! They came home one day, shortly after I told them about my sex challenges, carrying a box of dilators in this grey bag with a pink heart on it - and so my journey officially began.
Unfortunately, the dilators lay hidden away in my closet for many months at a time, since I lacked the support in how to use them effectively. To this day, I’m baffled by the limited instructions and guidance I personally received from the medical professionals I encountered.
I guess I could have seen Vaginismus coming with a red flag in my life that hinted something was off – using tampons. Or at least, trying to. Many perfectly good tampons went straight to the garbage with my unsuccessful attempts. They were impossible to use – I felt the same sense of hitting a wall, or really intense, sharp pain.
At many points during my 6 year journey to a pain free and intimate life, I was trying to stay positive, I was also feeling incredibly alone. The outsider, with no one who seemed to understand. Even though I had a supportive family, friends and partners, unfortunately loving people can't relate to those with vaginismus fully; they just haven’t experienced the excruciating pain, both physical and emotional.
I essentially convinced myself that ‘meeting expectations’ in the sex department was just never going to be something I could do…
So I stuck to what I knew, which may have been part of the root cause in the first place.
I wonder if you can relate to this…
I lived my life in a very logical, left-brained, structured way.
I was a trained perfectionist, which went hand in hand with becoming a high performer, a 'go-getter', an 'alpha woman'.
Following the well-trodden, safe path my sister took, I too became a designated Chartered Professional Accountant... Which was wonderful in many ways but equally soul sucking!
As I climbed the corporate ladder and tried to hide Vaginismus under the rug, I avoided making self-care a priority... And if I indulged in sexual pleasure for a little while, I experienced a deep sense of shame and embarrassment, and was just reminded that my body was betraying me! On top of that, my inner voice said, "You should be doing something productive right now". Taking a break meant I was falling behind.
Today, I’m relieved to say that Vaginismus in my past!
Overall, my journey was really about reconnecting with myself - my body, emotions, sexuality... Starting to feel pleasure again (without penetrative sex), then being able to use a tampon and later, enjoy PIV sex.
Having a sex drive to begin with too, you know? I remember I had lost mine.
I credit my Vaginismus success to an emotional journey of understanding my triggers, reasons for feeling anxious about intimacy and sex, my perfectionist tendencies and desire to be in control.. Overcoming the shame that exists in our society on the topic... I needed to start living from more of a place of peace and surrender. A place from which pleasure can be celebrated.
*All of that involves retraining the emotional body and the mental body (the subconscious mind) ALONGSIDE the physical body. And I think that holistic approach is what’s missing for people often...
I also credit my progress to a dilating practice, that after a lot of trial and error (lacking the guidance), I learned how to make effective, FINALLY. I used dilators to train my mind and body to welcome penetration. Without rushing the process...
AND without causing myself pain! This is SUPER important. If pain is part of the process, it only strengthens your nervous system’s association that penetration = pain and things get worse.
So it’s worth unpacking the nervous system’s current wiring to the idea of penetration and perhaps intimacy overall. Finding safety in the idea of pleasure. Not just through talk therapy (conscious work), but with the subconscious mind and nervous system. Even working with the body through touch, to make friends of all parts of ourselves that desire to be heard and feel safe.
I overcame Vaginismus at my own pace, from the comfort (and most importantly sense of safety) of my own home. Since, I’ve discovered the pelvic floor physiotherapy help that was there all along, but I just didn’t know about! Still, not everyone can afford to work with a medical professional for an extended period of time.
Now, I’ve left the corporate life behind and what I find joy in is helping YOU overcome Vaginismus too. To enjoy a sex life, free of shame, suppression and physical pain... To create an amazing intimate relationship with yourself - rooted in safety, self-acceptance and love. Compassion AND passion!
Because you deserve to experience a sex life that YOU deeply desire.
Any sex position you wish!
You deserve to put vaginismus in your past, for good.
- Katrin, with Love