Since starting this blog I've been contacted by several people who have wanted to tell their stories and share their experiences of sex. Each one has been unique and I'm incredibly humbled and grateful that they want to share their intimate details with the internetz.
This will be the first of several contributed stories to Notes to Virgins over the next few months. 'Miss G' has written about her experience of Vaginismus, a involuntary reflex/tightening of the vaginal muscles which usually prevents penetration and makes any attempt extremely painful. From the first discovery of the pain, to seeking treatment and the experience of intercourse with partners, this really is a tell-all recount of her journey in her own voice. I'd like to thank Miss G for contacting me about this, and I hope that your story will educate and inspire others to seek help if they experience vaginal pain.
Discovering the pain
I realised something wasn’t quite right when I was about 12 or 13. Not long after getting my period, I tried using tampons for the first time. I physically found it difficult to place inside me, and the pain was knuckle clenching. Being so young I assumed that I was just tight or my body hadn’t developed enough to be able to use tampons. I waited a few more years before I tried again, but the result was the same as before. It was terrifying. I ignored this for years. I was convinced that everything would work fine when it came to losing my virginity. I was so naïve to how my body worked, and what I assumed was “normal” for someone my age. I was so scared about seeking information or asking for help, purely because I was afraid of the diagnosis or no one would believe there was a problem. I was 18 when I had my first sexual experience. It was bad. Very bad. However, I realised from this experience that my body had a serious problem. No matter how hard we tried intercourse, the pain was just too much. My body wouldn’t let him inside me, and the harder he pushed, the more piercing and sharp the pain became. After this experience, I knew that I had a problem that I couldn’t just ignore anymore.
I didn’t have a clue what to do. I searched the internet for days looking for some kind of information that could assist me. I remember reading an article about a woman with similar symptoms to me; she had a condition called Vulvadynia. After more research I discovered that Vulvadynia covered so many branches of sexual pain and had sub-sections. Surprisingly, Wikipedia really helped me make a diagnosis. But the more I read about it, the less hope I had that I was going to find a cure. Doctors don’t know why it happens or how to cure it, but it is a huge impact on any female’s life. After figuring out this was what I had, my self-esteem took a pretty large beating. I felt like I had failed as a woman. Intercourse was impossible, and the pain was horrendous. I found it hard to talk to anyone about it. My friends all were sexual active or had boyfriends, they had absolutely no ability to understand what I was going through.
I felt like I needed a real diagnosis. I started at my GP. I explained my symptoms and what I thought my diagnosis could be. I remember it clearly. My Doctor gave me this baffled expression and asked me what Vaginismus was. I explained the condition as best I could. She confessed she didn’t know what to do with me. She decided to send me to family planning centre, because the condition was sexual in nature, she thought they would be able to help more. I turned up for my appointment with a friend.. I went in for my appointment terrified and embarrassed. The sex therapist I saw was lovely, but she didn’t know much about it either. She pulled out this enormous encyclopaedia on medical conditions and found a section on Vaginismus. She had a read and I had my first physical examination. It was painful, but at last I was confirmed on having the condition. She sat down with me afterwards and expressed her concern. She read in the book that this condition usually affects women who have been sexual abused or raped. She bluntly told me that she thinks I was sexually abused as a child and the trauma of the experience has removed the memory. This was huge! I must have cried for days. Not only did I definitely have a condition that was going to affect the rest of my life, but I might have a subconscious memory of being abused! I got a lot of support from my friends and family, those of which I wasn’t afraid to tell. But it was such a silent burden.
After nights of chocolate bingeing, crying all the time, ignoring my friends and feeling defeated about everything, I started searching for treatment. I’d read so many things online about Vaginismus being a psychological condition. I really don’t believe it is. Psychologically it may be a factor why it develops, but there’s not enough evidence to prove that it is. I came across a doctor who was the self-proclaimed expert of sexual pain disorders in Australia. He would travel between Melbourne and Sydney every month working at 2 locations helping woman overcome Issues surrounding Vulvadynia. I figured I’d give it a shot. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. His fees were expensive and I live rurally in NSW, so travelling to Sydney would be difficult too. But I made an appointment and made it work.
He was an older doctor, very technical and medical about the condition. He explained to me that the condition wasn’t psychological at all (just as I thought) that it was purely muscular. The pelvic muscles are created in a sling like shape, and the Vaginismus is the condition of these muscles being contracted involuntarily forward to push the opening of the vagina together and thus making penetration impossible. His method was to teach women how to re-train the pelvic floor to release and relax. I’ve got to admit, I was pretty terrified going into this examination room. The room had no windows and was very white. It was small, and I wasn’t comfortable having this male doctor, I just met, fiddle around with me. I was very tense. On examination he discovered the opening of my vagina was the hotspot for the contractions. Whenever anything even touched the entrance of my vagina, the nerves surrounding it would start spasming, which would make me contract my pelvic floor. He bluntly told me that the nerves were the reason I was contracting, and the chances of me dealing with the Vaginismus were very low, around 15% to 20%. Not only did he discover that the chances of me even having the slightest possibility of engaging in intercourse ever were drastically low, but that the severity of my contractions and the nerve damage up the wall of my vagina meant I had a low chance of ever being able to climax.
I felt on the verge of joining a nunnery. Here I was, 18 years old, and being told I will never be able to comfortably have sex or even be able to experience the sweet sensation of having an orgasm. It was such a difficult experience. He taught me the exercises regardless and I paid my hefty fee and went home and ate 3 blocks of chocolate. I tried doing the exercises at home, but I knew it was in vain. The exercises were painful and I found it difficult to relax. One involved using a dilator (a sort of phallic shaped tube, they come in different sizes, mine was way too big) to stretch the muscle. Another involved a probing stick, I had to place inside my vagina, which would connect to a little battery powered machine that would pick up the strength of my contractions and my ability to release them on command. The theory of the exercise was sound, but the problem was that the probe was the size of a 20 cent coin. I could scarcely fit my finger inside of me without being in agony, and I was expected to do this exercise twice a day. As much as I tried doing these exercises, I was getting nowhere. I didn’t go to my follow up appointment and pretty much gave up. By this point I felt extremely isolated and crushed. I’d given up completely of ever getting married or having children. I was convinced no man would ever want to be with me with my condition. But there came a point after a bit of time, I started accepting and dealing with it all.
I learnt to put the condition out my mind, focusing on something else all the time did prove tiring and emotionally draining. Eventually, after an inspiring conversation with a good family friend, I was convinced to give this thing one more shot.
I discovered an American website forum for woman with Vaginismus and came across a discussion about women’s opinions on treatment through physiotherapy. I went back to my doctor and she referred me to a physio that specialised in the pelvic floor. I called and tried to book an appointment, but they said they couldn’t help me with my Vaginismus, but gave me the details of a professor at the nearest university who actually specialised in sexual pain disorders. Gosh, I nearly hit the roof with excitement. I’d wasted my time and money with an unsympathetic doctor in Sydney, when there was an expert on my condition really just around the corner. I remember the second I got off the phone and emailed this lady. I got a reply pretty quickly, but she unfortunately told me she was retiring and couldn’t help me, but gave me the information for a physiotherapist a little while away that had a program for sexual pain disorders, especially Vaginismus.
I was terrified I was going to get the same result as the last “Specialist” and end up depressed and defeated. But I gathered my courage and booked an appointment. My therapist was wonderful. She was very motherly, and supportive. I remember bursting into tears pretty much the second we started talking about the condition together. She explained to me that yes, I had to learn to relax and control my pelvic floor muscles, but in order to do that, it takes a delicate, tender process. She seemed to be full of solutions. I had an examination and she checked everything out. It was true that I was a bit of a mess, but she was confident that the physiotherapy would assist me greatly. She gave me some minimal pelvic floor exercises to start the ball rolling. There was no force or expectation, she was fantastic, and was able to answer so many questions for me. She told me she had seen 5 other women with my condition that day alone, and compared to me, had it a lot worse - women who had been married for years and never been able to consummate their marriage, or now want to start a family and cant, or even have their marriage on the rocks because of the frustration of the condition. Here I was, this tiny 18 year old, feeling like my life was over, and these women had been suffering for decades and kept silent and dealt with it.
I knew it was going to be a long process, but putting in a lot of time to help assist the problem was better than just accepting that I’d never have a properly intimate relationship. In fact, it was about this time after a few appointments I got my first boyfriend. Something I was sure would never happen. I remember awkwardly blurting out that I couldn’t have sex, just when we started showing interest in each other. And to my complete and utter surprise he said it didn’t matter, he liked me for me, and relationships are so much more than just sex.
I only realise now looking back how lucky I really was. I discovered the problem early on; I sought treatment and found myself in supportive, loving relationship. A lot of women’s journeys were definitely not as easy. Doctors telling them that there’s nothing wrong, information not being available or just accepting something was wrong and dealing with it. After a few more months of treatment, there were a lot of signs of improvement. Every 2 weeks I met up with my physio and we increased the range of my exercises. Every session she would use this device, I can’t entirely remember what it was. It was a kind of frequency device, like an ultrasound machine, that she would turn on and move around the opening of my vagina. This device was my miracle cure. Within 2 sessions the sensitivity around the opening was nearly non-existent. The machine worked on de-sensitising nerves and flattening out uneven nerve endings, or something like that. Having this problem under control, my exercises were easy. I learnt many different relaxation techniques and created a little to do list before I started doing my exercises - have a cup of tea, listen to some music, deep breathing etc. and it was working a treat, the pain was becoming less and the hope was rising.
I still couldn’t however have intercourse with my very patient boyfriend. Sure, we were having loads of foreplay, but we both really wanted to be able to take the final step. We tried and tried, but the pain was still pretty horrible. But it seemed in all that trying my muscles had started to stretch. Little bit by little bit he was able to go further inside me over a period of time. I kept to my exercises and continued to see my physio, until the glorious day I lost my virginity. It was like magic. Everything I had been working so hard on had finally paid off and I was in such control of my contractions. Ok, so it wasn’t perfect, everything didn’t suddenly work and the problem just disappeared forever. The more sex we had the more comfortable it became and the more stuff we could do. Today things are wonderful between us, but the Vaginismus will never entirely disappear. Some days are better than others when it comes to how much I can do without anything hurting. I think it’s just like any other muscle; it needs to be regularly exercised so it can be stronger. I still haven’t been able to climax, but I certainly do feel sexual pleasure, so I feel like half the battles won in that department, but I’m not impatient, everything happens in time. I’ve not had the pleasure of needing a pap smear just yet, but when the time comes, I’ll make sure I’m properly relaxed and warmed up for it. I stay away from tampons, not because I don’t think they’ll work now, but I still have the painful memory of trying to force them inside me when I was younger, and I don’t particularly want to re-live it again.
I learned a lot about myself from this condition, and how incredibly lucky I am to gain the end result I have. I do think it had a lot to do with me addressing it early and working hard at maintaining my exercises. Also, having a partner who never pressured me into doing anything with him, I really believe that it worked because we trusted and loved each other.
What advice would you give to other young women experiencing difficulty &/or pain with penetration?
If you’ve suffered any of the symptoms that I’ve described at all in my story, fear not! There is help out there. It is hard to find, but there are more women than you think with this condition. I don’t have any statistics, because, well, there aren’t any. It’s one of the most unknown conditions affecting women. I suggest going straight to a physiotherapist or somebody who specialises in the pelvic floor to seek advice or treatment. The treatment I had was called bio-feedback, so when seeking treatment look for this or ask whether they provide it. Don’t be afraid to seek support from the people around you. I kept it very much to myself because of fear and embarrassment, when the best thing to do would have been to sit down and spill my guts to my mum or girlfriends. It’s scary and you shouldn’t have to face it by yourself.
If you do suffer the symptoms of Vaginismus or Vulvadynia, speak up. Ignoring it will only make it worse and there is definitely help out there. There’s a lot of false information out there certainly. With a condition like this, there is no definite cure, and every one on the internets is going to say what they think is right, regardless of what they know or don’t know. Physiotherapy worked for me, but it’s up to you to find your right cure. I think the best way to address it is from a muscular point of view. Sure therapy and counselling may help you, personally I wish I’d looked at it as well, but keep away from psychological cures for a condition which is physical.
Some of the websites that really helped me:
Keep away from websites like this:
All the best girls, and guys reading this, if you come across a girl you think has this, there’s nothing more attractive than a guy who can provide solutions. So spread the word J
*name has been changed.
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