This one’s been a long time coming, a bit personal but as always, I’m writing with the intention of raising awareness. Here’s my personal tale of living with vaginismus - I hope this reaches whoever needs to hear this.
What is it?
Vaginismus is when the vaginal muscles involuntarily spasm and close shut, making penetration of any kind either painful or impossible. There are two types: primary vaginismus, where the person has never been able to have any sort of penetration, and secondary vaginismus, which is developed in life, sometimes in response to childbirth, trauma and various other reasons.
A personal tale - Discovery + Difficulties
My period started early when I was 10…It was then I realised I couldn’t put a tampon in, I spent ages looking over that instruction booklet but it just wouldn’t go in. It was then I realised something wasn’t working. I googled the symptoms, discovered vaginismus it sounded about right and I accepted that was what I had without trying to get treatment, or getting it fixed. It wasn’t until I was in my second relationship that it became a huge issue. With my first boyfriend we were having a lot of fun, so in love and wrapped up in each other and it didn’t seem to matter that PIV sex was not possible. At university it caused such a big issue in the relationship - we would try, it would hurt, he’d feel bad that he hurt me and it would put a halt to everything.
The World + the Medical World
It was tricky to talk about with others - no one had really heard of it, and no one really understood. I even went to the nurse in my second year of uni, she gave me what I’ve now learnt is the classic response: “have a bath, relax, go for a nice meal”. She did a test to check if it was an infection and it was then I realised she didn’t understand vaginismus either. I felt so flat and hopeless after having plucked up the courage to finally tackle this thing to be met with a perfectly lovely medical professional who just had no idea how to handle it. It was another year before I went back, spoke to the doctor who knew all about vaginismus, said it’s very common and that she’d recommend a small bullet vibrator to start to practise opening the muscles - I later found out this method is called dilation.
Community + hope
After uni, I decided to dedicate a bit more time and energy into the vaginismus, I was discovering the wonderful world of feminism and the lovely communities that came with it - I was attending events, finding people I felt comfortable opening up to and started talking about it more. Someone recommended The Vaginismus Network and I attended a pretty life changing event at Sh! There were about 40 of us in this room and it was emotional because everyone seemed to have the same story - they thought they were the only one living with vaginismus. I finally found a group who got it.
Here I learnt about dilating - a term I hadn’t heard of before and not to be confused with dilating during pregnancy. For those who don’t know, dilating can be prescribed as one method for helping vaginismus. Dilators are these little plastic tubes which come in about 4-5 sizes and you gradually work your way up the sizes to train the muscles to get used to opening. I had always thought vaginismus would be something I’d have to live with forever, I was almost stubborn about it - I know my body the best, I know nothing will cure me. But at the meeting, hearing stories of people that had vaginismus and “overcame” it or were able to do things they didn’t think they’d be able to gave me hope! That was the motivation I needed to try the dilating, I invested in a kit (I like that these are different shades of pink), used them alongside lube and a vibrator and surprised myself by getting to the 3rd size on the first night.
After this routine I became more confident, knew in my mind what was possible and was able to have PLEASURABLE penetrative sex (with lots of communication) which was a goal of mine, I stress pleasurable because if you’re not having pleasurable experiences what’s the point?
I think I’ll always have vaginismus, and that’s okay - this is something I discussed with the Vaginismus Network - it’s not about curing it, it’s about living with it.