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Rosie, 24, talks us through her journey of realising she had vaginismus and why it would have helped if she’d received proper education to understand her body earlier.
If you’ve never heard of vaginismus before, take a seat. You aren’t the only one.
I was 20 years old by the time I had heard that word for the first time. I’d had multiple sexual relationships by this point, and always knew that sex was fun – right up to the point of penetration. Then, it was much less fun. I honestly didn’t know whether I was doing it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I had nothing to compare it to, and none of my partners had expressed that anything was different (though in hindsight, I think we were all trying to figure sex out together!).
I can look back now and still remember my first failed experience of penetration, and it was with the trusty tampon.
I was only 13, and on a school trip that, on this particular day, involved swimming. I wanted to be able to join in, so my friend suggested using a tampon. I hadn’t used one before, but I went into the toilet to give it a go. I had no success getting it in, and it actually made me feel incredibly sick! I didn’t give it too much thought – loads of young women can’t get a tampon in on the first go, plus swimming wasn’t really my bag anyway.
After 4 or so years of failed tampon attempts and fumbling sexual encounters, I finally decided to bite the bullet and see a doctor. I was at university at the time, so went in to the campus doctor’s office with relatively high hopes that it was probably nothing. Maybe I just had a small vagina? Maybe sex was supposed to hurt a bit anyway? I laid down on the less-than-comfortable looking table and was asked by the doctor to take off my underwear and open my legs so she could do an examination. Panic began to set in at this point: the stark, bright lights of the room, the clinical smell, the cold table, the even-colder lube.
When the doctor tried to put her fingers in, she was met with the same brick wall that my first tampon and all my sexual partners had met too.
Not an actual brick wall of course, but those with vaginismus often describe the feeling in this way. It’s like there’s a blockage at the entrance of the vagina that just WILL. NOT. OPEN. As you can imagine, this makes any kind of penetration painful and impossible.
Vaginismus can be experienced in different ways. Some have had it since birth (Primary Vaginismus), others may develop it later on in life (Secondary Vaginismus). Some have it quite severely, and others much less so. But, however you experience vaginismus, it is well worth seeing a doctor, as it is possible to overcome it completely (woo!).
It would have been fantastic if I had learnt about vaginismus much earlier on in my life. I would have been far less confused about all my sexual experiences that seemed to be ‘going wrong’, and I may have been able to start treatment much sooner. It would also have saved me a LOT of difficult conversations with partners, and difficult conversations with myself.
For a long time, I believed that I just might not be cut out for sex, that maybe I wasn’t a very ‘sexual person’ (what does that even mean?!), that I wasn’t with the right partner or that I wasn’t aroused enough. Honestly, it made me feel like a bit of a useless woman.
The great news is, that it doesn’t mean any of those things! It is just an automatic mechanism that my brain has put in place to protect me (though I’m still not sure what it’s protecting me from!).
Whilst I felt incredibly alone at times, vaginismus is actually far more common than I had ever imagined.
I am 24 now, and still working through vaginismus. I’ve made incredible progress using vaginal dilators and different therapies, but I’m not quite at the pain-free sex life that I would like to have just yet. I’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, I’ll just be having excellent, penetration-free, sex. Yes, that’s right, sex doesn’t have to include penetration at all. Who knew!?
Not an STI but sex and STIs can trigger it.
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