Defective: Vaginismus, Sex, Pleasure, and Me
(small side note: my next book, about love, sex, vaginismus, and more after sexual assault, is available for pre-order right now! Please consider grabbing a copy at a pre-release discount right here!)
Hello! I’m Lou, owner of this blog, and my vagina doesn’t work. I’m sure you’ve read about it by now, since I insist on talking about it all the time, apparently, but, in case you’re new to the Broken Pussy Brigade: I have vaginismus, a chronic pelvic pain condition caused by the involuntary and painful contraction of the walls of the vagina.
Obviously, pelvic pain conditions impact far more than just sex: the ability to seek appropriate medical treatment due to examinations leading to intense pain, problems with fertility and childbirth, there’s far more to this than just “penis not go in vagina, which bad.”. And, normally, that’s what I prefer to focus on when I’m writing about this stuff, because I get really sick and tired of seeing pelvic pain disorders reduced down to the impact on sexuality, when they can interfere with so much more than just what goes on in the bedroom (or on top of the washing machine, but I digress).
But, today, I wanted to talk a little bit about how having vaginismus has affected my sexuality – because there’s no way in hell that I can say that it hasn’t. I first figured out that it was a serious problem when I was about sixteen, trying to have penetrative sex with my first boyfriend, when it felt like someone was trying to wedge a brick inside of me sideways. But the thing is, as a woman, I’d been consistently told for most of my life that having sex for the first time was going to capital-h Hurt me, so I really believed it was normal. This went on for a few months before I figured I should reach out to a doctor, who reiterated the same things that I had already heard before: sex is going to hurt. It’s normal. There’s nothing wrong with you.
And, when you’re a teenager, and a doctor tells you to expect pain when there’s meant to be pleasure, you start to believe it. Sex and sexuality went from being this exciting, exploratory thing, to a series of doors (read: vaginas) slamming in my face. If sex was supposed to hurt, then I would try to insulate myself against that pain by being constantly ready for it. Physical intimacy became this deeply fraught aspect of my life, as though someone was lurking around every corner to deck me with a plank.
By the time that I did go back to a doctor, certain that there was something wrong, it took me another couple of referrals to find someone who would tell me that I had vaginismus – they spelled it to me over the phone, and never called me to follow up on it again. Trying to seek out treatment options on my own terms, I was told by yet another doctor that I could be given numbing creams to apply to my genitals, so that I couldn’t feel anything – not pain, not pleasure – but at least a penis could go inside me, right? When I reached out for help, I was consistently met with the response that the focus of treatment (not that anything useful was actually offered, but you know) was to be able to let men fuck me. My pleasure, my enjoyment, my exploration, that was secondary to allowing the be-penised people that I might end up with to stick it in me.
I think, to some extent, that a lot of people who grow up identified as women are led to believe that their pleasure should come second to that of their (usually male) partner, but being told it in such explicit terms fucked me up as a teenager and young adult. Who cared if it still hurt? Who cared if it still scared me, because of the pain I’d experienced before? Who cared if I could actually feel a damn thing at all? As long as I could be a receptacle for someone else’s pleasure, I was doing everything that I needed to do. Exploration of my own sexuality just seemed to fall away as I focused on doing everything I could to please the people I was with. Anything went, if they wanted it, because I was so fundamentally defective that to put forward my own preferences on top of that would just be to scare them away.
Looking back, I wish that sex education and society at large had introduced me to the idea that penetration was not the be-all and end-all of sex. I was really lucky in some respects, that it was around this time that I started dating and being sexually active with women, and sex with other women was far less focused on the notion of being penetrated; I had full and pleasurable sex lives with people without the idea of it even really being broached. But I wish that I didn’t have to rely on that to expand the definition of sex beyond “penis goes in vagine”; I let this idea that I was just fundamentally defective at sex crush my self-esteem when it came to my sexuality, when it really should have been obvious that it was the notion of what sex had to be that was the defective part.
I feel like, in a lot of ways, I’m catching up on a lot of the exploration in my sexuality that I missed out on when I was younger. I was so angry at myself for not being able to Do what I thought I should have been able to Do that I didn’t allow any space for pleasure, for enjoyment, for actually figuring out what I liked (hi, also, writing erotica has been a great way to figure that out, if anyone wants to get on that). It’s not necessarily the vaginismus that caused that, but rather, the attitude towards my defective pussy: instead of being told that I could work on treatment and find other ways to explore my sexuality, I was told that I would never be able to have a fulfilling sex life if I didn’t immediately overcome my pain.
But I can. And I will! Even as I’m working on improving my condition at the moment, I’m figuring out how my sexuality exists both around and outside of it. Vaginismus had a major impact on my sex life, but that doesn’t mean that it always will, or that it always has to. And, while it has impacted way more than just my sex life – I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t have any impact on it at all.