I am not the most confident girl in the world. I, like so many others, struggle to talk about issues that have deemed to be taboo by the greater society. But this isn’t my fault- my problem is stemmed from a lack of education early on in life which has grown exponentially. One of these topics is sexual education.
For the most part of my life, all of my sexual knowledge came from a P.E. teacher (most of the time male) who taught us not too much more than ‘abstinence is the best form of contraception’.
Other than the lacklustre Sex-ed classes, the rest of my expertise has come from the schoolyard, where people tend to judge you if you aren’t a ‘sexpert’.
For the sake of this diary, I must say I have been in a relationship for four years with a beautiful boy, and because of this, people just love to assume things about my sex-life (not okay!). It’s funny how many times in school I would be sitting in class next to someone who I was not close to and they would start asking me about sex and seeing their reaction when I said I had never had it.
“Why though?”, “What about him?”, “Don’t you want to?”. First of all people, this is NONE of your business and second of all, I do not at all feel pressured to have sex. I am comfortable in my relationship and that should be enough for you too.
Eventually, however, it came to a time where I was thinking about doing it. I loved my boyfriend and I felt safe with him- I was ready. I won’t go into detail here but here’s the overview: it didn’t work. I wasn’t sure why I was in so much pain, so I didn’t want to continue (which he was fine with).
Fast forward a year and it still hadn’t happened. I thought it was just a normal amount of pain, so I wasn’t overly worried and my boyfriend (being the angel he is) never pressured me into anything so I wasn’t nervous about putting up a front for him. I had spoken to my mum about it and she told me to go to a doctor, which I eventually did- not expecting anything to come from it. Turns out something did. I have a condition called ‘vaginismus’ (if it sounds familiar it’s because it was an episode in Sex Education). Vaginismus in a nutshell is spasmodic contractions in the vagina in response to pressure, simply put, your vagina closes up not letting anything through and is very painful. There are a lot of causes for vaginismus including: mistaken beliefs about the female body (i.e. your vagina is too small), having a bad experience with a cervical smear, sexual trauma, negative connotations of sex and fear of pregnancy or your sexual partner.
I had never heard of this before and I was thinking that there was something wrong with me, I shouldn’t have this problem.
I felt very insecure about it and almost as if I was broken because I had never heard of someone else with this condition. But here’s the thing: it is quite common in young women. It can even occur to someone after years of experiencing penetrative sex- it is a mental state and cannot be helped.
So when my doctor told me, she gave me pamphlets and tried to explain the condition to me and my mum. She asked me if I was in a relationship and told me that the most important thing is to talk to my partner because this is a team effort and so many relationships fail because of the lack of communication and support. I immediately messaged my boyfriend that I needed to talk to him, so my mum drove me to meet him and I explained my situation. I have to admit I was nervous to see his reaction and I was relieved when he was understanding and asked to borrow the pamphlets so he could educate himself in order to help me.
I am still learning about my condition and working to keep it at bay but alas I have still not successfully had sex and I am not worried. There is no ticking time bomb saying you must have lost your virginity by [insert date here]. I am happy, my partner is happy and we talk about the issue openly and comfortably.
Even though I am out of school now, people still ask me about me about my sex life when I see them. But now when they screw up their noses when I say I haven’t had sex and ask me “what about him?” I say he is a part of this, yes, but it is not about him. This is about me and my body. I usually then go into a mini rant about vaginismus and it’s at about this point where some (not all) people get a glazed look over their eyes and zone out. I don’t care though. If I get a chance to spread information on vaginismus, I take it. Sometimes when it gets brought up, someone else will speak up and say they have/had it and we share experiences which is honestly so helpful.
What I truly want to know is why something as common as vaginismus had never crossed my mind in any way until I found out I had it? I feel very passionately that the sex-ed curriculum should be re-visited to include a wider variety of topics. If I had known about this in year 7, I could’ve known by the time that I had a boyfriend that this was an issue for me and perhaps, so too could many other women in the same position. It is because of my experiences that I am now more confident to speak out about the issue to other people in hopes of more understanding and acknowledging the fact that some women cannot have sex and struggle with it all the time.
Personally, I believe my condition has stemmed from having ovarian cysts as well as an overwhelming fear of an early pregnancy. I have also always struggled with putting tampons in and masturbation. Both of these issues have come from my condition (vaginismus is not always about penile penetration). I can now use tampons but trust me, it took a while. It is also worthy to mention that vaginismus does not affect all sexual activities and may only kick in when penetration is imminent. There are many different ways vaginismus can affect you and it treats each woman differently, which is why it is so important to talk to a doctor so that you can get the best treatment for you.
Speaking of treatments, there are multiple ways of overcoming vaginismus. Treatment does involve learning more about the condition and understanding your body, as well as relaxation techniques, developing more control over the pelvic floor muscles through diaphragmatic breathing and Kegel exercises. You can also use vaginal trainers starting small and working your way to larger sizes. This treatment has high success rates. For cases that are caused by a phobic reaction, therapy can be utilised to help you become more open to the concept of sex. It is usually recommended to stop attempting penetration whilst working on strategies as repeated attempts strengthen the association your mind makes between penetration and pain. I am currently working my way through some of these treatments, so fingers crossed for a good outcome!!
I will continue to work through my vaginismus and I hope to work my way around it, but until then I have my support system and I just have to focus on not letting the condition control my life and take over my confidence.
For more information: featured below is an information pamphlet for Vaginismus patients.
Written by amazing Olivia!