I’m really excited about this guest post. Not only is it something that I’ve never written about before, it’s about something that is so rarely written about you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t heard of it.
Since I started this blog I’ve had lots of people get in touch with me to say lovely things, and the loveliest of all is ‘I feel this way too.’ Whenever this happens I’m overwhelmed with a sense of relief to find that I’m not alone.
This week’s blog is about a completely new topic, written by someone who has a very different experience of sex, and a problem which is rarely written about in the mainstream media. I hope it gives you something interesting to think about, even if it doesn’t directly affect you. And I hope you can share it, so that others who have similar experiences can find it and know they’re not alone.
Over to Artemis…
Vaginismus is an ugly name for a physical condition which affects a small and mostly silent minority of women (vaginismus.com puts the figure at 2 in 1,000 women, but acknowledges the difficulty in getting accurate statistics). This is how I experience it.
I am in bed with my boyfriend, and he is going down on me. The sensation is exquisite but I want more: I want to be filled with him, I want him inside me right now, I want more than just his finger and tongue pushing me to climax. I am hot and wet and wide open, my cervix is dilated, my eyes wide, my nipples hard.
He puts on a condom and then he pushes his way inside me. Everything stops. I have to force myself to relax enough for it to stop feeling like I am being stabbed with a blunt instrument. I gasp, in pain not lust. My vagina burns, inside and out. Even so, I feel completed: this is what I wanted, as close as it gets for me; I wanted him inside me and now he is. He begins to move, and there is an unbearable pressure in my abdomen, it feels like I will explode; I pull him closer and the pressure recedes.
The pain wanes but never leaves. I am scraped raw, but still, this is satisfying, and perhaps this time it will stop hurting for long enough that I can find my own pleasure and cum with him inside me. But that does not happen, and when he finishes I am drained and happier, but not released from myself. I go to the toilet. It hurts to pee: the entrance to my vagina is slightly scraped, and stings when touched. It will heal by tomorrow.
Living with vaginismus
This has been my sex life for nearly 13 years. In that time, I have had penetrative sex with four different men. I have probably had sex less than a hundred times in my life. I have lost two relationships because of it. Once, my hormones were so wild and I was so fucked up that I managed to orgasm even though the pain never left; I cannot describe what it is like to cum like that, fighting against my body. An angry orgasm, like Hedwig’s Angry Inch but, obviously, different parts involved.
I’m sure you don’t need me to go into detail about the large number of ways this can affect not just the primary sufferer but her partner as well. It would be easier if we were all lesbians, and I’m sure a lot of bisexual or heteroflexible sufferers do deliberately seek out female partners accordingly – the same has to be true of our silent and totally ignored male counterparts – but that’s not a solution, it’s a response. My response is far less healthy: it combines very well with my desire to harm myself when I hate myself, which it’s very easy to do when you feel like a failure as a woman.
Why is vaginismus invisible?
The media does not talk about people like me. Medical treatment is hard to come by and mostly involves “dilators”, which don’t actually dilate you – there’s nothing wrong with the size of my cunt – but which persuade the body not to fight the sensation. Psychological therapy is more expensive, you see. Far easier to give you some phallic glass and a tube of KY.
Society largely ignores anyone who doesn’t like sex. I have a lot of sympathy and solidarity with asexual people, although I’m not asexual, I’m really not, I want sex so much I could cry just thinking about it. But society doesn’t care that any of us exist: people should be sexual creatures. For men, there are readily available treatments if you can’t get it up; but no-one talks about the small percentage of men who experience pain from penetrating a partner. Women don’t even have reliable Viagra: we are expected to just be able to lie back and think of England regardless of our own pain, discomfort, arousal, or ability to orgasm.
We are silenced before we even open our mouths, mired in self-hatred from the very start, and then ignored by Cosmo and More, Loaded and FHM. Hollywood rarely ever shows a sex scene where the woman doesn’t have a vaginal orgasm – something which is literally not possible for a large number of women due to the way that the clitoris and vagina interact – and outside of rape, women are only shown in pain when they’re losing their virginity. (For the record, I didn’t have a hymen to break, my first time. Lots of women don’t. All it takes to disappear is moderate physical activity, and some women are born without one at all.) They’re occasionally shown as being in discomfort, but that’s usually to demonstrate the clumsiness and inferiority of their partner – which of course makes the partners of women with vaginismus feel just super about their ability in bed.
I want to see more discussion about the reality of sex rather than the fantasy, because I think that might have helped me at the start, and because the tendency to fetishise a homogenous, cookie-cutter idea of sex is deeply unhealthy for all of us. That means listening to those of us who are denied that experience for whatever reason, and not dismissing our experiences just because they’re not yours. This includes not giving facetious “advice” like “I bet I cud make u cum ur boyfriends just shit in bed”. That response is part of the reason why I’ve lost relationships, and will lead to me kneeing you in the balls, and then we’ll see who doesn’t like sex for a while.