“You’re lookin’ good,” said my cheery physician as she peered over my gown with a smile.
Legs spread open, white-knuckled, and clenched, I tried to reciprocate.
While I should have been relieved that there were no obvious signs of infection or irritation, I was livid. This was the fourth gynecologist that I had been to in the last few years and my repeated explanations of my pelvic pain, in addition to my defense of my healthy lifestyle and lack of abuse history, were exhausting me.
I wanted to be given a concrete diagnosis. I wanted to be healed. I still am searching for a concrete diagnoses and I still want to be healed.
For the past seven years, it has just been me, WebMD, and my stupid, broken, vagina.
Something went seriously awry once I started dating my first serious boyfriend. Everything leading up to intercourse felt great. It wasn’t uncommon for me to reach several orgasms. I was just a regular teenager becoming comfortable in my own body.
But once we graduated to penetration, excruciating pain, nausea, and burning became part of my bedroom reality.
My first trip to the doctor outside of my yearly appointment was quick and rapid. The doctor assured me that “everything was fine” without asking many questions.
He noticed a little infection, kindly handed me some antibiotics, and sent me on my way.
The pain kept coming.
My ex-boyfriend and I dated for four years without having sex more than 10 times. By the end of our relationship, I was at my wits' end.
Penetration was impossible; my body would writhe in pain and my muscles would tighten when sex ensued.
When you're in this position, as many women surprisingly are, your mind can spiral with agonizing thoughts. Is this cervical cancer? What about ovarian? Cysts? Cervicitis? Ectopic pregnancy?
I found myself almost desperate to cling to any definitive diagnosis.
Then I read the book The Camera My Mother Gave Me, by the Girl, Interrupted author, Susanna Kaysen. I found it shelved at a used book store. Incorrectly thinking that it was a novel about photography, I picked it up and discovered that it instead discussed Kaysen's incurable vagina pain. I began to feverishly scan the pages.
She used alternative medicine, aspirin baths, and consulted with numerous doctors to no avail. By the end, the book had no conclusions. The author finished the last page still struggling with her unidentified issue, and I felt a sense of overwhelming dread.
“Maybe this is what calls nuns toward a life of chastity and obedience,” I said to friends, half-joking, half-serious.
No otherwise healthy 20-something should simultaneously desire and fear sex. I pitied myself.
While sex isn’t everything, it sure is something.
I was desperate for a cure. I mentally gave my old physician the finger and decided to get treatment from someone else.
Unfortunately, my new gynecologist continued to repeatedly ask me if I had been sexually abused, desperately, and wrongfully, trying to uncover repressed memories that didn't exist.
When I told her that my muscles would contract and tighten during sex, she simply disregarded my description and said, “You’re probably not having enough foreplay.”
This is laugh-out-loud hilarious since foreplay had been the center of my sexual world for the last four years. Not enough of it? I was sick and tired of it.
After more appointments with more doctors, I received a Colposcopy and Cone Biopsy in the summer of 2013. A Colposcopy is where a physician examines, in my case, an inflamed cervix through a special microscope.
A Cone Biopsy, which removes all abnormal tissue, was done due to the severeness and deepness of the inflammation in my cervical canal. Both tests came back normal and I was instructed to seek a therapist at the Center of Pelvic Health for vaginismus, or vaginal muscle spasms.
Although I was relieved that I didn’t have something more serious, the defeat of knowing that this was psychological, or “in my head,” was incredibly heartbreaking.
Since my insurance wouldn’t cover an appointment with a therapist, I took matters into my own hands, and researched exercises and procedures that the therapist probably would have instructed me to do had I gone.
I immediately ordered Amielle Comfort, which is a set of five dilators that offer an effective way for women to treat their vaginismus.
Now I know that 2 women in 1,000 have vaginismus. The number may be higher due to most cases going unidentified or undocumented by Healthcare providers. Fifty-three percent of those women are between the ages of 26 and 35.
Similar to how an eye involuntarily closes shut when a finger comes close to it, a vagina tightens and contracts when there is an attempt to insert an object. It is a muscle contraction that results in discomfort, burning, and aching.
I am currently using my dilators every day for 20 minutes and incorporate pelvic exercises into my daily routine.
I am still not cured by any means, but I am more knowledgable and comfortable with my condition today. I no longer have the constant gut-wrenching feeling of not knowing what is wrong, that somewhere inside of me, in my most intimate place, I am hurting with no verdict as to why.
I may never be able to pinpoint what initially caused my vaginismus. But for now, I am coping with my not-so-stupid vagina and remaining tenacious and healthy in this current body. Because after all, it’s the only one I’ll ever have.