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I was 18 when I found out I had a broken vagina.
I discovered my first week of college that among my new friends, I was the only virgin. I became obsessed with the idea of losing my virginity, even though I had no interest in sex. Sex wasn’t the point, the point was having had it. Actually wanting a penis to touch me was really low on my list, somewhere after “re-watch all of Felicity” and “try to stop wearing boot-cut jeans.”
I had to lose it. Or if I couldn’t lose it, I could at least give it away like a gift. Or like a bag of shit you light on fire and leave on someone’s doorstep.
I started dating someone we’ll call Roger, because it’s a goofy name, and this is my story. When things seemed like they were going well, I decided we were going to do it. I was ready to cut the ties that bound me to my younger self. I wanted to untie the ties and then use them as some sort of sex ties, like for me and a bedpost and a guy.
I knew from the CW (then WB) what losing your virginity was supposed to be like. At first, painful, but just for a second. And then the guy says, “You ok?” And you say, “Yeah, keep going.” So he does, slow and beautiful, until eventually you’re just two people having sex!
In reality, it felt like someone was shoving a newly sharpened knife into my vagina. After about a second I screamed, “STOP!” So he did. The only beautiful part was when I hobbled into my suitemate’s room and said, “We had sex!”
Roger became my first semi-adult relationship. We dated for months. The only thing about our relationship that wasn’t so adult, besides the fact that we slept in a twin bed and ate Froot Loops for dinner, was that we had only had sex that one-half time.
Roger had had a girlfriend before, so he knew how cool it was to feel a vagina around your penis. But now he was waiting. For me!
For winter break, I went home with Roger. He was a true gentleman, still waiting. While I was thinking of making him a crown that said, “KING OF WAITING,” I saw him unpack a satchel of condoms. Or maybe it was a six-pack. It could have been a piggy bank full, I don’t remember. But I do remember thinking, “We’re going to have sex THAT many times? At your parents’ house? On Christmas?”
I was terrified, but I did sort of want to try it again. I desperately wanted to be just another person having sex in a world full of sex people.
That night, when we were making out and I saw him take out the condom, I panicked. But I thought I could brave it.
I always chose physical pain over embarrassment or awkwardness. I could envision myself at some point in the future, giving birth during a board meeting and not telling anyone until the baby was sitting upright in a chair next to me and I had slyly wiped the sweat from my brow.
But then as he tore open the wrapper, I had a sense memory of someone slicing through my insides with a shiv. I knew I couldn’t do it. I think I stuttered and said, “I can’t, I’m sorry.” Roger took the loose condom, threw it against the wall and shouted, “Then you should have said something earlier!” He turned away from me and went to sleep. I stayed up crying.
(We pause briefly here while I shake 18-year-old me by the shoulders and say, “BREAK UP WITH HIM PLEASE!”)
Back at school, Roger and I did try to have sex again. I probably had to have a glass of wine and listen to an Enya album in the bathroom first, but it didn’t help.
My best friend assured me this wasn’t normal, so I went to see a gynecologist. The gyno thought I had been sexually abused when she saw my knees slam together at the slightest touch. She asked leading questions, trying to get me to tell her about some deep dark secret I was hiding. Then she poked my vagina with a Q-tip while I flinched and held back tears.
I was diagnosed with Vestibulitis, which is basically entry-way-related vaginal pain. There isn’t a lot of information about it, what causes it, or what cures it. But as a result of the “trauma” caused by Vestibulitis, I also had Pelvic Floor Dysfunction, meaning my pelvic muscles were incredibly tight, as though they had cowered in fear and then gotten stuck like that. She sent me to a specialist.
The specialist had me go off birth control because maybe the hormones in the pill were a contributing factor. I also had to go to a physical therapist to do pelvic exercises, which, for an 18-year-old mostly virgin, was humiliating. I was instructed to meditate. I was required to order a four-pack of dilators—hollow, plastic dildos that increased in size so that I could train my vagina. I went on a bunch of meds: topical meds to literally numb me, anti-anxiety meds to prevent a panic attack in case someone touched me, and some extra estrogen for good measure. Come on over, boys!
Roger said he would be ok with not having sex until “we” figured this out “together,” but the guilt weighed on me.
I was 19 now and couldn’t relate to my friends, to TV, to strangers. It seemed like sex was all anyone could ever talk about. It was like hearing a word you’ve never heard before and then suddenly you hear it everywhere. It was the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon of vagina dysfunction. My non-sexuality, for me, became my identity, and everyone I knew, everyone I met, everyone I saw in line at Starbucks was just someone else experiencing something that I’d never be able to experience.
Sometimes Roger would start sentences with, “When we’re able to have sex…” It drove me crazy, as if he was banking on an unforeseeable time where I’d be “fixed” or something, a day I thought would never come. I was an investment. I knew I had to stay on the meds, go to the doctors, and keep using those delightful plastic dildos so that someday, he could finally have sex with me and see that this was all worthwhile.
To help me deal, my best friend taught me about “manifestation.” I think she was going through her spiritual phase, which I think was also around the time she started sewing her own dolls. So on the train to the city once a month, I’d write down 10 times, “This doctor’s visit is going to go well.” But it never worked. There’s nothing more disheartening than a confused doctor. And each time on the train ride back to school, I knew I’d return to a sad boyfriend.
Taking the train into the city no longer had fun connotations. Now the sound of an arriving train smelled like a doctor’s office, and the smell of a doctor’s office gave me a stomachache. I was miserable. And as insecure as I was about living inside my dumb body, I realized if I was on my own, I could at least do things on my own terms. So I broke up with Roger!
Once alone, I stopped going to doctors. I went off the meds. I threw out the dilators. I had been doing all these things for a boyfriend I didn’t like. I had been doing these things to feel included and unashamed. I had been doing them for every reason EXCEPT the one I should have been doing them for—the desire to have sex.
I spent 19 pretending I was healthy, and trying to get over my useless feelings of guilt. It wasn’t until a year later I even broached the idea of sex.
I was 20, and it didn’t hurt at all. My boyfriend at the time and I were both shocked. It happened by accident and we stared at each other for a second wide-eyed, both afraid to move like we were Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves and my vagina was a bus wired with explosives. I was never able to figure out what had been the solution. Doctors didn’t know either, but they all expressed the same sentiment which was—“Who cares?”
I kind of did.
I kept thinking it was a fluke. It took me a long time to learn how to relax and how to keep from flinching. Every so often, in the seven years since I’ve considered myself to have an unbroken vagina, sex will be slightly painful—not unbearable, just a little reminder that at any second, things could change back. At least now I know if they did, there is a lot of bullshit I wouldn’t put up with.
Over the years I’ve talked to a lot of women who have experienced very similar problems. We all widen our eyes and say, “YOU TOO?” because we thought we were the only ones. It’s always going to be an embarrassing and shameful thing for us to talk about if we don’t keep talking. So as much as I’m unsure about publishing this for my parents to find (thanks Google Alerts), I hope it helps someone not feel like a leper.