Lynn, Thalissa, and Nicolette have vaginismus: ‘Nevermind, it won’t work anyway. I can pee with it and that’s it.’
A vaginistic reaction can be compared to having sex for the very first time. The difference is that with sex -if you do it well- it will get better the more you do it. This is not the case for people with vaginismus. They (almost) always experience tension. The tricky part of vaginismus is that the tension varies from person to person. Vaginismus can be found in all kinds of shapes and sizes. To get some idea of what this condition entails, we asked Lynn, Thalissa, and Nicolette what having vaginismus means to them.
How would you describe the relationship between you and your vagina?
L: “I have a good relationship with my vagina; I can even say that I think it’s pretty. But before I went to my sexologist, I had never looked at it before. I always thought: ‘Nevermind, it won’t work anyway. I can pee with it and that’s it.’ To clarify, I have always shaved my vagina, I just never took the time to look in the mirror to see what it looks like.”
T: “I also have a good relationship with my vagina. I’ve always been curious about it and don’t have any problems looking at it. If I have any lumps I’m right there to check them out.”
N: “For me, it’s the vagina and I. I see my vagina as a separate entity that doesn’t fit in with the rest of my body. When my sexologist told me to hold a mirror in front of it and to keep it open with my fingers, I found it really distasteful...”
Vaginismus can come to be due to trauma, is this the case for you?
L: “I wouldn’t call it traumatic, but it can be traced back to that. When I was eight, I fell on the edge of a swimming pool with my vagina. I can’t remember the pain, but I was bleeding. The GP later found that I have some scar tissue there as well. There’s a good chance that I’ve had vaginismus ever since.”
T: “When I was just a young baby, I had disrupted intestinal flora. This means that I had hard, pebble-like poop. To get the feces out of my body, tubes were inserted in me everywhere - in both my mouth as well as my butt. This happened without any anesthetics and apparently, I’m still dealing with that unconsciously.”
N: “I have a hard time relaxing and I’ve always been afraid of the unknown. In my head, sex was something that is painful. I started to believe these thoughts. So perhaps it has something to do with that.”
When did you find out that you have vaginismus?
L: “I think vaginismus is a dumb word. My vagina was never the focus of attention. When my older sister got her first period and she was given a tampon by my mom, I knew I would never try that. I had to put a what in there? How? I decided tampons were not for me before I even had my own period.”
T: “From the moment I was little my ‘holes’ formed an obstacle. For example, I hated swallowing pills, and a thermometer would not go in anally either. My mom and I knew something was up, but what it was precisely was unclear to us. Years later, when I got my first period, it became clear that my hate for holes also applied to my vagina. A tampon? That’s not okay.”
N: “I didn’t realize I had vaginismus until much later. I thought my vagina was weird and dirty, but I didn’t think that it was weird to feel like that. So, when I got my first period, I used pads because I had decided that tampons were not for me. It wasn’t until I was 21 and I wanted to check for STDs at the GGD (public health service) -I was giving blowjobs at that point- when I realized that my vagina was a no-go area. I was handed a cotton swab and told to swirl it around my vagina vigorously. I was in the bathroom of the GGD and I just couldn’t do it. I threw away the cotton swab and left with empty hands.”
When did you decide to go to a doctor?
L: “I was done with it when I was sixteen. If I ever wanted a relationship, I had to start working on myself. I made an appointment with a female GP saying that I had a headache. It wasn’t until the end of the appointment that I told her I had actually come for my vagina. Since a vaginal exam didn’t work -a tampon wasn’t even an option, let alone a speculum- I was referred to a sexologist and later to a pelvic physiotherapist. They gave me all kinds of homework; from masturbating to vaginally inserting a balloon to stretch and learn to relax. My sexologist gave me the advice to find a nice boy and to experiment a bit with him as well. Obviously, I agreed to do it, but I didn’t because I found it exhausting to be working on it all the time. After I hadn’t shown up for a while, I realized that I could only commit to a relationship with the help of my sexologist.”
T: “My mom took me to a really reputable gynecologist in Belgium - which was where I lived with my parents at the time. It was a horrible experience. Beforehand I had given them a list of my complaints, but once there a female gynecologist notified me that she wanted to do a smear test. It was a routine procedure they did with every first-time patient. Still, I was shocked. The entire reason for my visit was an aversion of anything that had to go into my vagina?! It wasn’t until years later, when I was about twenty years old and I had a boyfriend with whom the sex didn’t go easily, that I made an appointment with a sexologist. She asked me to write a letter to my vagina. I’m an open book, but that crossed a line. Hypnotherapy on the other hand did actually help a lot. I was able to relive my trauma because of this treatment. And it might sound a bit spiritual, but this kind of regression therapy helped me a lot. By telling my baby-me that the doctors were busy saving my life, I could give myself the order to relax. It seems like I was able to rewrite my “childhood trauma” in this way.
N: “After my visit to the gynecologist I got a call from the GGD. They had lost my test. I couldn’t bring myself to lie so I decided to tell them that I panicked from the cotton swap. They asked me for a meeting. After three sessions with the sexologist of the GGD, I had to go and look for a sexologist myself. Turns out we weren’t a match. My sexologist got mad at me every time I didn’t do my homework -which consisted of looking at my vagina and masturbation- and they forced me to get over my fear by looking at the “poezenboek”. They also gave me the advice to sign up for a certain dating site to meet guys, so I could experiment with that. I understand that you have to cross your own boundaries to conquer your fears, but this was not the right way for me.”
Which objects can you insert and which are an absolute no-go?
L: “Tampons are, like I mentioned before, not an option. Thankfully I can skip my pill-free week and I almost never have my period. Fingers and penises have been an option for a year now, but only when I am very excited and feel 100% comfortable with a boy.”
T: “For me tampons are (almost) never a problem. I do use the smallest size and sometimes it’s difficult to insert a new one after I’ve just taken one out. Sex and masturbation is an option for me too, but only when I’m truly relaxed and excited. If I am stressed? Then I can feel it get tighter down there, which means it will hurt faster. Fortunately, I have a boyfriend now who is very considerate of that.”
N: “I’ve never tried inserting a tampon. I’m afraid to do it, so I just use pads. Fingering, both done by someone else and myself is not a problem as long as I am horny enough. It took me years to be able to have sex, but I succeeded twice now. The last time it didn’t even hurt. I don’t know how that got to be, but I’m fully trying to figure that out now.”
what is the worst part of your vaginismus?
L: “There are quite a lot of annoying things when it comes to vaginismus. Vaginismus feels like failing sometimes. I sometimes think: ‘Why can’t I do this, I’m a woman right?’ when sex doesn’t work out. Besides that, vaginismus has an impact on my health. For example, a little while ago I had a yeast infection. I went to the drug store and bought an anti-fungal tablet for an exorbitant amount of money. Once I got home, I inserted the tablet, but no luck. I couldn’t insert the tablet deep enough into my vagina. Men in combination with vaginismus are another problem, or at least they were. I stayed away from guys for such an unnecessary long time, because I was afraid that they would find out about my vaginismus. As a result, I let a lot of nice guys walk away.”
T: “I don’t struggle a lot with my vaginismus. Obviously, it really sucks when I have to stop the sex, because I can no longer tolerate the pain. So, it’s always a bit uncertain whether or not it will work.”
N: “There isn’t one specific thing that I hate, except for one comment: ‘It’s going to be alright.’ Of course, there are so many solutions, think of sexologists and pelvic physiotherapists. But those solutions don’t work for everyone. There are thirty-year-old women with vaginismus without kids, because they can’t have sex. I really don’t want to think about that.”
Would you like to know more about vaginismus? Read this informative article about all that it entails.
Pain during sex is very common. And in most cases, something can be done to prevent it. Read this article about possible causes and how to prevent them.