Vulvar Pain: What’s Wrong with Me?

When I ventured into the first forays of womanhood and was introduced to feminine hygiene products for my bodily changes, my mother told me, “Don’t use tampons – they’ll give you TSS [toxic shock syndrome].” This was something I quickly accepted and agreed with, because tampons were dangerous – why would I want to stick something up there? This ideology followed me into middle school, when I declared (influenced by my Christian upbringing) that I was going to remain abstinent until marriage, a rule that I practised during my first relationship. I attributed my reluctance to let my boyfriend go near my genitals as a sign of my commitment, and not anything else. When I watched women in porn touch their vulva and put fingers in their vagina, I flinched. Didn’t that hurt? When guys tried to manually or orally stimulate me, it brought me more anxiety than pleasure, and my grimaces were probably mistaken for the latter. It wasn’t until I was with more sexually experienced partners that I realized that perhaps the pain and discomfort I was feeling wasn’t a common experience shared by most women. I found myself lying about being on my period or making excuses for my “sensitive vagina” so that people wouldn’t touch me down there. Sometimes sexual encounters would make me anxious because I could anticipate the pain, and I felt inadequate that I couldn’t give my partners what I assumed to be a fulfilling and satisfying experience. If I had an interest in someone, I would be deterred by imagining the stress and hassle of having to explain everything and disappointing him. Who would want to be with someone they couldn’t have sex with, whether it was for a few months or for just a night?

I remember crying out of frustration after I spent hours trying to insert a tampon with no avail. My friends told me I just needed to relax – a TV show, candles, tea, ocean sounds, and so on, and they suggested I try various poses to fit it in more easily. They gave me multiple pieces of advice, none of which worked, and I’ve just come to accept that sometimes I won’t be able to go swimming, play sports, or twirl around in white dresses like they do in the commercials.

While it certainly hasn’t been an easy road, learning about vulvar pain and its prevalence have helped me come to terms with my body and try not to beat myself up over it. Treatment options do exist that would combine physical and cognitive therapy, and while I’m not currently pursuing them, I plan to the next time I have a long-term partner. Aside from one particularly pushy gentleman who I had to leave abruptly, most people have been surprisingly accepting and respectful of my boundaries, and I’ve gotten better at (or maybe just more used to) explaining why I can’t have penetrative sex. Oftentimes I’ve found that my female friends can relate, and they share their own stories of sexual or vaginal pain. Where, originally, I was ashamed and embarrassed to talk about my condition, it’s now a disclaimer before any sexual activity – if a man can’t respect that I don’t want to be touched down there, then he doesn’t deserve to touch me at all.

Anonymous guest blogger