Nonfiction

The Vaginal Frontier

25 February 2016

Well this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute just sit right there, I’ll tell you why I can’t have sex.

I first noticed that something was wrong two years ago. I felt discomfort downstairs and assumed it was thrush, so I self­-medicated. The treatment didn’t work, however, and I noticed that my vulva appeared red and inflamed, so I went to the doctor. They ruled out STIs pretty easily as I had never had sex. They then tested for bacterial infections, but all the tests came back negative. The only other thing it could be, according to the doctors, was eczema, so they prescribed me nappy rash cream.

It was the most humiliating thing imaginable, being a grown woman having to use nappy rash cream on her inflamed vagina. It forced me into a weird predicament; I had to connect to the universe to predict if and when I might possibly hook up with a boy, so I would know to stop using the cream a day or two beforehand. I’d be damned if I became known as the girl whose pussy tasted like Bepanthen.

After a year and a half of living in pain, I finally requested to see a dermatologist for my eczema. I explained my symptoms and she performed an exam on my vagina. After poking around for a little bit, she told me that what I had wasn’t a skin condition at all. It was in fact a muscle condition called Vulvodynia, a chronic pain disorder that affects the pelvic floor muscles.

Basically, my brain associates being penetrated with pain, so whenever a penis ­shaped plane requests permission to land, my body automatically braces itself for pain. This causes it to hurt even more, leading my brain to remember that it’s going to hurt, and so on and so on. It’s a vicious cycle that takes the same amount of brain training and will power to overcome as does casting a powerful patronus.

Treatment is different for every woman, as every woman is different; but in my case, I had to start seeing a physiotherapist who specialises in pelvic floor conditions. This involved paying a stranger $70 a fortnight to slowly insert her finger inside my vagina to retrain my brain to realise that penetration doesn’t have to hurt.

I joke around about my condition a lot because laughter is the best medicine, but I figure now that you all know enough intimate details about me, I can get real with you for a second. The one thing the doctors and specialists won’t discuss with you is the emotional toll that this condition puts on you. The fact is that I have had two boyfriends in my life, and both of them have cited my inability to have sex as a major factor in their leaving.

Now I have a compulsion to spread the word about Vulvodynia, not just so other women can be aware of the condition and not have to live in the dark like I did for so long, but to make men aware that just because a woman can’t give you sex doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have worth.

One in five women will experience vulval pain at some point in their life.

However, because we are taught to not talk about our vaginas and proper education about women’s health is rare to say the least, many will live in pain for years before seeing anyone about it. So: if you feel like something isn’t right down there, listen to your instincts. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and taking control of your body is the most rewarding and empowering thing you can do.

As the great Helen Reddy once said, “I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman”. Love your va­jay­jay and all the power that comes with it. It’s just trying its best to look out for you.


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