Thursday, 29 December 2011

My first trip to the Doctors.....

I mean it when I say that the NHS is brilliant, and Doctors are amazing, but it took me 3 tries to get diagnosed with Vaginismus. The third Doctor I saw, an unflappable man who was not remotely phased by the cringing, embarrassed, red face of the woman before him, listened to my stuttering explanation of not being able to have sex - "It really hurts.....It feels a bit like someone is trying to tear me in half" - and calmly and decisively referred me to the gynecologist. He was a little bit like a super hero. I may be a little bit in love with him now. The first two visits were rather more eventful however, and probably delayed my diagnosis by a couple of years. Let me explain.

When I was 25 I got the letter all women get, inviting me to attend a smear test. I made an appointment and turned up, and was called into a room with a very lovely nurse, with crinkly kind eyes and a sheet of preparitary questions. I thought this would be the perfect situation to ask someone about the problems I had started encountering with my then boyfriend, and waited for my moment. She explained that we just needed to go through these questions before the actual test, and started reading through. She got as far as "Are you a virgin?" and was quite visibly stumped by my answer of "yes".

"Er..." She said, looking a bit bewildered, "I don't think you need the test if you're a virgin, let me go and check with the Doctor". She left me in the treatment room, slowly sinking into self-loathing and despair. I couldn't ask her about it now, I thought, she seemed so completely taken aback by my reply. She came back and explained that the risk of having any sort of problems was almost completely removed if I had never had sex and having the test as a virgin would anyway almost certainly be painful. She finished by reassuring me that it was perfectly normal to be a virgin (something which I had never doubted) in such a way that made me feel she thought quite the opposite. I left in tears and feeling like a complete failure. I had read the information leaflet thoroughly before attending and as far as I could see there had been nothing on there to say that you shouldn't attend if you had not had sex (I could be wrong about that, and it may have changed by this time anyway, but that's what I recall). She was a lovely woman and no doubt a brilliant nurse, but this put me off attempting speaking to a medical practitioner about it for a while.

A year later and I was determined to go and see a doctor. The problem hadn't gone away or got any easier, and I had been doing a bit of online googling in preparation. I'd come across something called vaginismus, which sounded similar to the things I'd been going through. I made an appointment and went along feeling nervous, but determined to sort the thing out. I had received a text from a friend I'd been talking to about the whole business, saying "Don't leave until you've made them take you seriously!" and was preparing myself to do so.

I explained to the Doctor about the difficulties my boyfriend and I had trying to have sex, and waited for a reply. The doctor, to my immense surprise, looked....well, a little bit embarrassed. She asked first if my boyfriend had a particularly large penis. I said he had, yes (smugface) but that it had happened with a previous boyfriend who had an equally lovely, but more modestly proportioned appendage and so didn't think that necessarily had anything to do with it. She suggested then ("off the record") that I "try getting drunk" in order to be more relaxed the next time we had sex.

I'll be honest, I was lost for words.

She suggested then that we attempt a speculum examination. I'm sure she was very delicate with it, but by eck it felt like she was trying to rip me right down the middle. After a while she stopped, looked surprised, and said "I don't know why it won't go in." Neither did I readers. I left, again in tears.

It took a further year for me to go and see my super hero doctor and be diagnosed. When the gynecologist he referred me to - who had gone through a list of questions with me about the specific nature of my condition, like "Does it feel like your muscles are spasming when you attempt penetration?", "Do you panic when penetration is attempted?"- tried an external examination, she read the look of panic and pain on my face, and registered my muscle spasms (which I hadn't even been aware of) and diagnosed vaginismus. I burst into tears, but this time not of humiliation and defeat, but of absolute relief.

I relay this story not to slag off the people involved in my first two attempts to get diagnosed, but to highlight the potential problems that you face in being diagnosed. I'm now being treated, but if I hadn't been determined I may still have been lost and confused.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


I've got my first therapy session in about a month today. I think I'm probably half way through the NHS  sessions (If you are reading this from some awful dystopian future where free health care for all has been smashed into the ground, then I'm sorry. You poor, sickly thing, no doubt you have a horrible cough, dreadful skin and -most probably - scurvy. I pity you. The NHS at this point in my life has been wonderful to me.) I am due about ten more sessions, but if I'm not "cured" by the end of that time, my therapist can recommend I need some more and more than likely they will give me them. Te amo, NHS.

My therapist is a wonderful lady with silver white hair, a few inches shorter than me (which is unusual, as I'm rather short myself) who always wears fabulous coral-drop earrings and is married to an opera singer. I am very much a fan of this lovely woman, who has been (as you would hope) incredibly supportive through the process so far. But today, TODAY, I am worried I might get a bit of a ticking off. Not a proper ticking off, because lets face it, it's not really going to change her life if I manage to get a shag or not, but you know what I mean. I am worried she might give me a ticking off because I haven't been using my dilators...

A few months ago I got prescribed my set of dilators. These are basically a series of cock shaped plastic toys in increasing sizes - think sex-toy russian dolls - which screw onto a handle for "easy insertion", said handle having grippy non-slip contours (a nice touch). They come in a lady pleasing pink bag which looks a bit like a wash bag - no doubt designed to be "non-threatening" - and a bottle of water-based lube. They're not, I'm told, designed to stretch you, because the vagina is stretchy already, but to help you get used to the sensation of penetration, and to help you train your body out of the horrible muscle spasms that make everything so painful and impossible. They vary in size from one about the length and circumference of my index finger, to one quite frankly terrifyingly huge one, the size of the hubble telescope (it's possible I'm slightly exaggerating).

Once again, these were prescribed to me on the NHS (sorry my lice-riddled dystopian friend) and on the third go I managed to track down a chemist that stocks them, the first two not able to do any more for me but squint at the prescription in confused embarrassment. A shame this. Anyone less determined and more bashful than me would probably have given up sooner. Gleefully, I toted my little pharmacy bag home, and poured the contents on my living room table for my assorted housemates to ooh and aah and "is that the hubble telescope?!" at. I should say at this point, I have wonderful housemates who are all aware of my little problem, mainly because I get drunk and whiningly tell them all the gory details, the poor loves. Love you all, my long-suffering housemates.

Anyway, so after reading the little pamphlet enclosed, and disinfecting the russian-doll cocks, I've been dutifully using the things every other day since I first picked them up. Let me let you into a secret. I am not, at the best times, a very dignified person. I often trip over perfectly flat, crackless pavement. I have smashed nearly every glass in the house just by looking at them. Dignity and I rarely meet. Which is probably for the best, as there really is no dignified way to screw a mini-cock onto a handle, lube it up and - ahem - insert it into your poor, protesting vagina. I lie there, holding the cleverly non-slip handle, staring at the ceiling and watch my last little scrap of dignity float away into the air. "I'm sorry" It seems to say "But this is a whole different level. There's no way I can stick around for this". I understand, dignity. Once the thing is in, you have to leave it there for a while, maybe do some kegel exercises I usually read a book and try not to feel like a total tit with a handle sticking out of me, and occasionally wiggling around (if I'm doing the kegels). This is good, I tell myself, this is helping. Indignity is not important here.

Indignity aside, the process was actually going quite well for a while, and I had progressed up to the third of the five attachments. Well done me, and my stretchy, stretchy vagina, I thought. And then, and THEN, the bloody things gave me a kidney infection. A "very severe" kidney infection according to (another) NHS doctor. Apparently - people who have had "the sex" can confirm this - sometimes penetration and the mix up of all the fluids can give you a kidney infection. A KIDNEY. INFECTION. A kidney infection. Honestly, the more I hear about sex the less appetising it gets.

I was on anti-biotics for two weeks, laid up for a couple of days drinking huge quantities of water, and quite frankly haven't opened the stupid lady-pink bag since. Sigh.

So. Off to my therapy later, tail between my legs (but not the hubble telescope) to admit ashamedly that it's been a good two weeks since I've tried the things again. Hopefully my lovely therapist will understand. If not, I can always turn the conversation to her coral-drop earrings. They really are fabulous.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Vaginismus is a nasty word...

When assigning a name to this bizarre, barely-understood condition, they couldn't have really thought of an uglier name than "vaginismus". When I first heard it, a few years ago, I thought it sounded clinical and at the same time utterly lacking in substance. What on earth does it really tell us about the condition, except that it is a bit to do with someone's vagina? I suppose that is the point. From what I have learned about Vaginismus it seems that really people aren't really sure what it is. It is a complex condition, it doesn't necessarily have any obvious origin, but then again it could have come about through a horrific series of events, it might happen at any time in a woman's life and leave again with relative ease, it might be a long term, traumatic battle. There is very little material available to a woman interested in finding out more about it.

I was diagnosed with vaginismus about 9 months ago, but the road even to diagnosis was a difficult, emotional and often humiliating one. I've decided to write a blog about it, not because I think I am in any way an expert on the subject, but because it is such a huge part of my life, and the lives of so many women, and it is barely spoken about. Few people even know what it is.

I consider myself to be a feminist. I am a passionate, excitable, neurotic, often ridiculous but nevertheless entire human being. In our society however, to be "sexless" in any way - and as a woman unable to undergo penetration in this society seems to be considered sexless - is to be in so many ways worthless. I fight not only with this condition, which I have through no fault of my own, but with society's opinions about what a young, single twenty-something woman living in London should be like.

I want to write this blog because I want to share all the stupid, embarrassing, heartbreaking, hilarious things that happen to me on this journey. I want to support other women who are going through the same thing. I want, in some small way, to draw attention to the struggle we go through. I have called the blog "La Matadora" not only because I am dreadful at naming things, but also because as Vaginismus is to be fought and conquered, so too the prejudice that says I am to be defined and lessened by it.

I want to live, and not be brought down by something beyond my control.

If you are reading this, thank you.