Wednesday, 25 January 2012

My first therapy session

I've been having therapy sessions for a while now, and they're all quite varied. It's a bit of a trial and error affair, treating vaginismus, so my therapist (she of the fabulous coral earrings) and I have gone through different processes that may work for some women, and not others. Turning up for my first session however, I really had no idea what to expect. It was snowing and dark as I tramped up the unfamiliar road from the unfamiliar train station, to the unfamiliar clinic at the top of a hill. I walked through a door marked "out patients", having made the bold assumption that I would be allowed to leave at the end of the session, and found a friendly, round-faced security guard who pointed me in the direction of the right reception area. I'd been referred by the GP, at the recommendation of the gynaecologist, and really didn't know quite what to expect from it all. The letter I received was from the "psycho-sexual therapy clinic" which I found immensely entertaining, especially because it makes me sound like some sort of sexual demon. In fact, it sounds so much like the sort of thing some dominatrix cliché of a female character would attend I’m quite surprised it wasn’t included in a certain recent Sherlock Holmes episode….

I digress.

I took a seat, as instructed by the indifferent receptionist, and waited for what felt like an age to be called through. It got to the point where I started to wonder if the whole thing had been a massive mistake, if I would be sitting there so long that the receptionist would question me further and then not only turn me away in disgust, but go to the pub and tell all her friends about the freak that turned up at completely the wrong centre, and everyone would be laughing at me, and I'd go home and hide under my duvet and line up my emergency fluffy toy collection, and ask them in watery tears “why sheep, why, why?”, and cry, and never leave the house again.....when my therapist bustled through a door, all silvery hair and swinging coral earrings, and called my name. Relieved, I followed her through to the treatment room and told myself to calm down and stop acting like a dick head. 

On the way to the therapy room she introduced herself, and then threw me off my game again by asking if I'd mind if a trainee sat in on our session. I very, very much did mind, quite a lot, so I firmly and decisively opened my mouth and said:

"Of course not, that'll be absolutely fine."

I am very much the polite British stereotype in this respect, all bumbling acquiescence on the surface, and angry self-righteous grumbling underneath. Silently seething, and wondering what sort of a therapist thinks it is OK to ask a patient, at their first ever treatment session on a sensitive subject, if a trainee can sit in, I followed her through the door to a very ordinary looking office room, with three hard-backed chairs, a clapped out looking old computer, and an extraordinarily young looking woman beaming at me. Ah, I thought to myself, bitter smile slapped across my face - the trainee. Excellent. 

The therapist introduced herself and the trainee who was visiting from a University in europe, and explained that the first thing we needed to do was to go through questions to a questionnaire which I had been sent. Except I hadn't. Ah, she said, yes this was a bit of a set back, but no matter, I could fill the questionnaire out when I got home after the session. She started then to talk about how the therapy sessions would work, how many I would get but not to worry if I found I wasn't quite "cured" at the end of the sessions, because if we found out that was the case she could recommend some more. I cheered up a bit at this, and also at the polite interjections from the trainee, who it turns out wasn't some slack-jawed undergrad who had turned up to snigger at the freak show, but a professional who was gaining further experience in her field. Silly me.

The therapist continued to explain a bit more about vaginismus, the possible causes and the manifestations and such. She started to describe muscle spasms using her fists – which I would soon find out would be a recurring event at the sessions – at which I felt my face freeze itself into a polite mask of vague interest and my stomach start eating itself a little.

The session was interesting, and seemed to be over remarkably quickly. As I made my way out the door, feeling encouraged and looking forward to the process, the therapist called me back with these chilling words

“If you could fill out the questionnaire we should have sent you and post it back to us when you’ve done, that would be great.”

I proceeded back down to the waiting room and off home, wad of scary paper clutched in my sweaty mitt, chanting to myself “it won’t be that bad, it won’t be that bad, dear god it won’t be that bad.”

How naiive I was.

Now get me wrong, they were all necessary and important questions, but by eck rating your ability to orgasm on a scale of 1-10 does put some things in perspective for you.

I put 8 by the way. Don’t pretend you’re not impressed.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Under the bridge

Hello vaginistas!

Thanks to the persistance of my new resident troll and his - ahem - "enlightened" ideas, I thought I would start a new section of the blog, entitled HILARIOUSLY "Under the Bridge". This is going to be a place where I try and unpick common misconceptions about vaginismus, perhaps as highlighted by Mr Troll, or perhaps just from my own experience. It'd also be great for people to contribute their own, this could be nonsense that they have encountered from other people, or perhaps even ideas that they had themselves, which they now know to be untrue.

Lets start with Maypaki's most recent comment. Just a quick disclaimer, I'm not going to focus on any of the religious ideas he is trying to put across because there are so many wonderful theologians out there who are doing it in their own work. If you are interested in theology, feminism and sexuality and so on, you could do a lot worse than to start with Dr Susannah Cornwall a supremely intelligent woman with very lovely hair (as you'll see on her blog). Secondly, this is a personal blog and so everything I write here is from my personal perspective. Please join in using the comments box.

Now that's out the way, here is what Trolly McTrollsons wrote recently:

"I just had a THEOLOGICAL DISCOVERY: God is indeed a MALE. The reasons are: 1.) If God is a female, she would never inflict women with painful intercourse. She would merely inflict them with infertility. Her empathy towards women's feelings will always prevail. 2.) It is known in history that men treat women as property. Therefore, if God inflicts a woman with primary vaginismus, thick hymen or dry vagina, then her vagina is now the property of God. She's meant to control the population. God uses her as an instrument to reveal who the real rapists are, thereby upholding women's most divine right -the right NOT to be raped. This proves that God is a male, because for him, there are things more important than empathy towards females. This explains why painful intercourse is MORE COMMON among females than males.Because God is a MALE and treats some women as his property to control the population. I am now an enlightened man. If vaginismus is one of God's test to humanity, then it seems to violate his own commandment (to be fruitful and multiply). God seems to contradict himself. Claiming that it is a test makes God so unreasonable. So there are 3 possible rational conclusions: 1.) God is omnipotent, therefore Vaginismus is God's will. It's Gods natural birth control -if you believe that there's a reason for everything. 2.) Vaginismus in NOT God's will, therefore God in not omnipotent. He cannot prevent vaginismus. 3.) There is no God. Sometimes, things happen randomly and for no apparent reason -if this is your position, then I rest my case. P.S. My e-mail address is"

All completely sane and reasonable, I'm sure you'll agree. Once we have all stopped grinding our teeth, there are a few points here that are actually quite common misconceptions about vaginismus which it would be good to iron out. You know, so we can let him get back to the more important task of ranting.

1. Women who have vaginismus cannot give birth - Not true (On a side note - Maypaki's idea that it is "kinder" for women to be infertile than to have a very treatable condition preventing penetrative sex only - BIZARRE). My therapist very kindly explained this to me in a session. She was trying to change my perception of sex (it bloody well hurts!) by telling me all about childbirth -

Her, enthusiastically and using her fist as a sort of model vagina - "It's designed so a baby's head can go through! Like THIS! *expands fingers* A whole baby's head, which is so much bigger than a penis!"

Me - "If you need me I'll be in the foetal position, hyperventilating, in the corner"

Any woman who has ever gone into labour will tell you - gleefully and with the quite justifiable elation of someone who has not only survived the battle of trafalgar, but made off with Napoleon's eagle to boot -  that nature takes over and the contractions that come are far beyond your control. Yes, this is similar to vaginismus in a way, but also very different. While a woman with vaginismus may not be able to conceive through penetration, there is no reason for vaginismus to prevent her giving birth.  As my lovely therapist said, beautifully succinctly: "Vaginismus is all about preventing entry. Giving birth is allowing exit." For a full and proper medical account, please go to

2. Women with vaginismus cannot be raped. 

Ladies, I bet you didn't even know that we are SUPERHEROES, with our magic clampy vag muscles, sent to HUNT OUT THE RAPISTS and BLOCK THEIR COCKS RIGHT OFF! Cape me the hell up, for I am VAG HAG!

Er....No. Vaginismus does not prevent rape. The pain of the muscle spasms and the difficulty/impossibility of penetration can actually often be a result of the agony and trauma of rape however. The World Bank report on Gender and Equality 2012 which everyone should read, says that:

"Physical, sexual, and psychological violence against women is endemic across the world. A flagrant violation of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, violence can take many forms. International statistics are not always comparable, yet incontrovertible evidence shows that violence against women is a global concern." World Bank Report on Gender and Equality Chapter 2 page 83.

There is a chart (which unfortunately I am unable to post here but can be seen on the above link) which sets out different justifications for women being beaten by their husbands in different nations: "Burns food", "argues with husband" and "refuses to have sex". The marks along the chart show the percentage of respondents from each country who have agreed to each of the reasons. In guinea 65% agreed that a beating was justified to a woman who refused sex. In Lesotho, 40% agreed it was acceptable if there had been an argument. It is only when you scroll to the very bottom of the chart that you realise it is the women themselves who are giving these responses.

What is the point I am making here? Violence against women, in many different forms, is a huge and universal problem and unhelpful and incorrect ideas such as "Vaginismus prevents rape" will do nothing to help reverse and change this pattern. The idea of blame and personal fault is so engrained upon the female psyche, in terms of sexuality, as well as so many different ways, that we need to be doing our damndest to stop this. Do read the report.

Finally, he's kindly left his email address. Do send him some love.

From Keeks

Monday, 9 January 2012

My first encounter with "a vagiphobe"

Evening vaginistas,

I thought I'd write today about my first experience with what I have termed a "vagiphobe". This is the sort of man who thinks that vaginas are always smiling and willing, happy to see them and gagging for a cock, the sort of man who, when buying sanitary towels for his girlfriend will refer to them as "female nappies" and hide them underneath a jumbo pack of loo-roll on the way to the tills (a friend of mine dated one of these, they really do exist) and who does not know what to do when presented with a vagina that is slightly less easy going and might need a bit of persuasion to let him in. At the time, I thought that vaginismus was all my fault and something to be apologetic about. Now, I know better. 

I met him at a friend's work do, which I had been dragged along to as his "date" for the evening (he being worried that if left to his own devices he would get completely drunk and try and pull his, very stunning, boss). I was introduced to this chap who worked in the finance department, and was cute in a skinny indie boy kind of a way, with a hint of a northern accent and messy hair. After the briefest of chats I was surprised to receive an email from him the next day, in which he very flatteringly admitted he had hunted me down on facebook to ask me out for a drink. I happily accepted. Being the bolshy forward type, it's usually me asking the guys out, so it made a nice change, and besides, I thought, he was pretty cute. 

We arranged to meet at a local museum, which had an exhibition of the Battle of Trafalgar on, which I thought was unusual and potentially fun. I love a museum I do. I was admittedly a little apprehensive, as he had studied History at University, and I was dreading some dreary one man mission to get me into bed by droning on about Napoleon, but I was pleasantly surprised at his lack of pretension, and delighted when he accidentally mispronounced a rather famous naval captain's name. We had a really great time, and went on to a pub afterwards for a drink.

At this point I am ashamed to admit that I contravened the number one rule of a first date – I proceeded to get smashed. Well and truly and horribly smashed. We had a fantastic, alcohol-fuelled conversation about everything, including him being a feminist, the price of a pint in London, and how much use we had respectively got out of our degrees.* Despite this, a rather nice drunken snog, and the alcohol boiling in my blood, I managed to politely decline his invitation to go back to his for a “coffee” (which surely by it’s over-usage as a euphemism is now just as forward as outright asking someone to go back for sex? Thinking about it, that was probably the point...)

After the designated few days of demure and ladylike silence (which, being someone who likes being in control, and a feminist, I thoroughly resent, and never really bother with) I felt victorious to receive a text from Mr Finance asking me out for another drink.

This time, I was determined to stick to the two drink rule.

This time, as the time before, I failed, miserably and abominably.

After a fun night of constant conversation and far too much alcohol (again) he asked me back to his (again) for coffee. Apparently he really, really likes coffee. I decided that this moment was the absolutely perfect one to tell him about the vaginismus. Better he knows now, I thought through the fug of red wine, than think I'm playing some waiting game with him.

Stumblingly, incoherently, I stammered out some semblance of an explanation and was greeted with -

Utter silence. 

Nervously, I waited while he gathered his thoughts together. Poor man, my brain slurringly thought to itself, it is a bit of a shock to hear, after all. I gave him a few minutes, until he eventually said, quietly:

"I think it's time we left."

Dumbstruck, confused, a little lost, I quietly followed him out of the pub, said goodbye at the tube, and went home.

The next day, I woke feeling slightly hungover and very much ashamed of myself. What a dreadful way to tell the poor man, I thought to myself, and what a brilliant and effective way to ruin a date. I sent him an email apologising, and giving him a much better, rational and comprehensive explanation of the issue, assuring him that I was being treated and well on the way to recovery. I went over it a hundred times, making sure it came across as unscary and clinical as possible. A few days later, after hearing absolutely nothing, I finally received a reply. He was sorry, he wrote, for not getting back to me before, but had been really busy. In fact, his life was very busy at the moment, too busy really to be seeing anyone. He thanked me for telling him, and that was that. 

I felt awful. Humiliated, and disgusted with myself for ruining a perfectly lovely evening, and so thoroughly ending what had started off as a nice little affair. If he had never heard of vaginismus before it was bound to come as a shock, and he had just met me so how could he really be expected to be understanding? After a short amount of time wallowing in this feeling of self-loathing, I stopped. 

Because why would I want to feel sad at scaring off someone who, so far from being a "feminist", had tossed me aside the second he realised he wasn't going to get his end away? I realised, with a little breath of relief and a smile, that what had happened was not an awful and humiliating rejection, but actually a lucky escape from a bit of an arsehole. Feminist? Bollocks was he! A feminist isn't a man who's afraid of a woman's body and it's quirks, but someone brave enough to take it all in his stride. A feminist doesn't value someone only so far as their ability to provide them with sexual gratification, and a feminist doesn't use "feminism" as a way to get someone into bed. Well, maybe they do a little bit, but to the mutual enjoyment and gratification of both.

Really, I'm lucky that I haven't encountered this sort of a reaction more. Previous boyfriends could not have been more supportive about the whole thing, and not in any sort of mimsy, patronising "there, there darling, don't you worry" sort of a way, nor in a hero-complex desire to be my cure sort of a way, but in a genuine, "if it hurts of course we won't, let's order pizza and watch Sherlock", sort of a way. There are no doubt lots of women who he would have invited back who would have been able and willing to oblige, but that's not my lot and actually not someone I would want to be. In some ways, vaginismus has made me stronger. It really separates the wheat from the chaff. I will never let a man make me feel that moment of disgust and self-loathing for something so beyond my control again.

*1 We should all call ourselves feminists, 2 HOW MUCH?! and 3 Not a whole titting lot.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Dilators - a guide

I'm going to set this as a page (listed on the right-hand page) but I also thought I'd put it in here as a blog post. Dilators are really important, and also seem to be enigmatic and mysterious little buggers, so here's my guide to them. I hope it helps.


Once you've done enough research into vaginismus, sooner or later you'll come across vaginal dilators. Oh, behave you! Fine - you'll DISCOVER vaginial dilators. I am personally a hands-on sort of a person, and was far more taken with the idea of the dilators than the idea of months and months of therapy, and, you know, talking about FEELINGS and shit. It turns out they go hand in hand, but I want to just focus on the dilators here, as I found it so difficult to really find anything out about them before starting the treatment process.

Trying to find out exactly what I needed to get was confusing enough, and trying to track down dilators to buy for myself turned out to be almost impossible. Once I'd started therapy this was all taken care of, but I didn't know that when I was originally researching my condition. To that end, here is my 100% unofficial guide to dilators (from a vaginismus sufferer) which I wish someone had given me at the start of the journey.

The Hardware

Your GP can prescribe dilators. In my case, in the course of my treatment my doctor referred me to a gynaecologist, who referred me to a therapist, who wrote a letter which I took to my GP, who in turn wrote me a prescription. I then took the prescription to 3 - that's 3 - chemists, before finding one who told me that they could get them for me. The first two chemists really seemed to have no idea what the things were. As with everything about vaginismus, it was not a simple process, but one well worth sticking with - I've said it before and I'll say it again (usually swaying in my chair angrily after a couple of glasses of pinot) - you have to stick to your guns if you want to fight this bastard! 

The most commonly prescribed brand in the UK is Amielle comfort, which is the one I have, (full kit pictured above). The kit consists of a bag, 5 dilators which increase in size from one the size of about a tampon, to one which I have affectionately named the Hubble Telescope. There is also a handle, which the different dilators screw onto, and help with insertion, an instruction booklet, an instructional DVD (which personally I haven't watched as the booklet was really comprehensive) and a tub of kiwi based lube. (I know, kiwi! Exotic!)

Using the dilators is theoretically simple enough. You start using whichever you feel comfortable with, and work up from there - personally, I didn't need the smallest as I can use tampons, but this size would be really useful for someone who struggles to insert a finger or a tampon. Don't be a have a go hero here, choose one which is really and truly fine.

The key to using these, my therapist told me, is to insert them in such a way that doesn't cause you pain. This is really important, as you are training your muscles to stop clenching up when penetration is attempted, and undergoing pain-free penetration will not only help you realise that penetration doesn't have to - and shouldn't, -hurt, but will help your muscles realise this too. Gradually, you work your way up through the sizes until you reach the Hubble Telescope. 

Here's a picture of the dilators, in context of some other objects, a tampon at one end of the scale and a rampant rabbit at the other (other vibrators are available)

The rabbit looks a bit out of it's depth, I'm sure you'll agree.

Finding the bloody things

From my online hunting, the cheapest I could find this particular brand of dilators for (if you wanted to buy one without going through the NHS) is around £45, and you still need a prescription to buy them. There are a couple of online shops that you can buy them from without a prescription, but they have to be shipped from America. The treatment of vaginismus often needs to start from a psychological standpoint, so I can understand the need to have the dilators prescribed, and perhaps there are very good medical reasons for it too. If you think they are something that you would find useful, I highly recommend you ask your GP directly about having some prescribed.

I know vaginismus is something that a lot of women feel too ashamed and embarrassed to talk about. I know that a lot of women who are not as shameless and bloody-minded as me would have given up after being turned away from the first pharmacy, let alone the second, which were both well known pharmacies in the centre of London. It is yet more proof that vaginismus is something which we need to be talking about more. If we compare the lack of awareness - having to go to 3 different pharmacies, struggling to find a purchasable brand on the internet - to the prevalence of solutions for men with erectile dysfunction (I'm not comparing the actual issues here, just drawing a male-female comparison) you see a massive disparity in what is out there. Viagra for instance is a household name, and we see advertising for erectile dysfunction cures everywhere, you see it on tube posters for goodness sake! Again, these are two very different issues, but should public awareness be dealt with so very differently? Why is vaginismus so little spoken about; why shouldn't people be aware of vaginal dilators, which after all are so helpful to so many women? I have no real answers, but I do know that things really need to change.

Do's and Don't's when using Dilators - tips from an old hand

Do - Take your time to insert. An inch, a millimetre - it is all progress.

Don't - Feel you need to rush.

Do - Read a lovely book once you have inserted a dilator. You want to leave them in for a little while, perhaps 10-15 minutes at a time, so I would recommend reading something that will help you relax during this time. I would recommend the chronicles of Narnia (not the scene where Aslan is brutally murdered though) or something by Jane Austen.

Don't - Spend the time watching a character being violently beheaded on a TV programme like the Tudors. I believe this may be known as negative reinforcement. It doubly hurts when you've already got the thing inside you and your muscles start to spasm, take it from me. 

Do - Breathe deeply and allow all your muscles to relax. Relaxation is - and I can't stress this enough - ABSOLUTELY VITAL.

Don't - Carry on if it starts hurting. As soon as it hurts, it's time to stop. Breathe out and remove the dilator slowly. 

Do - Buy some cleaning wipes to keep them ship-shape and shiny, I would recommend something like Ann Summers "buzz fresh" vibrator wipes

Don't - Feel guilty if you don't use them for a couple of days, and then try and overcompensate as a result. Go at a natural and steady rhythm. Overcompensation will not work, believe me and besides, the hubble aint going anywhere.

Do - Feel proud of yourself when you progress up to a bigger size. Believe me, even though you don't think you will, you really and honestly will.