Thursday, 28 June 2012

Keeks: How to tackle sexual dysfunction

Hi Vaginistas,

After watching Cherry Healey: How to get a life last night eating a peach on the sofa (I am having a health kick, which basically means still sitting around, but eating fruit instead of crisps) I have decided to briefly turn my hand to writing TV reviews. I know, jack of all, master of none as they say. It's relevant to the blog, I promise.

                                   Do you get it? Do you get it? AHAHAHAHA!

Cherry Healey, journalist, has set out on a journey to find out what life is like for those of us who are not smug, married new Mums in the "Modern World". Or something. In this recent episode she decided to investigate addictions and why people are drawn to taking pills. 

She talks to some guys who like sucking laughing gas out of balloons first, which seems nowhere near as fun as doing it with helium quite frankly, and the buzz goes after literally 5 seconds, so not sure what that is all about, but anyway. They all seem happy, and enjoyed it, except for one chap who has anxiety attacks and quite rightly doesn't want to do anything that might trigger one. Fine.

On to the 2 people in this programme that I am most particularly interested in. One, Suzy, is an ex-professional dancer who has become addicted to diet pills since taking a new career path and losing her dancers body. Cherry pulls a wry face at the camera as she wrangles with some pesky jeans and tells us about her ongoing battle with her weight, citing a truly horrible episode at university where she took laxitaves to keep thin. I wait for her to smirk and mention the baby weight, but she doesn't, which is a relief to us all. Anyway, she has happily left those days behind her now, but says that she understands where Suzy's desire to find a "miracle cure" comes from. I'm hoping to hear something about underlying pyschological or emotional causes at this point, but perhaps that'll come later.....

Suzy shows Cherry (who are both about a size 10, I would say, 12 at a push) around her flat, including a kitchen cupboard with a worrying lack of any food and is rather chock full of dieting pills, and her bedroom mirror which is surrounded not only with pictures of her as a genuine bonafide CHILD (a body which she really and actually never will be able to get back) and of celebrities whose jobs are to be slim and beautiful. Cherry rightly points out the body types on show here are so varied it seems her ideal body is actually impossible for her to achieve. She then asks her to talk her through some of the pills and what they do. Suzy mentions some diet which involves drinking pepper and water or something?! Which sounds truly horrendous, to which Cherry only responds that she tried a liquid only diet once too. 

At this point, a pyschologist and a doctor come on screen to talk about the pyschological basis to Suzy's dependancy on these pills, and about the long term effects of bad nutrition, of starving the body and so on, about how she has a lovely, perfectly healthy body and instead of taking pills she should eat healthily and do exercise......Oh hang on, sorry no that didn't happen, MY MISTAKE! Sorry about that. Instead, they go and try on some Bikinis, truly demonstrating how tiny they both are and how unneccessary and quite probably damaging to the health taking these pills may well be. Suzy is so upset that she crys. CUE PSYCHOLOGIST....

Nope, nope, sorry! What actually happens is that Cherry decides to take Suzy to a dance class, not to remind her how much she loves to dance and how good exercise makes you feel but as an alternative "solution". Suzy emerges looking glowing and happy and remembering why she loved dancing so much, but at the end when they catch up with her, she admits she's been unable to quite bring herself to throw away the pills in case there is a day when she is feeling down or indeed "ill." Ill?! Er.....I'm not sosure that's the day to be drinking slim fast personally, which Cherry tells her. No, no, sorry! Haha, sorry, Cherry actually tells her that she was so impressed by Suzy's perfectly health and well balanced approach to managing her weight that she went out and bought some of the pills.

On to the 2nd interesting case of the programme, and to my mind not an addict of any kind at all. Without re-watching the programme I can't seem to find out his name, (which is not going to happen because I have far better things to do with my time like sticking carpet tacks into the soles of my feet), but he was a lovely young welsh chap (I can't remember his age, but I'm going to take a stab at early 20s) with erectile dysfunction problems. As a result he was "addicted" to Viagra. Cherry talks to him about various other options, including a penile implant. She shows him a video of the procedure itself, where they both scream and look away from the screen, and Cherry gurns at him in horror, as the surgery goes on. They dismiss this as an extreme option.

Then, they take a visit to a specialist in erectile dysfunction, who goes through various options with him and then refers the chap to a qualified sexual therapist who will take him through a course to understand and work out the underlying pyschological reasons behind his problem.

Ah, no, sorry.....sorry, me again, sorry! Got muddled up! What they actually do is a quick google search and find a hypnotherapist. He has a session with the hypnotherapist, and is full of hope and feels as if a burden has been lifted off him, at which point the highly insightful Cherry says:

"Seeing how you're reacting now I'm starting to think that this is probably an emotional problem" (or words to that effect, I already told you I'm not re-watching). 

The chap is successfully treated after 2 hypnotherapy sessions, which is really and properly fantastic, and has gone on to enjoy a healthy sexual relationship with his boyfriend. Later in the programme we hear that they couple are engaged and in my favourite and sweetest bit of dialogue of the whole programme shyly admit that once they're married "we'll move in together" (my heart melted at that).

Now, I know this is BBC3 and a lighthearted look at lifestyle choices, but by the end I was really fuming. Not only about the way that sexual dysfunction was included in a programme about "Addictions" but also about the way that Suzy's problem was treated in such an off-hand manner. I am not a doctor, but I would personally have brought in a nutritionist and a GP to talk through her body issues. Perhaps they did this, perhaps they did all of these things, but where was the mention of it in the programme? What made me most angry is that the negative and seemingly destructive way she related to her own body wasn't in question at all - it's a given that young, slim women feel shit about themselves, that is just the nature of our society. Young women watching that (and let's not forget that BBC3's target audience are the younger demographic) wouldn't come away with an affirmation that we should love and respect our bodies, that we should do exercise and eat well to be healthy and feel good, but that we should be beating our bodies into submission, whether that is through using dieting pills or through exercise.

I am still waiting for a decent programme about sexual dysfunction. Cherry at one point admitted that she hadn't realised problems such as erectile dysfunction were actually such big issues. The only good thing about this particular segment was that the man they interviewed was young and healthy, which at least showed that erectile dysfunction can actually effect anyone, and can have a pyschological basis.

Anyway, this was all redeemed because right at the end, there was a bit where they said "If any of the problems in this programme have affected you please...."

Oh, who am I kidding. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Porn - An update

Hi Vaginistas,

The sun is shining in London town, I am unemployed, and so I'm going to go and have a walk somewhere new soon, to a folly which isn't a folly - exciting. I love a walk I do. What? I'm unemployed, I've got to find my free kicks where I can. I'm going to put a long floaty dress on and pretend I'm a regency lady. Later I might pull the labels off some empty beer bottles and see if they have enough adhesive left to stick to my forehead. It's going to be a veritable jamboree of excitement.

But before I do that (steady Keeks, steady, the labels will still be there later), I thought I'd squander some valuable sun time by writing an update on the NHS porn, hooray! A friend asked me about it (I AM BRILLIANT AT ANONYMITY) and it seemed like a good idea to follow up on it.

Well. I'm afraid it was just too much for me. I'm sorry, I tried, I really tried! It's just too dated, I can't hear the filthy saxophone wailing and see the flouro pink eyeshadow and perms without it all simultaneously disgusting and tickling me. Whilst it is entertaining in it's way, it doesn't do what it's meant to do. I mean, for me that is, some of you might love it, I'm not judging.....(I am a little bit)

The point of it, as I said before, was for me to look at normal happy couples having sex, and realise that it doesn't hurt when they get to the main event. Fine. Except I know other people have sex and that it doesn't hurt. We all know that; after all women with Vaginismus are the dirty little secret, not the ones having lots of lovely, pain-free sex. But watching a fella humping away on an impeccably-permed lady in tasteful soft focus doesn't make me think "hang on, her face isn't scrunched up in agony!" it just makes me think "Look what he's doing with his PELVIS! Why is he doing it that hard?! That would definitely hurt, if it were me. She looks happy though."

The face of allure

I suppose it's about changing perceptions, in fact I know it is, but going back 30 years apparently isn't doing it for me. Who knew?! 

What I have discovered though, which I've found really useful, is that if you find porn that does do it for you*, using the dilators, sorry trainers - we have to call them trainers and not dilators! News bulletin vaginistas! My therapist told me this, because you're not making anything bigger, you're showing the muscles that they can expand. Which makes sense really - is a whole different kettle of fish. I wish that this had come up in therapy, but it actually makes complete sense - you're training your body to realise that penetration isn't painful, and you'll (hopefully) be attempting penetration only in a state of arousal. It's completely different, and so much easier. Since I discovered this, using the trainers has become so much easier. Really! In fact, so much easier that I am on the 2nd biggest one. 

This is a metaphorical rosette. But I really have one though.

I KNOW! 2ND BIGGEST! Look at me and my stretchy, stretchy vagina! Behold! The wonders of the stretchiness! What's that? You heard that my stretchy vagina is on the 2nd biggest trainer? Why yes, you are correct, here's my autograph, NO PHOTOS!!

The hubble can fuck off though.

So, if you're using the trainers and are struggling with them, this is my suggestion - don't do it, as I was originally instructed, in the manner of a Victorian lady, sitting back and thinking of England, breathing deeply and calmingly, and pretending the whole thing isn't happening. Finding a nice, sensible novel to read to take your mind off the process is fine, but actually you want your body to know that when things get steamy and you try penetration it won't hurt, and so getting into that zone is better - and honestly, so much easier. You don't want that disconnect, of letting it all go on down there and counting down the time til you can remove the thing, that's (hopefully) not what will be happening during sex after all. You want to be able to feel it, you just want it to feel good, and not painful. Try it ladies, it is better.

Now, I'm off to find a folly, and maybe have an ice lolly.

A parting rhyme. I know, I'm just all give, I really am.

 * Porn that women enjoy. I know. I KNOW. It's a big and contentious issue. Bloody the patriarchy.

Friday, 8 June 2012

The vaginista and the pea

Hello Vaginistas,

I'm sorry I haven't written anything for a while. Quickly, I just want to say thank you to those of you who sent me emails; I'm sorry I haven't replied, I am struggling in a fug of unemployed and new-spinster lethargy, but I promise I will drag myself out of it and reply soon. Needless to say, I am so happy and humbled (if I can say "humbled" without it coming across as the opposite) to receive emails from you all. I have received amazing, inspiring, heartbreaking stories from amazing men and women, and I'm really quite overwhelmed that you contacted me. Honestly, it's a surprising and beautiful side-effect to this blog. I'm hoping (with the authors' consent) to get some of the stories up here soon.

Anyway, all that aside, things are a little funny at the moment. Breaking up with someone rather makes you put sexual therapy on a back burner, but I think progress is still steady. My vagina and I are more or less at peace. I do however have one quite funny story to tell you.

I noticed a couple of weeks ago that I had a tiny, quite painful little lump on my labia. My heart did that one big THUMP followed by the rush of panic that floods up from feet to head that you get when you realise something bad. I calmly went through all of the most likely reasons for the appearance of the lump:

I conjectured.

When I had my first (failed) smear test, the well-meaning but nevertheless patronising nurse told me not to worry, as "Virgins" are at 99% less risk of any infections or diseases in their nether-regions than the sexually initiated. But there's always exceptions right? And there is still that 1% to consider, lurking balefully in the background.

Having accepted that conjecture and panic probably wasn't going to help, I decided I had to go to the drop in gum clinic, grit my teeth and put up with any sort of incredulity or - if I was really unlucky - dismissal that might be sent my way. A painful pea is not a normal thing to find on your foof, after all.

I sat in the waiting room reading, trying to push the thought of horrible, cold and cruel speculums out of my mind, and was shortly joined by two women. As they sat down on the other side of the room, one turned to the other and chuckled:

"Did you see? The receptionist recognised me. Haha, I'm in here all the time!" 

Her friend duly chuckled. I mentally punched myself in the brain to stop it from unfairly judging. What a cow my brain is. It did help me to relax slightly however. "Other women do this all the time! All the time!" I thought. It can't be so bad......

Eventually, my name was called and I went in to see a male Doctor. Now, I know that perhaps some women would prefer to see a female Doctor but honestly, it doesn't bother me either way - as long as they are professionals and not squeamish, then I'm happy. I'm really more worried about what the Doctor uses, than whether the Doctor is male or Female. I was mainly worried in case he turned out to be one of the Vaginismus un-initiated.

Happily, he turned out to be actually and properly amazing. I told him the problem, and he very calmy said it was probably nothing, but definitely a good idea to check it out. 

"I think we should try a speculum" he said, at which point my heart did that big BOOM! Thing again, and all the blood left my face "But we will take it very slowly - I promise. If it hurts, we can stop, if you don't feel comfortable, we can stop. There is absolutely no pressure at all". I loved him. I wanted to give him a hug, but I didn't. 

A Nurse took me through to a treatment room, where I was told to undress from the waist down, get on the bench and put my legs in the stirrups. 
But, I don't see any horses?
Oh, the stirrups. I'm sure you all agree that sitting like this, vulnerable and wide open to the world and it's wife (Yes, OK, so a Doctor and a Nurse, but STILL), with a light pointed directly inside you, is not a fun thing. I was already dreading the painful muscle spasming. Obviously, a smear test is not a fun thing for anyone. I doubt there are many women who look in their calendar and shout


But vaginismus is an extra cherry on top of the whole affair.

I sat there until the Doctor came in, with my legs in the air, gazing whistfully at my disgarded pants. I duly made small talk with the Nurse about the weather, because I am British dammit, and making small talk about the weather is my duty in ALL SITUATIONS. Even situations where I am laying spreadeagled with a stranger snapping on some natty rubber gloves. That done, the Doctor commenced with the examination. It turned out the little pea had disappeared, and was in all likelihood a gland that had become blocked, which is apparently quite normal and can happen from time to time. I am adding this to the list of things that No One Has Told Me About My Vagina (thanks a LOT Catholic education).

He decided we should try a smear test anyway. I felt all the muscles in my body clam up tight. He told me to relax, and started. I squealed. He stopped. He tried again. I squealed and started to cry. He stopped.

"I'm so sorry" I said, feeling the full and mortifying failure of my body.

"What on earth are you apologising for?" He said mildly, putting away the horrible instrument of female torture. I considered asking him to marry me. 

"It's OK dear" Said the nurse cheerfully "We can try a smaller one".

WHAT. WHAT IS THIS? A smaller speculum?! That is a thing?! WHY DID WE NOT TRY THIS FIRST?! At the time, I was too relieved to feel anything but glad that the Evil thing had gone.

The smaller speculum worked fine. I realise in hind-sight that a previous Nurse had told me about them before, and I wish I'd remembered on the way into the examination. Anyway, after that everything went fine. The actual smear samples were nothing; I could barely feel them.

"All done" The doctor said cheerfully, removing his gloves, and leaving me to get dressed. I was exultant, euphoric! I was a proper, real woman, a woman who has smear tests! A woman, with a vagina, that can have SMEAR TESTS!

As I sat there, beaming at my naked ankles high in the air and thinking to myself "I AM WOMAN. I AM PROPER WOMAN. ME VAGINA HAVE SMEAR" the nurse pulled the curtain across to let me dress and turned to me one last time,

"If this happens again" She said kindly "Just make sure you ask for the Virgin speculum."

With that, she left the room.