As a 16 year old, when I first tried to use a menstrual cup, I almost screamed in pain. I had never been able to insert a tampon, have penetrative sex, or have an internal vaginal exam. The stigma around speaking about vaginal and sexual issues meant that I suffered in silence, all the while believing there was something wrong with me down there. For me, it also came with a lot of shame, a feeling of being broken.
As someone who did not use much social media till my late teens, I had no way of knowing that there were others who went through this too. But boy, you can imagine the relief I felt when I realised that there are entire Instagram pages and Facebook groups devoted to this condition called ‘Vaginismus’. Vaginismus is a muscle spasm in the pelvic floor muscles, which makes penetrative sexual intercourse very painful for people with vaginas. It may be caused by trauma or other emotional factors, or sometimes pelvic injuries or physical trauma, but often the exact cause cannot be determined. It is a condition that can make you re-evaluate how you understand yourself and your sexual experiences. And it did for me.
After years of not understanding it, finding a community of people living with the same condition has taught me a few things. My body is more than my vagina, and I deserve patience and care. When I first realised that I had this condition, my self-worth plummeted. I believed that I did not have much to offer, especially to men, and that they would get bored of me and move on to others who could provide better sexual pleasure. Eventually, with a lot of unlearning and relearning, and support provided by online groups, I realised that my value is not determined by my ability to have sexual intercourse, and I deserve partners who understand that. My body deserves patience, and it is alright to take time to open up.
Moreover, I understood that pleasure and intimacy can be a lot more than penis in vagina. Vaginismus made me question a lot of my pre-concieved notions of sex, where I believed that sex was not 'complete' until penetration took place. Besides being extremely heteronormative, I realised that this is just not true. Pleasure can take many forms, including foreplay and other forms of sex. Personally, I believe that pleasure can be derived in ways which have nothing to do with a penis entering my vagina. The pain caused during penetration for people with vaginismus is definitely not a form of pleasure, and if your partner cannot respect that, it may be time for a serious discussion.
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Always remember that it’s alright to talk about vaginas. Vagina is indeed not a dirty word. Talking about it with friends and online communities is what initially introduced me to vaginismus, and helped me get the courage to seek medical support. Talking about my condition has empowered me to seek help, and brought me closer to a community of people that go through the same situations that I do.
So next time you are wondering why penetrative sex hurts, or using a menstrual cup is this painful, it might be time for a chat with your gynaecologist!
Written by Nayanika Guha