I was twelve. I was in karate class and all of a sudden I had this weird ache in my back and everything felt kinda wet. It was funny because even though I’d never really discussed puberty or anything prior to that moment, I instantly knew what had happened. I asked to be excused, went to the bathroom, and sure enough there was a bright red spot. I thanked the stars I was wearing a black gee as opposed to a white one. Being the quiet 12 year old that I was, I decided I didn’t wanna risk anyone worrying about me-and this was way before cell phones were a thing-so I dealt with it for the rest of class. When I arrived home, my mom did what I suspect many moms do when their daughter tells you they got their period. She got incredibly excited where I, flush with embarrassment, just wanted the entire thing to be over with. She asked if I wanted a special dinner for “becoming a woman.” No. I most certainly did not. And I begged her not to tell my dad.
She explained to me the differences between pads and tampons. At that point (2001 I think?) there were no such thing as Thinx period panties, and while the menstrual cup was definitely on the market, I don’t think it was something my mom was incredibly knowledgable on. I remember her explaining that pads were essentially like a diaper and that tampons were what most women used and what were considered the best and most efficient way to deal with the blood. So I tried to put a tampon in….
It’s the first time I remember feeling the-what would later become familiar- intense pain. I remember telling my mom and she said I must’ve put it in wrong. I tried again. It hurt again. It was excruciating. It felt like that tampon had turned into this red hot knife and it’s sole purpose in life was to split me open and rip me apart. I quickly abandoned the idea of tampons and for the next 6 years wore pads with little thought of anything else. It definitely made certain things difficult (swimming was an issue for a while) but all in all I didn’t really care too much. It was something to soak up blood for 3-5 days. Nothing more.
Those first few years were brutal for different reasons. I never cared to try tampons again as I was more concerned with the constant, horrible, intense aches that were menstrual cramps every month. I called it my tutu of pain. And while the sharp, agonizing, ordeal from that first time trying a tampon was (and is) way worse than any menstrual cramps, I could control putting a tampon in. Or rather, not putting one in. I could avoid that pain. So I did. I assumed there was something wrong with me, and I was built in such a way that tampons weren’t possible, and left it at that.
This was the majority of my adolescence in the land of periods. I was a pretty late bloomer for a lot of things so it wasn’t until I was about 16 and my sister ( 3 years younger mind you) pointed it out to me, that i realized I may have a bit of an issue.
“Annika. You can’t even wear a tampon. That’s this big.” She held up her pinky finger to further her point. “How the hell are you gonna have sex? A penis is a lot bigger, you know.”
No, I didn’t know. Well ok, that’s not true. Obviously I KNEW that penises were bigger than tampons, but sex was never something I’d had any inclination of doing when I was a teenager. It had never even occurred to me that if I was having trouble putting in tampons, that I may also be unable to have sex. Suddenly the world became a lot bigger, I became anxious about a lot of other things.
When I was 17 I went to a sleep away camp with my high school choir and one night after lights out all the girls started talking about sex. Whether or not they were virgins, and when, or with whom, they wanted to have sex with. What sex was like, or would be like, and the nervous but excited giggles that followed that line of talk amongst teenagers. I stayed silent and sad. I couldn’t have sex with anyone. The pain was too much. The pain was too scary. I couldn’t ever have sex. I couldn’t participate in this conversation at all. I’d steered clear of anything remotely romantic or sexual during puberty as I knew, even subconsciously, that it was an impossibility.
That was the beginning. The beginning of the next 12 years of my life being riddled with shame, guilt, horror, anger, embarrassment, and pain. The indescribable, uncontrollable, extreme pain. The type of pain you read about in books but have yet to experience. The type of pain that makes you see stars. That causes your grip on reality to fade. Hello, internet. My name is Annika. And I experience pain when I have sex.
I wish I could tell you there is a happy ending. I’m 28 now and I’m a long long way from those 12 and 17 year old versions of me. And while things have definitely improved, I’m still a long way off from being “100% cured.” Indeed, my doctor told me that I would never be “100% cured.” This was a condition I would have to live with. BUT…it was manageable. It was controllable. I would be ok. I could maybe even have kids someday. He might as well have told me unicorns were real and I’d be riding one home from his office. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m writing this, in the hopes that I can help those who, like me, experience this pain. I’m writing this in the hopes that those who don’t experience this pain may develop empathy and understanding for those that do. I’m writing this in the hopes that people can learn that it’s ok not to have penetrative sex; but to still have meaningful, sexy, wonderful sex . I’m writing this so that men and women alike can raise each other up and help each other.
Because here’s the thing. You’re not alone. There are millions of women (and men) out there who are just like you. And you’re not a burden to society for having pain. It doesn’t make you less of a person. And you are CERTAINLY not broken. I will, with this blog, do my best to document my experiences. All of them. The good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. From the time when I lost my virginity and my boyfriend at the time almost calling 911, to the doctor who dismissed my pain as a “head fantasy.” To the jokes made in my expense, and to the gripping fear of anyone getting close to me for fear they’ll leave once they learn they can’t “have” me.
I’ll tell you about the first time I actually had penetrative sex- which brought about a whole bunch of extra issues I didn’t even realize were a thing. I’ll tell you about the drugs I take, the physical therapy I go through, the ointments I apply, the psychological therapy I go through, and the thousands and thousands and thousands of hours, tears, and dollars I’ve wasted and spent on believing that there was no cure, that I was stuck like this, and there was nothing I could do about it. I will tell you all of it. I want to tell you all of it.
This will be hard for me. Many of these things I’ve not spoken or thought about in many years. But it’s time I told my story. Because maybe, by putting the information out there, I can help someone else who feels like there’s no hope. Because there is. Feel free to ask questions. Feel free to comment. Feel free to question, and get involved. That’s how we learn and become better. You’re not alone. And neither am I