Love, Shame, Guilt, when sex hurts

Just Relax

The internet is a powerful tool when it comes to public health. We, who have access to the internet, can at the stroke of a few keys see we’re not alone with our symptoms. People all over the world share similar struggles, pains, confusion, and fear over what could be wrong with their bodies. We’re able to share these experiences. Lift each other up, help each other, learn from each other, and seek emotional relief. I, for one, think this is amazing. One of the biggest ways the internet has helped me, especially in the last few years, is the discussion of women’s health in western medicine and how often women are disregarded, ignored, or talked down to when it comes to their health. Every woman I know has at least one story of a doctor not listening to her stories of pain. Doctors who just flat out ignore or dismiss their symptoms. If we’re given a diagnosis at all, it is almost always related, in some way, to PMS.

Women are just always experiencing PMS aren’t they? No matter what symptoms we’re experiencing, or where the pain is, it almost always comes back to PMS. Remember though, it can’t be PMS that’s TOO severe because that’s not a real thing either. PMS symptoms can’t be that awful. It’s a lose-lose situation regardless of what your medical issues are. Woman should not have to fight to be listened to. To be believed. They should not be told to calm down or suck it up. Why is our pain less important? Why does our pain matter less? Why is it that period pain is somehow always the answer, but is never spoken about with concern? As if pain is somehow categorized on what is worthy to pay attention to. Never mind the fact that period cramps can- in fact- be so painful for some women that they’re hospitalized. Never mind the fact, that women have gone to the ER, been bedridden, or even died due to doctors ignoring their health claims. The dismissiveness of western doctors is an unspoken epidemic in western society and it needs to start being addressed. If any of this sounds familiar, know you are not alone.

I also have stories like the women in the video above. I was flat out told my pain wasn’t real and I was imagining things. I was dismissed by general practitioners because they didn’t deal with women health. I was dismissed by OBGYN’s because they don’t study nerve pain. I was dismissed by specialists because it was a mental issue. I was dismissed by therapists because it was a physical issue. The sheer amount of shame and embarrassment I felt talking about my pelvic pain issues with anyone, let alone doctors I didn’t know or have a rapport with, grew with each person who dismissed me. When I talked about it, no one had a cure, or an idea how to fix me. I did, however, have a consistent line repeated to me over and over again whenever I did decide to speak with professionals.

Just. Relax.

Oh. Ok. Sure. Thank you. I haven’t tried that already. I’ll tell you what. YOU try relaxing when someone is poking you in the genitals with a hot poker. You try relaxing when you know that feeling will come again at even the lightest touch. You try relaxing when you’re so filled with shame and fear that your body has gone into full “fight or flight” mode in a vein attempt to protect itself from the onslaught it knows is coming. The pap smear that caused burning for a week, and screams on the hospital table, is causing that extreme anxiety and pain because you’re not relaxing. You’re afraid to have sex because that pap smear hurt? That’s why it hurts when you have sex. You’re too tight. If you’d relax more you’d have an easier time with it. That’s why you’re so tight in the first place.

Have you tried lube?

Have you tried relaxing?

Have you tried imagery?

Have you tried relaxing?

Are you sure there’s no trauma you can think of?

Just Relax.

Are you SURE you weren’t assaulted as a child?

Really? Are you sure??? I feel like you must have been. By a family member perhaps? That’s usually what causes these things.

Just Relax.

JUST RELAX.

Realizing the doctor doesn’t have any idea what’s wrong with you is such a helpless feeling. What I learned after years and years of going to doctors, therapists, PTs, sex therapists, hypnotists, acupuncturists, chiropractors is most don’t know; and most just don’t care. If you can’t fit neatly into a diagnosis box, written a prescription, and kicked out the door, they want nothing to do with you.

It makes you feel worthless and dirty and broken. It makes you feel like you’ll never be better or get better and you will forever be a person that the medical community doesn’t want to fix or figure out. You’re disposable. Not worth saving or figuring out. Not important.

Even now that I have finally received help, and medicine, and a doctor who believes me, I still have feelings of worthlessness and shame. I still feel broken at times, and struggle to re-train my brain that I am worthy, and I’m not broken. It isn’t easy. But having a support system helps tremendously.

If you take nothing else away after reading this please take this: You are WORTH being listened to. If your body is telling you things, and a doctor is dismissing you, find a new doctor. You are not broken. You are not dirty. You matter. And you are not alone with your pain. I finally found people who listened. Find those people.  And know that I believe you.

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Love, Shame, Guilt, when sex hurts

My First Love, Shame, And Guilt

Due to the complexities that came with having vaginal and pelvic pain, I didn’t pursue relationships until I was older. I didn’t get my first kiss until I was 18, and then later that same year- also at 18- my first boyfriend. I knew, even with my boyfriend, I wasn’t ever going to have a sexual relationship with those guys. I never wanted to explain my issues to them, and I didn’t even know how I would begin to try.

Then at 20, I met Jack*. Jack was the first boy I ever fell in love with, and I fell hard. Our relationship was short, intense, and full of the drama that often accompanies a young relationship. We spent pretty much every day together, and he was the first one of my romantic partners I ever told about my pain. So of course, Jack became my everything.

I fell in love with Jack when he and I went on a road trip to Arizona together. It was a magical trip full of long talks, amazing views, ridiculous shenanigans, and even resulted in me smoking weed for the first time. (Trust me when I say, that alone should tell you how hard I fell for this guy.) We were 20 years old and free of any responsibilities; spending much of the day outside, or in the back of the van my parents had let us borrow. I remember being concerned we’d be sleeping together away from all responsibility and parental ears. Certain things come to mind when you think of 2 kids spending their nights together-how could it not? And indeed, the first night out, Jack reached into his backpack and pulled out a pack of condoms. “Just in case” He said.

I was a virgin in every sense of the word, whereas he’d had a relationship before and wasn’t. I tried to explain what the pain felt like, and how I didn’t think I’d be able to have sex with him much as I wanted to, and I understood if he didn’t want to have anything to do with me because of it. Jack said it wasn’t a problem and he was fine with it. To his credit, he did try. He tried not to let it affect him, and in many ways our relationship was strong. We were never really able to get over this hurdle though, and certain things like pulling out those condoms proved that.

There is an incredible amount of guilt that is associated with pelvic pain. We, as women, are often only defined by our sexuality and our ability to attract a mate. This is proven over and over again by the media, magazines, and in our daily lives. It’s a perfectly cultivated maze of unrealistic expectations and fears meant to make women feel inferior- whilst simultaneously being told we have all the power since our value is our sex appeal and men are powerless to it.

To be unable to do the most basic of human instincts, the thing that we all fetish and idealize on a daily basis, is a form of emotional torture that is difficult to articulate. It is made all the more dificult when you have a partner who you love, who loves you, and who you can’t share that part of yourself with. There is a constant and consistent need for validation and approval, whilst also ignoring any validation that your loved one gives you. I would cry into Jacks arms after I’d tried,and failed, again to have penetrative sex; saying how I couldn’t understand how he was with me. I was obviously broken, and damaged, and why bother being with me at all? It’s a very deep seated, constant, and real insecurity. Throughout puberty, I was told my  entire being is based on how I can successfully attract a male. Simultaneously the media cultivates the idea that men are unable to control their urges, and only want one thing: sex. All the time, any time, anywhere, with anyone. This is just as dangerous and foolish as the societal pressures for women and just as damaging for both sexes. Based on all these outside influences, it’s easy to see how I concluded that I’m only worthy based on my sex appeal, and the only thing Jack wants is sex. Therefore I’m unworthy of love and affection as I’m unable to give the only thing I’m worth giving up. I tried though. Lord, did I try.

The first time Jack and I tried to have penetrative sex was sort of an accident. I know we both certainly didn’t intend to, and to be honest I’m hazy on the particulars. I remember where we were, and I remember it just kinda happened. I know when he first started to enter me the pain was there but I decided to push through it and try anyway. I loved him, and if I could just relax enough it would be ok. What happened next is a blur of white behind my eyes and pain. I screamed and told him to get out, which he immediately did. I curled up into a fetal position on the floor and started uncontrollably shaking. This would later become familiar, but this was the first time those tremors happened. Violent tremors that erupted throughout my body, causing everything to hurt even more, and causing me to curl into an even tighter ball. Jack kept asking me if I was ok, but I didn’t answer him. I just stared at a spot on the floor and didn’t move except for the tremors. I don’t know how long I lay like that, but eventually Jack tried to move me out of my fetal position by gently putting his hand on my knee and attempting to get me to lie down fully. I finally made a sound then-not sure what sound that was- and stayed where I was causing Jack to rock back on his legs in shock. I still didn’t move. Finally, he lay down beside me and tried to look me in the eye. “Annika. If you don’t answer me, I’m going to call 911. You’re scaring me.” That finally brought me back. I told him he didn’t need to do that. He pulled me into his arms then and the violent tremors ceased ever so slightly. They’d last for another 30 minutes or so, but they were smaller and less frequent. When I finally started talking the only thing I could really say was “I’m sorry.” Over and over and over again, “I’m sorry.”

I have said “I’m sorry” to partners more times than I have ever said “I love you.” “I’m sorry” is as familiar a saying to me in the bedroom as breathing. “I’m sorry” came with me wherever I went, always on the tip of the tongue, ready to be said at a moments notice. Jack told me it was ok, that I had nothing to be sorry for. I didn’t believe him. I never did. I didn’t believe it was ok. I didn’t believe him when he told me it didn’t matter. It DID matter.

“If you weren’t with me, you wouldn’t be dealing with these issues.” I’d say after another failed attempt. “You’d be having sex right now.” He couldn’t find an argument that met up to that sentence. I knew deep down, that if he didn’t want to be with me he wouldn’t be, but I also knew that if he was with someone else he’d be able to have the full relationship experience. Or what I thought the full relationship experience was at that time. And I couldn’t let that go.

The day Jack and I broke up started off well. I’d been continuing to see Dr. Kathleen West off and on over the past 2 years and I finally asked Jack if he wanted to come with me to one of my appointments. He enthusiastically agreed. I was really nervous about Jack meeting her, but that ended up working out beautifully. He asked her a lot of questions about what he could do to help, and what my condition was like, and the recovery plan I was on. Dr. West answered all his questions and told him it was amazing he was there to support me. It was that day that finally led me to buy the dilators, and the lidocane, and the lubricant, and restarting my Nortriptyline (I’d stopped taking it about 2 months after that initial dosage when I was 18). We left the hospital, got dinner, came home, took a shower…all in all a rather normal day. We broke up about 3 hours later, in bed, from a question that started off innocent and mundane. I left his apartment at around 1:00 in the morning and spent the next year of my life attempting to mend a broken heart.

I threw the dilators, and the Nortriptyline, and everything else in a corner of my room and left it to rot. They were reminders of my relationship and I wanted nothing to do with them. Jack didn’t break up with me because of my vaginismius or my inability to have sex, but that was irrelevant to me. I stopped seeing Dr. West completely as I saw her the last day I saw him; yet another reminder. I didn’t date again for 3 years after that relationship. Even after I’d long gotten over my heartbreak and Jack and I became friendly again, I still didn’t pursue anything. It’d been years since I’d seen Dr. West by that point and years since I’d considered going on a date, or dating, let alone beginning a new sexual relationship. That meant telling someone else about the pain…again. Disappointing someone new. Again. And living with the guilt, the shame, and the pain. Again. No. Best to not. I was clueless to any and all attempts at flirting, and focused instead on school and work. The thought of starting over with treatments, and diagnosis, and doctors, seemed too big an issue to deal with, and I decided, once again, that this was just the way I was, and it would forever be that way.

 

*Name changed