Winterizing my pelvic pain wardrobe

01/16/2009 at 10:03 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, vulvodynia | Leave a comment
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What do you wear when your pelvis, bladder, and/or vulva hurts?

It’s winter in the northern hemisphere, and that means it’s dark and cold. We distract ourselves from the dark with major holidays and lights, at least until the shortest day of the year. We fight the cold with heaters & warm clothes. You might ask yourself in the morning, “What am I going to wear?” Every winter, there are some women who are faced with this question, only with a painful twist.

“What am I going to wear to keep warm when I can’t wear pants?”

I’m a lucky woman. I have the option & ability to wear a lot of different kinds of clothing (at least, for now.) I appreciate this.

I can wear basic, breathable underwear.
I can wear comfortable shorts, pants & jeans.
Sometimes I can even wear thongs for a few hours.
I can wear pretty, fancy lingerie when I want to feel sexy – just for a little while.

But I’m not that lucky. There’s still some clothes I avoid.

I can’t wear tight pants. A tight pair of jeans can be a stiff, constricting sweatbox for the pelvic pain patient. The crotch of jeans can rub up against your crotch and cause irritation. Or the seam can rub against a delicate clitoris – and not in a pleasant way! This was the case for me when I was experiencing peak pelvic pain days. It was quite the opposite of pleasure. I have had to sell, donate, and throw out many pairs of jeans that were, maybe never totally comfortable, but, tolerable once in the days gone by.

I can’t wear long underwear. The last time I tried to wear long underwear underneath a pair of regular work pants, I just so happened to experience a major months-long pelvic pain flare. I can’t be certain that there was a direct cause-effect relationship there… maybe it was just bad luck & bad timing. But I’m not going to risk it. Bad luck charm, right there. Bad juju.

Stockings and tights are likewise out of the picture for me, for the reasons listed above. Indeed, avoiding tight clothes is usually one of the first & “Easiest” tips given to women with pelvic pain.

Not being able to wear long underwear or stockings means I needed to find a “Go-around” to keep my legs warm during these cold winter months. Something to go underneath my pants that will still allow me some freedom of movement – and breathability for my vulva.

So I wear thigh-high stockings and/or thigh-high socks.

In my experience, thigh high socks are harder to find than thigh-high stockings in retail stores. However, the selection of thigh-high stockings is usually pretty limited. At three of the department stores I frequent, thigh high stockings made up a relatively small percent of available hosery compared to regular tights & support hose. I’m not always able to find the color/size combination want. Sometimes the color does matter, since I usually wear stockings with skirts for work.

Thigh high stockings are also seen more than regular pantyhose in lingere catalogs & websites. There’s something sexual about them… maybe it is the way they accentuate the legs, maybe it’s culture, maybe it is a combination of the two.

But thigh high socks are harder for me to find – at least, when I search for them in person.

In my quest for thigh-high socks, I walked into a socks outlet store a few weeks ago. There were no thigh highs available. I could either go with Knee-Highs or I could buy Men’s Socks, knowing that men’s sizes are larger than women’s, and if I bought a large man-sock it probably would come up to about my thigh. I decided to hold off & see what else I could scrounge up.

So I started looking for thigh high socks online.

I never realized thigh-high socks & stockings were considered such a fetish item until I started looking for them.
As of today, the first result on Google for “Thigh high socks” takes me to American Apparel’s selection. Their description says “We’ve taken our sporty socks thigh high for a sexier look.” …So, what, are regular socks… not sexy, then?
Well, I suppose feeling sexy is a nice side effect of wearing thigh high socks, but that wasn’t my main motivation for buying them. I need something practical & warm. Something that will allow me freedom of movement without being too constricting around the vulva.

Still. It’s a bit disconcerting to me to see Disembodied legs over and over again on sock-selling sites. But I suppose by definition, “Thigh high” socks requires that an entire – and often feminine – leg be shown. Maybe the photographer just ran out of room, or showing the rest of the outfit would take away from the main product of interest. And how can you know what the thigh highs look like if they are covered by pants?
(But then if we need to know what they look like, why not just show the socks spread out but not on a model, like a t-shirt that isn’t being worn?)

And my goodness, there certainly are a lot of sites that pop up within the first page of Google’s results showing women wearing thigh highs – and just their underwear or a schoolgirl lingerie costume. I even see one website aptly named “Thighhighsocks.com” – and it’s porn. Truly rule 34 in action.

I had no idea that thigh high socks were so sexualized until I started looking for them. I was not looking for socks to make me feel sexy. No one sees my thigh high socks underneath my pants. I just need something to keep my legs warm – without smothering my vulva.

That so many of these socks look and, in fact, are flimsy, is a real problem for me. The flimsier, thinner material must stretch better, and so look more appealing sexually… but then I sometimes have to wind up layering one regular sock over the thigh-highs, to keep my feet warm. Wouldn’t it be easier to just make the sock thicker & warmer? I can find knee-high wool socks, but I’m having a harder time finding thigh-high wool ones.

But I remain grateful. I am trying to remember to not take the health I have for granted.
But sometimes, when I’m upset and tired of looking for warm winter clothes that fit, I get frustrated. Truly, the fashion industry overlooks a wide variety of body types. In its rigid refusal to better accommodate more body types, some women feel forced to modify their own bodies to fit in with what’s “Normal.” When that doesn’t work, women may feel inadequate. This can lead to pretty extreme and sometimes self-destructive behavior. But that’s a discussion for another day.

I know women with pelvic pain who can wear nothing but skirts. Or, they need to wear skirts during peak pain time. This may not be so much of a problem in the spring, summer, or fall, when the tempeartures are more reasonable. I like wearing skirts on warm days in summer too. But even on those nice weather days, having to wear or not wear one thing or another, is just another reminder of the body’s limitations.

But right now, it’s winter. It’s January. I live on the Eastern seaboard. It gets cold here. This week we have temperatures ranging from a low of zero to a high of 20 or 30 degrees (Fahrenheit.) It snows.

Wearing a skirt can’t be comfortable when it’s that cold out.
This is something I am not personally familiar with. I have not had to wear skirts in the winter. But I step outside in my thigh-high socks covered by pants covered by boots, and a heavy coat on… and I’m still freezing within moments.

I don’t know about it personally – but I recognize that having to wear skirts due to pelvic pain must be a real struggle, based on the discussion I see about it online. One such vulvodynia & interstitial cystitis patient spoke out about it here. There are many others; some of the Living with Vulvar Pain blogs I have linked to on the sidebar of this page include posts just about clothing & vulvar pain.

Seeing women wearing skirts in the winter is a rare sight for me. I don’t expect to see skirts in the winter, except perhaps at parties or for a night out on the town.
Yet I have seen it.
When I see the long denim or suede skirts on women when the temperature is below freezing, I wonder… “Does she have it? Does she know? Do I know her? Is it just coincidence? Maybe I’m just over thinking things again.”

I got to know one of these women. In college, I went to class with a woman who wore long heavy skirts to class every day. We were in a women’s health class together. She was a busy, working mother. We did a project together. As I got to know her, I learned that she had had a hysterectomy. She learned that I had vulvodynia. She never came out & said that she had pelvic pain too – but I suspect that she may have, based on her interest in my interest in pelvic pain. I once highlighted a passage discussing post-menopausal women who experienced tearing of the vulvar tissues during intercourse and she pointed it out. I said, “You don’t have to be in menopause to experience that… :(” and she agreed, “No, you certainly don’t…”

I wonder… did she know? She never said anything directly but…

One of the other women wearing a skirt in winter was about my age, maybe even younger. I saw her a few weeks ago at a doctor’s office. It was December, and late at night. I didn’t speak to this woman, as I was leaving. But I saw what she was wearing.
It may be worth noting here that this doctor’s specialty is in treating pelvic pain patients…
…which is the reason I was there – mostly to address the residual vaginismus moreso than the vestibulitis. The treatment works on both, for me.

So I wonder… I wonder if she knew, too.

I can only imagine how hard that must be.

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