I had intercourse

02/23/2009 at 8:03 pm | Posted in sex, Uncategorized, vulvodynia | 3 Comments
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A rhetorical question:

Do you still have FSD if you are having S? Under the narrowest of definitions; for I have had sex many times under the broad view. Under the narrowest of definitions, where “Sex” is synonymous with “Intercourse.”  I don’t like that narrow view much.  I like the broader, more flexible view. The narrow view minimizes the importance & validity of other forms of sexual activity, & places too strong of an emphasis on one type of sex as the end-all, beat-all definiton.

Yet I do not wish to de-emphasize intercourse completely, pushing it below oral, mutual masturbation, anal sex, and others. That I was able to enjoy sexual intercourse means something to me on a personal level, too.

Finally, after a quarter-century of life – and at least 3 or 4 of those living with vulvar pain, I have had pain-free sexual intercourse. 2 or 3 years with treatment for vulvodynia & vaginismus, which fall under the “Pain” or “Medical reasons” category of female sexual dysfunction. 2 years post-surgery, about a year & a half of at-home dilator therapy, 1 year of chiropractic & acupuncture for some kind of not-vestibulitis flare, and 6 months of physical therapy.

I have seen both sides of the same coin (although I only just glimpsed one of the sides as it was spinning.) Do I still have a right to talk about this? Or am I supposed to pack it all in now & never talk about it again?

Pain-free sexual intercourse is a wholly different experience compared to my first attempts at it, which ended with me torn, bleeding & in pain (quite on accident, I assure you.)

I believe some of my exact words upon thrusting were, “My god is this what it feels like to other women? This doesn’t hurt!” There was zero pain. I don’t mean there was minimal pain, a 1 on a scale of 1-10. There was no “Ow!” just, “Oh!”  I felt a warmth and a weight and a fullness. I was even lucky enough to experience some pleasure from penetration – a thing which has always been elusive even when I search for it by my own hand.

I did not experience Dyspareunia. I didn’t tear or bleed. I was… okay. Whole & safe & sound.

I don’t know how I did that.

Is this that “Hope” feeling I have heard tales about? Does it really not have to be painful?

It wasn’t easy, don’t get me wrong. I had to work for it, knowing full well that even with hard work, there were no promises of ever having pain-free sex. The promise remains slippery as a fish. I have been conditioned to feel pain with intercourse, and some anxiety even with other sexual activities.

My ability to have intercourse may still come with a price – I went to physical therapy as usual while my partner was visiting, shortly before attempting intercourse. My physical therapist noticed a rather large, firm lump deep within my left labia. It wasn’t there the week prior. She recommends I see a gynecologist soon regardless (I’m long overdue for a routine pap smear,) and point out the lump to the gyno.
I have a feeling that the lump may be a cyst. With my partner around and indulging in my sexual whims, I was spending a lot more time in a state of arousal than average. I have a feeling my lubrication glands were getting overworked & clogged up. After another day of sexual stimulation, even I noticed the lump – it felt firm & sore. Enough to make sitting & sleeping difficult & requiring a dose of Tylenol.

So although the act of intercourse itself was pain-free, I still wound up experiencing some discomfort afterwards.
“You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?”

There’s not a lot I can do about that if it’s a cyst. I can take warm sitz baths & give it a rest now that my partner has returned home. But I’m probably at a higher risk of developing cysts for the rest of my life now, following surgery. Although my understanding is that most of the time if you were going to get one, it would have appeared within the first few months post-surgery. Still. Healthy women without FSD can develop cysts so, I don’t feel too inferior about it. Happens to the best of us.

The lump seems to have decreased in size somewhat over the last few days to the point where I’m having trouble finding it again – which is probably a good thing. Perhaps I’ll get lucky & the fluid will find its way out of my body by itself. Maybe the gland isn’t totally blocked, just, clogged & overworked.

As I suspected, sexual intercourse did not change the dynamics of my current relationship. I laughed, I danced, I crowed when I was able to experience this activity so long out of reach.

But it did not change who I am or the state of my relationship.

Without a full understanding of what causes really vulvodynia in the first place, I don’t know if I’m at risk of developing either ever again. Is whatever process that caused it, still floating around within my body? Waiting, latent, biding its time…

I remain cautious, protective, reluctant to lower my guard & freely indulge in this newfound sexual option. Having known vulvar pain for so long, I must forever remain vigilant, lest it rear one of its ugly hydra heads. Will it return? Will one of its siblings pop up, in the form of a string of infections, cysts, muscle tension, pudendal neuralgia, et al? Will the hormonal shifts that happen with menopause drain my libido and cause my vulvar tissue to become inflamed once again? Will I develop an adhesion in the clitoral hood & have difficulty orgasming?

I believe that at least the vaginismus remains in place. I’ll probably have to maintain my stretches, kegels & dilator work long-term to keep it under control. I can still feel my pelvic floor muscles tensing against my conscious orders to relax. They’re doing it right now if I take my mind’s eye off of them.

Psychologically, any improvement or decrease in my mood following intercourse has been short-lived. My outlook & philosophy on life seems to be the same. I am not going to be going out and throwing any large parties. I do not currently feel depressed, either. Sexually, as my vulvar specialist put it, I “Probably won’t be swinging off any chandeliers.” I remain ~some kind of feminist, even as I struggle to cobble together a working definition for myself.

Relationship wise, I cannot detect any change in my or my partner’s behavior or overall mood. My ignorant, mean high school sex ed teachers constantly droned on about how “Sex changes everything,” but maybe it does not always. Or maybe it already did from a few years ago, when we just started being intimate, and we have already worked through the change. After this most recent attempt at intercourse though, we treated each other the same after as we did before. We still enjoy other sexual activities. We still play video games. We still tease each other. We still love each other. We still aren’t married yet, nor engaged.
And we’re both still nervous about intercourse. Some performance anxiety & a fear of pain & injury remains.

After all, sexual intercourse isn’t exactly easy on my partner either. It’s a pretty athletic endeavor and a real production for a pelvic pain patient. The basic setup required lots of materials & tools. It took multiple attempts to get the angles just right and then to actually keep my partner’s penis inserted. I’m definitely not ready for the kinds of positions seen in the kama sutra guides – or ready for more basic positions, either. I’m still figuring out how to line the angles up for spooning, woman-on-top, etc. And being in missionary position requires quite a bit of arm & leg strength, for both my partner and myself. Neither of us were able to achieve orgasm in this manner or maintain the state of intercourse for very long.
Intercourse is a pretty complicated dance and certainly one requiring a lot of practice & patience.

Which isn’t going to be an easy thing for me to have for at least several more months, seeing as I remain in a Long-Distance Relationship.
Which means, I have no idea what the long view looks like. My partner has returned home for a few months, and so I am once again a solitary creature for an unknown length of time. There’s a lot that can happen within a few months. I don’t know what will happen next time I see him. How am I going to do this again?

This may not be over yet. Or even if it is (hopefully,) I might like to continue speaking the words aloud. I know full well that it is possible to have vulvodynia, vaginismus, difficulty orgasming, low libido, and others, to varying degrees and still be able to enjoy intercourse & other sexual activity. Or not. And I still see places where alternate views of sexuality & sexual wellness are lacking. Still a gap needs a bridge.

And so I still feel the need to continue forward.

“Still the road keeps on telling me to go on. Something is pulling me. I feel the gravity of it all.”

Curing together

02/13/2009 at 7:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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My, my, my…

It appears that my efforts have not been all for naught. Apparently my little pet project I have going on here will be mentioned as a resource in a paper bound or digital book. Gee, it only took me about 10 years of strenuous writing to get good enough to be listed in such a one. I knew I took those hard AP & college writing courses for a reason… I expect this site would be listed in a back appendix. That’s how these sort of things usually roll.

My understanding is that this book is written “By the people, for the people,” so to speak. It’s described as “Crowdsourced,” which could never have existed without the internet. No single person (other than maybe the organizer herself) is THE end-all, beat-all source. Open sourced vaginas & vulvar wisdom.

I wonder which company is the publisher.

I see also that Tamara & the author of My Chassis have also been included, at least. Congratulations. I would hope that the other blogs I regularly read about living with vulvar pain (conveniently listed on the side of this site) would also be included. I may find out as more bloggers come home & start unscreening comments.

I’m glad to see laypeople taking this sort of thing seriously. The doctors I like & see already do a good job taking pelvic pain seriously – I believe one of them has a great big giant textbook coming out at the end of March. Being acknowledged like this though, in a collaborative project – that makes me feel kind of special. Maybe I’m doing the right thing after all, even if I stumble sometimes.

I guess I’ll just, Stay the course then! Rolling forwards…

This blog is TMI

02/07/2009 at 6:02 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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This blog is probably TMI for folks with delicate sensibilities.

This is a blog in which, so far, I have talked about vaginal pain, pain with sex, sex besides intercourse, menstrual blood tangling up pubic hairs, and pubic hairs getting jammed underneath my clitoral hood.
I know I’m not the only one who has suffered grief at the follicles of my own pubic hair, among other things. People have stumbled upon this website while doing searches for terms like “Pubic hair stuck in clit” “Pubic hair pain” and variations on that theme. But I’ve never heard anyone talk about such things offline.

Female sexual dysfunction, vulvodynia, even just plain vanilla sex, is still a taboo. Oh maybe sex is more acceptable to talk about in mainstream media, but only so long as we’re talking about heterosexual intercourse. But the female anatomy and all the amazing things that can go right with it, all the mundane things that it does every day, and all the painful things that can go wrong – there’s still backlash against talking about that. “That’s gross & disgusting & you should be ashamed of yourself.” “Why would you post that on the internet.” “There are more important things to talk about than your broken crotch.” And of course the always edgy, anon-esque dismissal, “Get back to the kitchen.”

Yet for as many folks think such discussions on discharge & the gory realities of childbirth are disgusting, there are others who recognize these topics as valid & worth spreading. I’ve seen it myself on other discussion forums, VaginaPagina in particular. “Please, go on. Tell me everything. Thank you for sharing this and letting me know that I’m not a freak.” Because if no one talks about it, it’s very easy to think that you’re the only person some such thing has ever happened to – and if you are bothered by what is going, being alone means you may not be able to find the resources needed to get help.

When I first learned about vulvodynia, there was ~some information online, and I quickly exhausted nearly every resource I could find. As of 2009, there’s more sites, forums, & even whole weblogs about living with it, and finding effective treatments. How difficult it must have been for the older women, the ones who had it before the internet became mainstream. How isolating it must have been to feel like you were all alone in the world with no network of answers. How liberating it must have been when, in recent years, women started talking about this condition. You are not alone. I know I remain grateful.

And then there’s the ambivalent response. Some combination of wanting to be impressed by the women & men posting on the internet & sharing the experiences that their fragile mortal shells endure… and yet the reader is not able to recoil from the sheer horror of it all.

Such is the response of a one Rebecca Traister of Salon.com.

Traister writes about, women who write about the experiences unique to a female body. Throughout her piece, Traister’s tone is obviously one of ambivalence. She seems to try appreciate that in talking about the human body, especially the sexual aspects, we de-power the mystery behind it & find release. She states, “There is no question that many women find the process of self-revelation, as Holmes said, cathartic. It’s about breaking certain silences, yes. It’s about letting loose with long pent-up questions and anecdotes and curiosities and fears. It’s about laughing about things that might otherwise make you wail with shame or pain or fear.”

But at the same time she uses terms such as “Nasty shit,” “Embarrassing,” “Irritating and Crass,” to describe these juicier parts of life, and accuses women who talk about these things as making a desperate grab for attention.

You know, every day I question whether I should go on with writing this blog, precisely because I don’t want to grab too much attention. I did not contact the Oprah show when it was recruiting women with vulvodynia to share their stories, because I did not feel ready to put my face out in the world & say “I have this.” The internet though, provides me with some level of anonymity – although at times I realize it’s a very thin veil.

Yet I go on – compelled, goaded on by ignorant statements like Traister’s, and Sheenah Hankin, who once claimed that “Women are not like faucets that get jammed up and will not turn on.” Obviously we’re dealing with someone who has never heard of Pelvic Congestion Syndrome. So clearly, there’s a need for such information & opinions to get out there.

I feel more embarrassed about having vulvodynia, when this author basically comes out and tells me I should be embarrassed. Perhaps I become too comfortable in my close circle of friends & support groups. As if talking about FSD wasn’t humiliating enough, due to the kernels of self-doubt living with it sows. Now I have to care about what other people think about myself, too. Maybe I really am a freak.

No, I am not a freak. I am as real & statistically likely as other bodily snafus. It was just my luck of the draw to be standing (sitting – and I remain grateful for my ability to sit, something that Traister probably doesn’t recognize as being an amazing bodily feat,) here before you, talking about that condition which bad luck & irony handed to me, nay; strapped to my body. I know I am not the only one, thanks to other women who have taken the time out of their days to write about their bodies.

Here’s another Traister gem to talk about, regarding second wave feminists and Riot Grrrls, who have taken steps to allay individual fears about the female anatomy through self-exploration –
“But all that communal celebration or shouted fervor for the female body and its effluvia was always a little too marginal, too embarrassing, reeking of moon-tides and red tents and creaky second-wave earnestness.”

“Marginal?” “Reeking?” Even I, a one who does not identify as a second-wave feminist, and who is frequently turned off by what they have to say about sexuality, am grateful to those who pushed for self-exploration with a speculum parties and the like. I wasn’t there at that time to particpate, but now I can reap the rewards. I want to know how to read what’s going on inside & outside of me, especially all things pelvis-related. How is that “Marginal?”

I’ve sen these reactions of horror and confusion with the female form before, particularly in reference to many of the comments posted about Susanna Kaysen’s book. The consensus, with a few exceptions made by sensitive people, is “I don’t get it.”
It’s a real shame. Kaysen tries to make vulvodynia accessible & tangible for laypeople, so that we don’t have to say, “You had to have been there.” Yet all too often, we do still have to say that, perhaps due to an unwillingness to listen – or a grudging, resistant willingness. “I could have gone my whole life without knowing about this condition.” So could I…
So could I…

Forgive them, lord, for they do not know of which they speak.
It’s the same way with Traister. Forgive her, lord, for she clearly knows not of which she speaks. A one who, judging from the tone of her article, seems to have had the luck of owning a fully-functional body and working female pelvis. I guess she didn’t have to Work for hers the way I had to – have to continually – Work for mine.

Ironically, it may be worth noting here that this same Traister wrote another article about the female body, and in a much more sensitive tone. She also wrote about Uterine Fibroids, and, for some reason, didn’t use the words “Gross,” or “Crass,” and the like, even once.
I wonder why that is.
Except not really. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that these fibroids are hidden & unseen, an invisible problem, and therefore more Abstract than menses & childbirth. She doesn’t have to think real hard about the blood & guts, because she can’t see them on an every day basis.
What’s up with that?

My blog, and other places like it, are probably TMI for Traister and other folks. I expect that the title of mine should serve as fair warning of what lies ahead – “What you see is what you get.”  Perhaps when you go to Jezebel and find out that it’s not what you were expecting, you should turn around and read about Victorian-era romance instead of writing a great big long schpeil about how shameful it all is, and, by inference, how shameful we all are. The internet is a big, wide place. There are other, more comfortable places you can go where you don’t have to confront your internalized norms about what the female body and mind “Should” or “Shouldn’t” do.

But I’ll stick around for now… perhaps, one day, if something unpleasant happens to Traister, or someone just like her, maybe then she’ll come around and see what it’s all about. I’ll probably be waiting.

The 2nd annual Beaver Day celebration

02/02/2009 at 7:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, vulvodynia | Leave a comment
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February is a very special month for me. It is the month of V’s.

Two years ago to the day, I had a vestibulectomy. This is THE surgical approach to treatment of vulvar vestibulitis, a sub-type of vulvodynia. When you hear about surgery for vestibulitis, this is probably what is being referred to. The quick & simple overview is, a surgeon excises a few millimeters of pain-feeling vulvar tissue and replaces it by pulling down healthy vaginal tissue and sewing it in place.
I literally wear part of my vagina on the outside of my body.
For me, the results have been good – a significant, measurable drop in my pain levels. Combined with physical therapy to address the residual, there are times where I feel almost “Normal.” But I’ve seen enough horror stories to know it’s not right for everyone.
Recovery from the surgery was the second hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. (The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was make it through college.. surgery on my vulva is second only to that.)

It was February 2nd – Groundhog Day in the US. I always thought this coincidence was kind of funny. I was having my “Beaver” worked on, on Groundhog Day. In life, groundhogs & beavers are both members of the rodent family, but after that, they branch off into different families & genuses.

Still. They’re both big brown furry rodents… they both like to chuck wood, so to speak. They’re not the exactly same but eh, “Close enough.” So I decided that henceforth, for me personally, Groundhog Day would be known as Beaver Day.
It’s funnier that way.

Especially considering that my elder sister gave me a stuffed Beanie Baby beaver doll when I was in recovery.
With band-aids on its stomach.
I named it “Buster.”
I think I’ve earned a right to laugh. I think I’ve been through enough.

So there’s one set of V’s, for “Vulva. Vestibulitis. Vulvodynia. Vestibulectomy. Vagina.”

February 2nd falls close to February 14 – Valentines Day in many parts of the world. A holiday dedicated to love, romance, seduction, decorated by hues of passion: Reds, pinks, whites… and shared with candy, flowers, movies, food, sexual activity…
…And marred by commercialization.

Valentine’s Day falling shortly after Beaver Day is especially relevant this year, because for the first time, my partner is going to be here with me on Valentine’s Day. We’ve been doing the long-distance relationship thing for several years now, so it’s hard to match up our schedules with work & finances. This is the first time we’ve been able to pull of an actual Valentine’s Day Event. In fact, he’ll be arriving shortly after midnight – which means the day of his arrival will officially be February 14. About 1:00AM in the morning of February 14, but that counts. We’ll have the entire day to spend together.
What a perfect present for me! Talk about a special delivery…

(And now that the day is fast approaching, I’m thinking to myself, “I have no idea what normal couples do on Valentine’s Day… what do I do??? I’ve never done this before!” I am experiencing some performance anxiety.)

So here we have yet another V – “Valentine.

February 14 does double duty as V-Day, as put forth by Eve Eisner, creator of the Vagina Monologues. In practice, the events of V-Day spill over throughout the month of February, and, really the entire rest of the year. It is a time in which people from around the world organize events with the goal of defending women’s rights, and stopping violence & sexual assault, among other things.

Taken directly from the V-Day site, “The ‘V’ in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina.

How appropriate.

There are various criticisms & praise of the Vagina Monologues. Some of the criticisms, I understand. It’s not perfect. One play in particular, about the teenage girl finding sexual healing with an adult, has been called into question due to its flippant use of the word “Rape.” This piece has since been altered to age up the girl. It may be more appropriately called “The Vulva Monologues,” since some parts of the play deal with the external flesh rather than the birth canal.

But other times, I don’t understand where the criticisms are coming from. I do not believe that VM is out to “Get” all men. In my experience, men would do well to watch a performance live, or even the DVD. I do not believe that it objectifies or reduces women to this one part of their anatomy; rather it is an acknowledgment that this part exists. I do not believe it foolish to think of the vagina having its own voice and trying to channel whatever it is your vagina has on its mind.
In my personal experience, I have to listen to whatever it is my vagina is trying to tell me.
You try ignoring your vagina’s voice when for days & nights at a time it is singing its song of pain.
So personally, I’m a big fan of the VM.

V-Day also seems like a noble alternative – or supplement – to Valentine’s Day. Even if you do not currently have a partner (or even if you do,) or do not enjoy Valentine’s Day for one reason or another, perhaps you would be interested in these events. To participate in something greater than oneself, with the goal of reducing violence & rape around the world.
I can get on board with that.

But the first (second) day of the month is Beaver Day. This marks the beginning of the Month of V.

I like to recognize February 2 specifically as an important date in my life. Two years out, I feel a lot better following the surgery (and some subsequent treatments.) So I consider Beaver Day to be my vagina’s Birthday. I like to give it a little celebration.

Partly, I do this because this is an area where I feel superstitious… part of me fears if I don’t take the time out to recognize it, it will throw a tantrum and my pain will flare up again.

I may modify this Beaver Day Ritual since it’s still new, but for the last two years, I’ve acknowledged this date by performing a little Ritual. One year was marked by re-applying and then removing the band-aids from Buster’s belly, by candlelight. For this February 2nd, I poured libations.

It may be worth noting here that, I am not spiritual, like at all. I haven’t decided which organized religion, if any, is best for me. I’m on the fence with the whole afterlife thing. When bad things happen to good people and vice versa, most of the time I wind up taking more comfort in the cold logic of Statistics rather than God’s great plan.
Still. I want to believe in something greater than myself. Some kind of benevolent life force running around in each & every living cell.
I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it some more.

It may also be worth noting here that, I don’t drink like, ever, so I don’t actually own any wine to pour a libation with. I had to make do with what I do have readily available – Kahlua liquor.

I stepped outside. It was unseasonably warm this year. For some reason, the Pennsylvania Beaver Groundhog determined we still have 6 more weeks of winter left. The year I had surgery, he heralded an early spring.

Outside, I poured one ounce of alcohol into a shot glass and consumed it.
One for me…
To be grateful for how far I’ve come but always aware that I could revert back.
Wow the Kahlua is good. :9

Then I poured one ounce into a decorative porcelain dish, then tipped it over & let it hit the ground.
And one for my Homies…
To acknowledge other women who experience vulvar pain.

Then I said a little silent prayer to whatever spirit may be listening… I like to imagine my prayer going up to the Snatch Gods.
I don’t know who those are.

CREEPY MOMENT: This year as soon as I was done pouring the libations, a strong wind blew up out of nowhere & pushed me forward about a step. My hair blew forward into my face. It’s an otherwise beautiful, sunny day – especially for early February.
Welp I guess something was listening. That was kinda weird. Why did the wind blow at that particular moment… that was an odd coincidence… that was enough to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I didn’t think I was that superstitious.

Then I ate a big ol’ cupcake. Buying a whole birthday cake seemed a bit much, since it’s not all of me that’s aged another year. One cupcake is enough, for one part of me.

And now I go forward with my life as best I can, my personal coping mechanism ritual complete…

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