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.”


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  1. You’ve written a very brave post. I’m a sex therapist & I’ve worked with a lot of women with vulvodynia. You are right, we live in an “intercourse-centric” world. If you talk to the right specialists, they will tell you and your partner to try having “outercourse,” or coming to orgasm without intercourse with hands, mouths, fingers, etc.

    Vulvodynia can come and go. I just heard from someone who resolved it for a second time. Now fingers are crossed that this time it won’t return at all.

    Good posting, good job telling it like it is.

  2. I am curious if you are familiar with The Women’s Sexual Health Foundation. You can ask questions of their advisory board of Healthcare Professionals at the website, http://www.twshf.org. Also, they are co-presenting with Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons a day-long event on April 4 in NYC. Entitled “Reclaiming Healthy Intimacy, Passion & Pleasure, the event is only $25 to attend. The founder/director’s blog has also recently been recognized for excellence by nurses.com and wellsphere.com.

  3. That is awesome news! Hey, a step forward is a step forward whether it’s temporary or not. You earned it with all the hard work you’ve done over so many years. May you keep moving forward!

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