Someone like me

04/30/2009 at 7:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Today, for the first time, I met someone in person who actually disclosed to me, “I have vulvodynia.”

I won’t provide too many details; suffice it to say I was … touched. This person recognized what I was doing & must have been able to guess why I was doing it. We were talking about other things and then one thing led to another and it just came out. I… the feeling is one of surprise, camaraderie, and a little admiration.

You openly speak the words? Even I dare not speak the words aloud, not for fear of giving them power, but for fear of rejection… online I can be as frank & open as I want, and that’s pretty damn frank. But in person? I revert back to, “I have a girl problem.”
It is taboo to speak of “Vaginas” and “Vulvas” and “Pain in the vulva” in public to another person who is not a doctor. No one wants to hear that. Even if you write the words online, sometimes someone will make a comment behind your back like, “Doesn’t she have anything better/more important to do than talk about vaginas?”
They are important too!

She disclosed to me first. I was the one that said back, “Me, too.” I was the one to say “Me, too – specifically this sub-type of vulvodynia and the pelvic floor dysfunction.” And some of the history and agony & sexual experience. We’re not 100% the same – I’ve been doing this for less time and my pain is mostly well-managed at this moment in time. I didn’t have to go through as much Bullshit with doctors, but I still had quite enough. I may yet have to deal with more.
Still. Not 100%, but close enough. I know of these words of which you speak. I know them well.

My god I actually talked a little bit about sex to a stranger and I wasn’t judged or given the StinkEye.

But no one I know in flesh & blood & clothing ever actually said, “I have this” to me before. I know a lot of people online with pelvic pain, people who blog about it. But in real life, it’s always me, alone, talking to my doctors and explaining for the 100th time what I’ve been through, what I’ve tried, and where I’m at. Maybe it’s me, alone, talking to my boyfriend, telling him about my vulva’s day and what it wants and can handle at that moment in time.

I never… got to listen to another patient. I was never heard like that before.

You mean there really are other ones just like me in this world? They walk among us for real? I mean I knew that other women with vulvodynia & vaginismus must be walking around in public. But we never actually say. I’ve had my suspicions about some girls I went to school with – but we never actually brought it up. The taboo is too strong.

But today she just opened up and said she opens up to other people & I would be surprised how many other women have it.

I… I should say “I wouldn’t be surprised,” becuase in my brain, I know it to be true.
But in person… it’s a little different.

Maybe I should be speaking the words aloud more often.

Book review: Anne Sprinkle’s Spectacular Sex

04/21/2009 at 6:33 pm | Posted in book review | Leave a comment
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There’s a lot of useful books about sexuality & sexual health on the NVA’s reading list. I’ve been trying to catch up with them, although I probably won’t read every single one. Most of these books take a pelvic pain perspective, which is helpful for people in my kind of situation (or not.)

It’s not an all-encompassing list of sexual health books, but it’s a great place to start. Still, there are some books not on the reading list that I found helpful & informative.

Case in point: Annie Sprinkle’s Spectacular Sex.

What the… you’ve got to be kidding me. Annie Sprinkle [nsfw] is a former porn star & stripper who earned her Ph.D. later on in life. She’s associated with sex-positive feminism, and even identifies as such. She’s been around the block a few times. Compared to her, I know nothing! I’m relatively young & some will surely say naive, and I struggle with vulvodynia and vaginismus. There’s no possible way I can compare to her! What possible thing could I learn from her? What new & useful information could she have for me?

So I went into the book feeling skeptical. I started reading, on the defense, fully expecting to not like what I was about to read…

Huh… waitaminute…

It’s… actually pretty good…

I… like this.

What? Why do I like this. It’s Annie Sprinkle. I can’t do what she can do! How do I like this. What’s going on here.
Well, let’s find out what I liked and didn’t like about this book, and why you may want to think about getting a copy.

I went into Spectacular Sex with my guard up. I was soon disarmed by the author’s gentle, reassuring tone & positive affirmations. I was ready to mark the book up with my pen & post-its – and wound up putting them down for awhile. I had to go back & make notes after reading about halfway in. For the most part, I got lost in the story.

Spectacular Sex combines the best features of three of my favorite self-help books. It talks about how we must break away from an intercourse-centric mindset (Let Me Count the Ways,) it has features of a workbook (A Woman’s Guide to Overcoming Sexual Pain & Fear,) and is peppered with affirmations & humor throughout (The Bad Girl’s Guide to Getting what you Want). The tone is non-judgmental and inviting.

Right away it is clear that Sprinkle is also operating under an expanded definition of “Sex,” and I like that. It helps that I’ve already been exposed to this idea before – sex means more than just intercourse. Sprinkle is a lot less brow-beating about it than Let Me Count the Ways, though.

Yet Sprinkle takes the expanded definition of sex even further than I. She recognizes sex as a physical act as well as a purely energetic one. This is a far-out concept even to me – it is an idea & practice heavily influenced by her experience with spirituality & Tantra. To Sprinkle, it’s possible to have a sexual experience without necessarily involving any physical contact at all (21). I was still able to go along with this idea, because I can see where the application would be practical to a person who experiences chronic pain or disability. It helps that I have also had some (very limited) exposure to Indian philosophy & principles of alternative medicine. I figured, “Alright, I’ll go along with Chi and Kundalini for a little while…” I see where you’re coming from, but I feel like an alien in that land, and am quick to return to the mundane physical world. Luckily, you don’t have to believe in that sort of thing for it to work.

On a related note, Sprinkle writes that it’s possible to have a more sexual experience in daily life, by recognizing ordinary sensations as being sensual (22). I felt this was an improvement over a similar statement made by the authors of Let Me Count the Ways. They kind of drag everyone into eroticizing the mundane, even strangers, whereas Sprinkle’s examples focus on only the individual.

There are many lists & blank lines waiting to be filled in with answers to some questions Sprinkle asks the reader. I participated in some of the workbook exercises Sprinkle suggested, but not all of them. Yet I spent some time to think about even the seemingly silly exercises – they may be silly, but they actually have some merit. You’ll be asked to think about and write down both positive and negative thoughts you have about your sex life, areas you’d like to see improved and how you think it would be best to bring about that improvement.

One of the most interesting self-reflection exercises I saw was the “$ex-Life $pread $heet” (163) – making a detailed budget for how much money you’re currently spending on sex vs. how much you would like to spend. Living with pelvic pain can get expensive, so I’m already spending quite a big chunk of change on it. But I can see where this would be useful for, pretty much everyone; even folks who do not live with chronic pain. We make household  budgets but where do you usually lump the cash you spend on sex? “Discretionary/Miscellaneous” after every other line item? Perhaps even if you don’t get as detailed as this exercise, you should still think about giving sex its own line on your home budget.

Sprinkle is a big fan of props, costumes & roleplay, and she offers a few suggestions for each. You don’t have to use whatever stereotypical, conventional props first spring to mind if you don’t want to, although you may want to consider doing so just in case it turns out that you do like it. You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money on any of this, but she advises that it’s still wise to invest at least some time. I’m more familiar with roleplaying in the nerdiest sense of the word, than I am with sexual roleplay… but my experience with RPGs still taught me that developing a character is a relatively safe way to explore other sides of yourself. Perhaps you yourself aren’t willing to act a certain way, but your character is. And at the end of the day or game, you can pack your character up, go home and be yourself again.

With a lifetime of experience under her belt, I fully expected Sprinkle to provide instructions for sexual techniques. I would have been disappointed otherwise. No need to fear though – the book delivers.
Much of the “Technique” is the theme that permeates the entire book – makeover your mind to makeover your sex life. Open up to new ideas & experiences, but recognize & respect your own comfort zone. You’ll still find how-to instructions on how to execute physical acts as well. There are tips for finding the G-spot in women and the P-spot in males, and there i’s a whole chapter on sexual massage. If you’re looking for a step-by-step manual on how to execute dozens of sex positions though, you may have to supplement this reading with another book.

Unfortunately, like all things, the book isn’t perfect. There’s still a few rough spots that didn’t jive well with me.

I didn’t like the way Sprinkle pushes those who have experienced sexual assault to become survivors and then “Thrivers” (34.) I feel it’s better to let the victim embrace whatever term they themselves are most comfortable with and work through it as they see fit. If you have triggers, you may want to skip this page – it’s a short passage.

When talking about living with chronic conditions, Sprinkle explicitly mentions “Vulvodynia” and “Vaginismus.” My goodness – how you know about these sort of things? Have you actually dealt with women like me before?
But then she does that thing where she talks about being unable to have sex for two years due to chronic yeast infections… …which, yes, still sucks & I can imagine the pure utter torture those two years must have been, but that’s still only sympathy. You still cannot fully empathize 100% with the women who’ve done this their whole entire lives.

Sprinkle mentions Dr. Lenore Teifer just a few times and provides a the name of Teifer’s book in the Resources section. I first learned about Teifer over a year ago, I’ve had over a year to process my feelings about this particular feminist doctor… and I still recoil from her. I run screaming in the opposite direction with my arms flailing wildly, in fact. Why provide Teifer’s view and book but not one of the books endorsed by the NVA? It’s perfectly relevant. Sprinkle, if you’re reading this, you should add a link to the NVA in the resources section.

Overall though, I felt that the positive outweighs the negative. I really enjoyed this book. I think Spectacular Sex has a lot of practical, hands-on exercises as well as advanced ways of looking at sexuality. I’m not sure if I’ll ever actually experience “Spectacular sex” during my lifetime, but whatever I do certainly won’t be boring. You don’t even need to have a partner to benefit from reading it, since so much of what it suggests, must come from within.

“Feminine hygiene” and forgetting about FSD

04/18/2009 at 8:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Over at Womanist Musings, Renee brought up a new feminine hygene product ripe for feminist critique. She found it via a women’s health forum a few days ago.

I like the title of the webpage the product is on. By “Like it,” I mean I’m being completely sarcastic & I don’t like it at all. The title of the webpage itself  is “Tight Vagina by Vagina Tightening Cream” but the actual product name is “St.Botanica Lady Secret Serum.” I find the difference in names significant. Somehow I can’t imagine the name “TIGHT VAGINA CREAM” going over too well in test marketing with the target audience.

Renee’s right in condemning this product & the geniuses who invented it. There’s a lot we can say about it and especially how it’s being marketed towards women, which seems to be Renee’s focus.

The marketing strategy, as always, can be summed up briefly as, “See a need, fill a need,” with the ultimate goal of making money, even if that means exploitation. But first, how do you get that need to exist to begin with? For the purposes of this product, you create the need by inventing new problems or by re-framing normal bodily functions into such away as to make a problem exist where really there isn’t one. It’s within the realm of normal for a vagina to have a mild odor, to experience some dryness or some wetness. It’s within the realm of normal for a woman to have shifts in libido in one direction or another, to not orgasm or not have G-Spot orgasms. That’s within the realm of normal, but I recognize that sometimes these things and others (Pain!) really do become extreme to the point where they present genuine problems – and when it reaches that point, I won’t stand in anyone’s way to find relief.

Somehow I doubt that this serum would offer any relief though. Let’s look at the ingredients, since I for one have to be careful about what goes on & in there.

Ingredients: Pueraria Mirifica and tropical herb extracts, Carbopol, Water, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Propylene and etc.

Pueraria Mirifica sounds like Ephedra… never heard of it before now, appearantly it’s the answer to all your body needs. It may have a legitimate purpose in some situations but then, so do lots of other alternative remedies. I’m a little wary of the wiki’s edit history as well… I’ll pass for now…
Carbopol sounds just completely awful & like something I don’t want in my vagina… a Thickener, apparently. Is that like gelatin? It may have some use in medicine, but that just makes me even more hesitant to use it over the counter. In my vagina.
Water… is water. It’s in everything so fine whatever… then come some other ingredients that can be potentially irritating but nonetheless are found in typical sexual lubricants already available on the market.
Then “Etc…” …Okay what does “Etc” mean? Something St. Botanica’s doesn’t want to divulge, which means it’s probably something I want to know about. And no I don’t care about the secret formula that’s probably critical to this product’s success as a unique hygiene item. I just want to make sure I’m avoiding as many irritants as possible.

Besides, if you really wanted some of the benefits this serum claims it can give, you’d probably get the similar or better results by 1. Going to a gyno to screen for and treat treat any infection that might be acting up, 2. Talking to that same gyno about prescribing a topical hormonal treatment, if warranted due to a hormonal imbalance, menopause and/or old age, 3. Kegels/pelvic floor exercise 4. Other, cheaper over the counter topicals. I’ve heard tales of other women with vulvodynia who variously use vitamin e oil, olive oil, or emu oil topically to soothe irritation. I’m in the vitamin e oil camp (just don’t use oils with latex condoms or if you know you’re sensitive to them.)

So I’m not too impressed with this product and I don’t believe I’ll ever willingly go within 25 feet of a bottle.

Renee doesn’t sound too happy about it either. She recognizes the potential danger St. Botanica’s could present, and does a good job pointing out how the marketing exploits insecurities women feel about their genitals. Insecurity, exacerbated and often created by the marketers themselves and the culture in which they operate.

She is,

sick and tired of being shamed for being born with a vagina.  It’s an awesome body part.  What else can expand to give life to another human being? What else is capable of producing so much pleasure?  What else is so beautiful and intricately crafted?  It certainly is no penis; it is a wonder unto itself

…So on behalf of all of us problematized,vagina bearing beings….St.Botinca keep your noxious spray away from my goddess perfected, beautifully shaped, vagina.

Well, yes. It is tiring to constantly feel like your body has to live up to whatever arbitrary expectations are put in place by culture, especially when such expectations are unrealistic, unreasonable, time wasting & put in place to support the very same culture. These standards don’t benefit the group most effected by them. And yes, it’s very interesting & amazing that the vagina & cervix are capable of expanding to allow a whole new life to pass through.

I’m still learning how to derive pleasure from my vagina though… the first few years of using one resulted in pain and it’s gona be awhile yet before my body completely un-learns that response… And even then, “Completely” may be out of my reach.

So, yes…
And, no.

Unfortunately, unlike Renee, I am someone who does not have a “Goddess perfected” vagina. Mine is more like a, busted up, sewn-together, patchwork, Six Million Dollar Man vagina…

(I’m probably making it sound much worse than it actually is. It’s really not that bad.)

Of course there IS something wrong with my vagina – I am pretty sure healthy vaginas, vulvas & pelvises do not spend all day itching & burning & sending aching, shooting pain signals all down your (my) leg. That’s not “Common discourse,” it’s just me… I’m used to seeing discussions of these painful, life-disrupting symptoms on my vulvar pain support groups – but discussions like that are a lot less common on general women’s health forums. When such topics do come up, experienced posters often point out, “You may have a problem which genuinely needs treatment.”

That Renee asks What else is capable of producing so much pleasure?” without mentioning the capacity for pain may also be worth pointing out here. Shit, mine’s not working. Does that mean I’ll never be able to experience what you have? What else, indeed.

My point here being, while I agree with Renee’s assessment of this product and the way it is and others just like it are marketed to women, and I frequently agree with or at least appreciate her analysis of other women’s issues,
I’m still left feeling alienated by some of her language, too.
Which I know was never Renee’s intent at all.
Which makes it all the more unfortunate.

My vagina, vulva, what have you, is not perfect. It never was. It is never going to be. I don’t feel that way about mine. Instead, I want be content to live with my flawed, refurb post-vestibulectomy vulva, crafted not by a goddess as though woven from precious silk, but modified by a mere mortal man.
Alas, perhaps this modification in and of itself was enough to take away whatever divine spark my vulva supposedly had when it was still whole… even if being whole meant it was also On Fire.

My vagina really does have issues.  I’m sick of feeling ashamed & left out for actually owning one of those “Pesky,” “problematic” vaginas she’s talking about, complete with symptoms strong enough to interfere with my life. And I’m tired of feeling like I am “Doing it wrong” for wanting to, trying to treat these problems.

(And, on a lighter note, I am going to be so sick of spambots in a few days when I still get spam comments latching onto this post for actually using some of the same words they like to use.)

Amazon.com’s sexuality fail

04/12/2009 at 9:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Here’s something to blog about that I’m sure everyone can agree is completely horrifying:

Amazon.com is stripping the sales rank feature off of books about sexuality – this includes LGBITQ books, feminist books, and as I’ve discovered, even general sexual health books. The books are being removed from top sales lists, so if you were to look at the most popular books right now and one of them happened to be a bestseller about sexuality, it won’t show up.

A couple of blogs are covering the story better than I ever could; check Jezebel & UnCooler than Thou, as well as LiveJournal community Meta Writer. Keep an eye on others; Feministing will have something to say shortly.

You can still find the books of interest; they’re not stopping sales. But what seems to be happening is, you have to know the exact title or author instead of being able to browse a topic.

Without a sales rank feature, this change in Amazon’s policy is resulting in some pretty disturbing search results. I’m quoting Jezebel here:

Update 3: Commenter Gertymac points out that due to the removal of sales rankings, the first title that pops up when one searches “homosexuality” on Amazon is the aforementioned A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. Also in the top 10 when one searches for “homosexuality:” Coming Out Of Sexuality: New Freedom For Men And Women, Can Homosexuality Be Healed?, and When Homosexuality Hits Home: What To Do When A Loved One Says They’re Gay, which carries this description: “The heart–wrenching declaration that a loved one is a homosexual is increasingly being heard in Christian households across America. How can this be? What went wrong? Is there a cure?” Yikes.

What… what?

It makes me wonder very much what the search results looked like before a few days ago, when you looked for “Pornography.” I see what it looks like now – did anybody take screen caps of the search results a few days ago? I’m curious to see if it changed. I don’t see one of the titles about the legal issues & censorship appearing that I was thinking of getting.
…And there you are then. I was wanting to get one of the books about censorship, legal issues & porn and now I’m … probably not going to find it this way now am I. Because now of course I’m remembering that such a book existed and I cannot for the life of me remember the title or author.

It just happened again; I did a search for a book I know I own. I looked for The Science Fiction of Sex. Tell me now, do you see this book listed on the search page? Do I have to be THAT specific now? The title is too long to be practical to remember every word unless maybe you absolutely LOVE the book (Which, I don’t. I don’t love this book. It’s very cerebral.)

I have some of the books on these lists. I have blacklisted books. What? Check it out – click the link & then scan the page or do a search for “Sales” or “Sales Rank” & you won’t find something that does appear on the page description for something more “Wholesome,” something more Family Friendly such as EragonSales Rank. Check it out, Sales Rank appears for Eragon but not these books now. As of today, Eragon ranks #3,079 but the others… well look for yourself.

Let’s try some of the titles I’m most familiar with… ones that I either already own, or plan to own shortly. These seem relevant to my interests:

Sex guides such as  The Ultimate Guide to Sex & Disability and Anne Sprinkle’s Spectacular Sex is getting the purge treatment. Sexual health books including The V Book are getting the purge treatment. WTF. THIS IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE & MOST USEFUL BOOKS all caps. I use this book all the time! For Women Only, put out by the Berman Center, lost its sales rank feature. The Smart Girl’s Guide to Porn is getting this treatment. Yes Means Yes and other feminist works are getting blacklisted. For example, Jane Sexes it Up is getting this treatment. (This is the anthology that has the vulvodynia essay in it.)

Dr. Goldstein’s Reclaiming Desire: 4 Keys to Finding your Lost Libido (something on my “I want it” list) has been de-ranked as well – now that may be because the hardcover version went out of print and the new paperback version isn’t available yet so maybe we can forgive that for the time being? I don’t know?

So far bell hooks has escaped the great purge. So too has The Feminine Mystique, but not My Secret Garden.

Interestingly, the BabeLand Sex Toy Book is getting purged, but not the actual Sex Toys themselves (note the sales rank feature is appearing in “Health & Personal Care.”) More of the same.

Are you familiar with these titles? Are you noticing a trend here? Are you noticing a theme?
What is going on? Is sex still THAT much of a taboo subject? It’s still that completely powerful & scary that you have to protect your own customers from it? Especially when it becomes more explicit or leaves the path of mainstream?

This is pretty upsetting – I bought a lot of my sexuality & feminist books from Amazon. It’s almost always cheaper for me to order the books online than it is for me to buy them in-store, unless I have a coupon. I once price compared the same 5 titles I wanted from BabeLand & Amazon & bought the bundle from Amazon for a net savings of $20 after shipping.

But now I think I am going to need to reconsider which store I patronize with my $.

Amazon, you need to go back & fix this. What are you doing? You are going to get so much flak. You survived the great recession of 2k9 so far, are you really willing to risk alienating a big chunk of your consumer base now? Like, I really don’t understnad what the logic is behind this move. Like I really don’t get it. Don’t you remember when LiveJournal similarily started censoring some interests from search results & the top interests list? The member base raised hell about it! It wasn’t that long ago.

Women’s Health Heroes nominations 2009

04/08/2009 at 7:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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EDIT FOR FOLLOW UP 4/9/09: Ok I e-mailed Wendy about putting your real name in the submission form and she said, it’s okay to make a request, in the Comments section of the nomination form, to be Anonymous. If you need further reassurance, please glance at this entry and you’ll see that it’s written by Anon.
That is a great big giant relief.

Just a quick reminder,

At this point, you have a little less than a month to submit a nomination for someone you consider to be a Women’s Health Hero to the Our Bodies, Our Blog blog. The term is pretty broad – examples include a high school sex ed teacher, an activist, or even – your sweet self.

Of course the first thought that comes to my mind is to nominate a doctor who does a good job treating vulvar pain. Which is probably who I would (Will?) nominate.

Other vulvar health related persons who come to my mind – perhaps the author of a book you found empowering? The organizer of a support group? An empathetic counselor?
Keep in mind that Dr. Elizabeth Stewart has already been nominated by someone else so if you like her vote for that entry. There’s also a nomination for A Lichens Sclerosis support group organizer, so you may want to bump that up with a positive vote too.

Or perhaps you would prefer to vote for & nominate no one at all because maybe you’re still looking for someone.

Make sure you read the rules – everything you say can and will be used against you and I know how embarrassing it can be to put your real name to the entire internet, especially if the nomination relates to your personal health.
Especially if that personal health in question be genital in nature.
Don’t forget, there’s also always Fine Print.

Making a reminder here to remind myself to enter too – I meant to do this last year for one of my doctors, but got all tangled up with work for


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