Tools of the trade

01/19/2010 at 7:42 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Awhile back, FWD asked for one of its Question Time posts, “What are your assistive devices, if any? (‘Assistive device’ defined as broadly as you like.)” At that time, I wondered aloud whether or not dilator kits counted as an assistive device. After all, the dilators assist me with managing the pelvic floor dysfunction, and make it easier for me to have sexual activity including intercourse. More recently, FWD also asked what kind of personal care items, if any, readers used to manage their self-care.

Actually, upon further thought, and since we’re allowed to define “Assistive device” as broadly as we want to – I want to change my answer. Upon further reflection, there are actually several items which I have found useful for managing my vulvodynia & vaginismus.

Some of them are everyday household items, others required a prescription, and others are readily available from specialty shops. Below is a list of objects I’ve found helpful in the care & feeding of my vulva. But please note: Nothing on this list should necessarily be taken as a mandate or recommendation, and if you have any pelvic pain you may want to talk to a specialist before starting any new activity. (Also, for the record, I had to pay for everything here with my own money & I receive no compensation for writing this.) Also, while some of the links here are work-safe, it’s better to err on the side of caution and just slap a big NSFW warning on this whole post.

Obviously, Dilator Kits still rank high up there as an “Assistive device” in my mind, because they assist me in pain management and in having sexual activity. I actually own more than one dilator kit. One is a prescription kit, which was very expensive, but I rarely use it anymore because some of the dilators have been damaged from getting banged around so much. (Lol, I really abused them.) You don’t need to spend a fortune on dilator kits though; my backup kit eventually became my standard workhorse, and that’s the Berman set, which doubles as a vibrator. Should you decide that a dilator kit interests you, there are actually several other sets to choose from, including the Soul Source line, which is silicone, and the kit. The Vaginismus Awareness Network lists other suggestions & instructions; you may not need to spend any money if you’re willing to improvise. Right now I’m looking to branch out into a more realistic looking kit, or at least, a more realistic stand-alone dildo. I’m ready.

Related, I need lots of Lubricant for dilating and sexual activity. I usually use Slippery Stuff gel, which is thick & water-based, and free of glycerin. Babeland offers advice on choosing the right lube for you. (You may need different lubes for different situations – I use an vitamin e oil when I need long-term, nonsexual lubrication – for example, to ease irritation – and when I’m doing what is essentially perineal massage, even though I’m not pregnant.)

Because I order lubricant in bulk every few months (I go through a bottle fast if I’m dilating regularly,) sometimes I wonder what retailers think of me when I place orders. They probably think I’m having much more fun than I actually am.

A sitz bath – To gently cleanse & relax the vulva with warm water. I don’t need to use one much anymore, but I keep it around “Just in case.”

So that’s lube and a sitz bath I’ve mentioned; I suppose more broadly I could claim water is assistive – to stay hydrated, keep urinary tract infections at bay, thoroughly rinse my laundry, take a shower, and make producing my own vaginal secretions easier.

A movable shower head – something I actually *don’t* own in my house and intend to install as soon as possible. When I was on vacation, I used one in my hotel room and it was comfortable – I didn’t have to put one foot on the wall of shower and try to contort myself into all these uncomfortable positions trying to get water directly onto my vulva. I have got to get one of these!

A magnifying mirror – simple household object, used to illuminate and magnify my vulva if I need to check things out visually. Related – A book light – for a long time I was using a flashlight to illuminate the reflection in the mirror when I was looking at myself. But this was awkward, since holding the labia open & poking around is a two-handed job as it is. Whose hand could hold the flashlight? The book light bends, so I didn’t need the flash light anymore. (Yes I still use it for reading.)

A cushion for sitting – such as a sacrum pillow, which has a hole in it. Some cushions are inflatable, others are mats, I’ve found both in medical supply shops. I use these to take pressure off of my vulva and/or tailbone if I’m sitting in something otherwise uncomfortable.
There were some times where I had to take the pillow with me to work and sit on it in the car. It was somewhat embarrassing to carry a pillow with a hole in it with me in public but I needed it.

A bigger pillow for sexual activity – I need to elevate my pelvis *just right* for PIV intercourse to take place. I do well with large wedges and I’m looking into getting some Liberator furniture once I and my partner move in together. It’s pretty expensive though so I’m hoping to find an alternative before then.

Comfortable shoes – if I wear high heels too much, they hurt my feet & lower back. My chiropractor & acupuncturist has raised concerns that they could throw my pelvis out of alignment. I’m not sure how likely that is in practice. I can wear heels from time to time, and I can wear them all day when needed, but I try to keep it to a minimum.

Related – thigh high socks – because I’ve had issues with longjohns/long underwear in the past. Thigh high socks don’t cover the vulva the way long underwear does.

Exercise aids – A stretch-out strap – I like to use it for stretching exercises in general. I also use a ball & band kit to help me with my kegels. It’s not quite like this set, but it’s similar – you’d need to snap a big chip clip around the band to hold it in place between your legs.

A Biofeedback device – unfortunately I do not own one of these; they can be very expensive to purchase. But I used one for months at physical therapy. It was non-invasive, pain-free, and taught me what my pelvic floor muscles were doing at rest and at work.

A massage toy – such as those made by Homedics or Body Works, to ease out tension in my glutes, thighs & other muscle groups when my hands get tired and I need a quick massage. (This is not to be used as a vibrator.) Related, massage feels much better if you have some kind of oil ready as a lubricant.

Books – there are a number of books about vulvodynia and pelvic pain now available, so your mileage will vary depending on what you’re looking for. Two books which I strongly recommend for everybody are The V Book, which is a general guide to the vulvovaginal area and pelvis and  Heal Pelvic Pain, which takes a physical therapy approach to pelvic pain conditions. I haven’t reviewed these books, in large part because I don’t think they need to be reviewed – I think they stand up on their own. (I may still review them at later date.) If you know you have vulvodynia for sure, you may want to use the Vulvodynia Survival Guide as your starting point for research, augmented by more up-to-date materials. From there you should be in a good position to pick & choose what other books you want regarding pelvic pain. Of course, even if you do not have pelvic pain, there are many, many other good books out there about sex & sexuality generally, which may be useful.

My mobile device – if you have one, it may be a helpful alternative to using a computer when sitting is unbearable or when you just need a break. It can also be used to keep track of appointments and whatever else it’s capable of (phone calls, text messaging, music, etc.)

and finally,

Feminism helps me understand the world I live in and gives me a different way of looking at sexual health. This can be a double-edged sword at times though, as it’s not exactly a unified movement, so it’s a bumpy road.

What about you?


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    • Thank you, Kas! I hope someone finds these steps helpful.

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