Valentines Sex Fest (or not)

02/13/2010 at 10:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Edit: oh look Kowalski made a picture. It is, “Fishtank” style mouse made of clear plastic filled with liquid and little red hearts resting on a red heart-haped mousepad. The caption says: “Valentine’s Day Disability & Sex Blog Carnival presented by Rolling Around In My Head A Blog By Dave Hingsburger”

I have written this in partly hopes of being included in Dave Hingsburger’s 2010 Valentine’s Sex Fest blog carnival. (See his 2009 roundup and his personal post.) Of course in doing so, I’m hoping that he’ll be open to the idea of including sexual dysfunction as a disability in and of itself – in my individual case, under the spectrum of chronic pain, as vulvodynia means chronic vulvar pain. You DID say “All bloggers!” My other hope is to give some hope to other chronic vulvar pain bloggers and patients.
And if I fail to meet both of these criteria, well then it’s Valentine’s Day, it’s still within the spirit of the season. Although admittedly the season has been corrupted with commercialization and heterocentrism to say the very least… plus this year’s snowdump doesn’t make getting to the store to buy roses any easier…

The fact that I’ve experienced this type of vulvar pain – along with that of vaginismus (Who’s on first?) – makes writing about sex & sexuality… interesting, to say the least. After all, my limited experience as a white cis het gal with vulvar pain has already given me enough material to maintain a blog dedicated to this one topic for over a year.

So where do I begin…?

I may be living with a form of female sexual dysfunction – the only valid, important form of FSD, depending on who you ask (I would contest that assertion,) but, paradoxically, I have nonetheless often been able to enjoy a vibrant sex life. However, my idea of “Sex life” probably doesn’t match most folks’ definition, and sometimes I am unable to have the kind of sex I want. I don’t match what you see on television, let’s put it that way.
And my sex life certainly hasn’t come easily… no, for me, the act of sex does not come naturally. No, I’ve had to fight for what I have.

It’s not easy. I’m defending myself on multiple fronts – identifying as having FSD means most folks automatically assume I’m some kind of living stereotype, and that all my problems would go away if I could just learn how to communicate better with my partner and if I did less household chores. Or if I dumped him. So I’ve been struggling to be true to myself and be sex positive at the same time. How do you get involved with the sex positive community when FSD is like its antithesis? The history of FSD in medical literature is colorful, to say the least, so there’s issues of patriarchy & exploitation to consider. Since that part of the body is generally taboo to talk about, I have relatively few friends in meatspace I can speak to openly about my sex life. But I’m also having to fight my doctors to get them to recognize that what I’m going through is real and potentially treatable. In my experience, most doctors still don’t even know what “Vulvodynia” or “vaginismus” is, so I’ve had a lot of explaining to do.

So I fight for my sex life, and sometimes, I win. And when I win, so too does my partner.

Most of the time I don’t have any problems with the areas folks seem to think of when they think of FSD – arousal, libido, orgasm. (Well, actually arousal & lubrication is getting to be a bit of a problem in and of itself, since I’ve developed a bartholin’s gland cyst deep inside my right labia. I’m not out of the woods yet.) Those three areas are less problematic for me, so long as I’m feeling well & not in pain. You see, with vulvodynia, certain kinds of sex, like the kinds involving penetration, are difficult & painful. And in the worst case scenario, the pain can bleed out into other areas of life beyond sex.

There’s my problem – the vulvar vestibule pain I experienced on contact with an object, be it a tampon, my own fingers, a dildo or my partner’s penis, was unbelievable. And due to the vaginismus, my vaginal muscles clamped down hard whenever I tried to insert anything – that in and of itself was enough to cause more pain.
But for a long time, I thought that pain was normal. Didn’t sex ed teach the girls’ that sexual intercourse is supposed to hurt the first few times? What sex ed didn’t mention is that the pain would go on for days afterward… and then the days would stretch into weeks with post-coital irritation & itching… and when I was in the worst of the chronic pain in a secret place I wasn’t supposed to talk about, it drained me. My sex drive crashed, the fantasies I’d looked forward to experiencing with my partner dried up, the thought of becoming aroused depressed me because it served as a reminder of what I could not do.
And unfortunately sex ed didn’t teach students ways to minimize pain and how to maximize comfort & pleasure. I was not armed with tools to minimize the pain I would experience – quite the opposite, in fact; sex ed made it sound like any negative consequences suffered were an appropriate punishment for premarital sex in the first place.

I had to learn about pain, pleasure & comfort the hard way.

Long story short, I found medical treatments that work for me (even though they’re controversial) and I maintain as best as I can. I have good days & bad days, but more good than bad. Once I started feeling better physically, I started feeling better emotionally.
When I started feeling better, I felt safe to start exploring other kinds of sex beyond PIV intercourse, even as I left intercourse on the table as an option. Eventually, I was able to exercise that option – I now know that I am capable of having pain-free intercourse (though it still leaves me a bit tender. Trust me though, there’s a huge difference between “A bit tender” and “OH GOD SEARING PAIN WTF”)

I’ve been reading sexy books, and many of them agree that a broad definition of sex that involves doin’ what you and your partner like, regardless of what the media tells you to like, is a great way to go. I’ve become interested in kinky activities and exploring the kink community (if  indeed such a cohesive community exists.) I feel less intimidated now by fancy toys & sex furniture. Still, certain sex positions, toys and lubes spook me or are out of the question due to the risk of causing irritation or injury.

In a way, it works out well that my relationship with my partner is a long-distance one because that means most of the time, we’re physically separated, and I’m under no pressure to perform sexually. Not to worry – thanks to cell phones and the internet, we’re never really apart anyway. And when we do get together, we’re already used to going long periods without sexual contact, so even under time constraints, we’re comfortable with non-penetrative activity, and we like to take things slowly… We’ve been exploring each others’ body when we’re together, testing different ideas we’ve read about out, and I think sometimes I surprise him with my own open mindedness, more than he surprises me!

Now that’s not to say that if you experience vulvar pain, you should have to get treated before starting to explore a broad sex life. Oh no, no. That’s just the way it worked out for me.

Nowadays I’m now able to enjoy being aroused (but I enjoy it much more so long as I orgasm when I’m done being aroused.) I’ve been developing and replaying sexual fantasies to stir my libido, and I know how to make myself orgasm. In fact I’ve never struggled to orgasm alone or with my partner, since he’s open minded about using toys. (However there was a several-months long period of time in which orgasm was somewhat painful… don’t know what caused that but it started to resolve with physical therapy.) My partner and I don’t always have intercourse when we see each other, but we still have sex. (I anticipate that as time wears on and we grow old together, the kind of sex we have may decrease or change again, but we’ll deal with that when the time comes.) Most of the time the sex is unplanned & just one thing leads to another, but if we’re trying for intercourse there’s a lot more planning & preparation involved.

As for my partner, don’t worry about him too much. My FSD is the fault of neither one of us. We could not have seen it coming, but we’re dealing with it now. He’s always been a very good sport about this (and in just about every other area of our relationship,) and he has always made me feel comfortable expressing my needs & wants, so communication isn’t an issue.
I think it’s safe to say that we have love covered as well…

I may not be able to give him the sex life he sees on television, but we can give each other a different kind of sex, one which nonetheless is satisfying to both of us. Ideally, I’m hoping we continue down this path for the rest of our lives, together.

Baby you know I love you right? Well as if you needed a reminder, there you are then.


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  1. Wow what a great post. It’s so important to be ‘out’ and to discuss the real world. I love the fact that you left some ‘mystery’ into the definition of ‘sex’. Confining ‘sex’ to ‘sexual intercourse’ just seems so boring to me. There are so many paths to arrousal and orgasm but so many people seem to rely only on two big buttons. Now, I love the buttons but I also like the other, really personal, hidden paths that couples discover and no one else knows. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Thanks for your blog, it’s very honest and does offer a new perspective. You seem so “okay” with it all. I hope to get to that place eventually.

  3. Vulvodynia sounds like a difficult/unfair issue to have. And I imagine that a lot of doctors would be less than helpful in suggesting solutions. Your partner sounds like a great person–many men would not be patient, though they should be, just as they would want to be treated for a medical issue.

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