Tags: blogging, health, interstitial cystitis, media, news, pain, sex, sexual health, television, vaginismus, vulvar vestibulitis, vulvodynia
Last night, December 6, 2010, at 10pm EST, MTV aired the season premiere of the television show, True Life. The episode was titled, “I Can’t Have Sex.” To produce this program, the show crew followed three women around over the course of several months and presented the impact of chronic pelvic pain conditions on their sex lives.
I watched the episode on television and I took notes. There’s a lot of things going on with and around this episode!
First, in case you missed it, MTV.com has the full episode available for viewing, now! This is what you’re looking for! I do not know if it will remain online indefinitely or if it will be removed in the future, but if you missed the episode here is a chance to catch up to it. It’s 42 minutes long. No subtitles available on the online version. Here is a brief summary with a link to the video. MTV has posted this follow up feature: True Life Check-ins. The follow-up article contains links to helpful resources.
Full disclosure: I sort of “Know” two of the women who were featured in this episode, because Tamra and Tali both maintain blogs. I do not know if Tess maintains a blog. Tamra’s blog is Living with Vulvar Vestibulitis. Tali’s blog is The Rambling’s of an IC Patient. I have not met anyone in person (that I know of) who was involved in filming this episode. But still, I feel a little weird posting about the episode at all, since I can apply a name, a face and a blog archive to two of the women who were on TV. It’s also weird because I have some of the conditions which were examined on the show.
Here is some of my notes taken during this episode, fleshed out a bit:
This is the first episode of MTV True Life that I have ever seen, so I went in not knowing what to expect. I rarely watch MTV and I tried to ignore the commercials that aired between segments. I was anxious about how the show would be edited and whether there would be any commentary provided by a third party. I’m still anxious about how the episode was received by a general audience. The sound to my TV was cutting out for a second at a time here & there so I was having a hard time hearing at some points.
The episode features three 20-something year old white women over the course of several months – Tess (self-diagnosed with vaginismus,) Tali (the episode focused on pelvic floor dysfunction but she has overlapping conditions which were not all given screen time,) and Tamra (diagnosed with vulvar vestibulitis and, later, orthopedic issues.) Chronic pelvic pain is an invisible condition. You would probably never guess from a first impression that these three women were dealing with chronic health problems unless they chose to disclose such information to you. Tamra, Tess and Tali are currently in, have previously been involved in, or are interested in heterosexual relationships. They are all unmarried and do not have children. We saw Tess and Tali’s boyfriends (at the time of filming) on this episode and MTV followed Tamra around on a date and to a social event. All three live in the USA. Except for the introduction to the episode, there was no narrator. That means that everything you heard, was spoken by the women or those close to them. Of course I’m sure MTV did some creative cutting and editing of the material collected. Filming wrapped up awhile ago, so there have been updates and changes in the womens’s lives in the interim between filming and the airdate.
Actual, proper terminology was used throughout the show. Chronic pelvic pain conditions were named, but some conditions that overlap were not mentioned at all (interstitial cystitis, for example, was not explored in this episode. This is a shame – interstitial cystitis is another misunderstood condition which would benefit from careful media coverage.) This episode focused on the impact of chronic pelvic pain on the women’s sex lives. And that means that while you could learn a little about life with chronic pelvic pain from this episode, for a clinical discussion and details on specific conditions and available treatments, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
We see some of the treatments that Tess, Tali and Tamra tried. A dilator kit on television, a TENS unit, a visit to a sex toy shop (Babeland) to pick out a comfortable lubricant. Psychological therapy, and pelvic floor and intra-vaginal physical therapy. (Several scenes where Tali received physical therapy with Isa Herrera looked familiar to me and Herrera talked about muscle tightness which was and remains a problem for me. It was just weird seeing someone else in the same position I had to spend so much time in.) Injections of anesthetic to the pelvic area and oral painkillers. Ice packs as needed. But I didn’t see anything about diet modification or alternative therapies like acupuncture.
Although sex and sexuality were the focus of this episode, MTV did show how chronic pain and anxiety can bleed out into other, non-sexual areas of life. Sometimes, like in Tamra’s case, pelvic and vulvovaginal pain is not limited to sexual activity. This was downplayed compared to the sexual aspects of pelvic pain, however. Because this is a blog about sexual dysfunction, I was okay with the sexual aspects of life with chronic pain for the episode – especially since I’ve been on this kick lately where I want to hear women talk about their own experiences with sexual problems. But keep in mind that if you do have chronic pelvic pain, there may be a lot of issues going on at the same time besides sexual problems. Or it may all be connected.
For example, there was one point in the episode where Tamra was speaking with a therapist. It was an emotional scene. But I thought that the therapist was misinterpreting Tamra’s concerns. Maybe it was just the way the editing was put together but during this scene, I thought that Tamra’s concerns included sex, yes… but they also went beyond relationships and sexual pleasure. However that that is what the therapist seemed more interested in. In this scene, I thought the therapist’s priorities did not match Tamra’s.
Tess was in a 5-month relationship with her boyfriend at the time filming began. She had not been able to have intercourse with him and was upfront with him. She picked out a dilator kit that came with an educational booklet and talked to a therapist to help address her anxiety.
Tali experienced the onset of her symptoms at age 17 and has seen 24 doctors. She was in a relationship with a young black man, Boom, at the time of filming (they have since broken up.) Remember, Tali’s blog is titled, “The Rambling’s of an IC patient” – yet this episode did not talk about IC at all.
Tamra was a student and the episode featured her giving a speech about vulvar vestibulitis in front of a whole bunch of people, as part of a women’s & gender studies class. Hmmm. Tamra had been in a sexually active relationship before developing what would be diagnosed as vulvar vestibulitis (her condition has since been re-examined.) She talked openly about how pain was making it hard for her to date and enter relationships – and pain made hard to enjoy other activities, like dance.
Viewers saw some of the relationship tension that Tali and Tess had, at least as far as their sexual problems went. If there were other problems in their relationships beyond sexual problems and anxiety, that was downplayed for this episode. Tess mentioned to her therapist though, that a previous boyfriend had said abusive comments to her. I thought it was interesting how Tess and her therapist involved Tess’s partner, Antonio, in her treatment for anxiety. Tali’s physical therapist also demonstrated some therapeutic techniques to Boom. (I wish I had had this opportunity to do the same with my partner; however we were in a LDR at the time of my physical therapy.)
Tess and Tali showe improvement with their favored treatments. For Tess and Tali the episode ended on an optimistic note. By the end of the episode, the two couples, Tess and her boyfriend, and Tali and Boom, were having sexual intercourse following the therapies they chose. But for Tamra, she was still dealing with a lot of pain in the end, and with a new diagnosis and the possibility of surgery. She had a labral hip tear and this may account for a lot of her pain. (She has been writing about this on her blog for some time now.)
Overall, I liked the episode. I thought it was good and I am shocked with the amount of time that these topics received. A whole hour-long television show, which works out to over 40 minutes?! Here I was scrabbling around for 2 to 7 minute clips! But there’s always room for improvement. This episode could have given much more airtime to Tali’s related conditions. Any airtime, really, for IC and lichens sclerosus. Just name them, even. In the future, a television program or other media outlet could do a whole episode or article about life with chronic pelvic pain and focus on areas besides sexual activity, because there is so much to life with pelvic pain. But there is that sexual aspect too… Was sexual pain sensationalized in this episode? Hmm… No, I don’t think so, I thought it was pretty frank. It was focused on sex, yes, but realistic to me. The editors certainly took the show in a certain direction. But it definitely wasn’t sensationalized like a recent segment on vulvodynia that aired on a local news channel. And pelvic and vulvovaginal pain was not treated like a huge joke (although Tess and her friends did laugh nervously when discussing vaginsimus.) There was no narrator for this episode and it did not feature an interview with say, a gynecologist, so no one was able to go into great detail about what causes pelvic pain and what treatments there are.
Future programs like this could also take steps to be less hetero-centric, and could actively reach out to more nonwhite women. (For example, years ago producers of the television show Oprah reached out to women of color for an episode about pelvic pain – an episode which has never aired.) And I’m surprised that the episode didn’t list some resources or URLs to information about chronic pelvic pain during the follow up with each of the interviewees. Resources such as the National Vulvodynia Association, The Interstitial Cystitis Association, and The Interstitial Cystitis Network.
So so far, in 2010, there have been a few depictions of vulvovaginal, sexual and pelvic pain, and each of these depictions have been different. There have been strengths and weaknesses with almost all of them. And I’d like to see more topics like this covered going into 2011 and beyond.
Tags: female sexual dysfunction, FSD, health, interstitial cystitis, media, news, pain, sex, sexual health, television, vulvodynia
Reminder: Tonight, December 6, 2010, MTV’s True Life series will air the episode titled, I Can’t Have Sex. This episode is meant to address chronic pelvic pain conditions, such as vulvodynia and interstitial cystitis. This will also mark the season premiere of the show. As you can see from the title, it’s expected that the episode will look at how these painful conditions impact patients’ sexuality.
Check your local listings for exact details. I expect it to air at 10pm EST.
TV listings to check for what time it airs: MTV’s schedule
Zap2It.com (TV listing website) (type in your zip code to select the service you’re using)
Don’t know yet if MTV.com or Hulu will be simultaneously streaming the episode online. I’m hoping it’s available online in full after the television premiere because I don’t have my VCR here to record & rewind the episode when I take notes tonight.
If you will be in the Manhattan area, consider stopping by The Back Fence for a premiere party and fundraiser. Funds raised at the party will benefit pelvic pain organizations including The National Vulvodynia Association, The Interstitial Cystitis Association, and The Interstitial Cystitis Network.
MTV, we’re counting on you to do this right. Crossing my fingers…
Tags: blogging, Feminism, news
Dear internet, 2010 is the year that everything changes for me. Been busy with addressing the second phase of my life crisis, which will not settle down until January 2011. Sometimes I can multi-task – while working on this life crisis stuff, sometimes I’ll pop a DVD in or watch some videos on YouTube. So I watched some recent films, like Where the Wild Things Are and Drag Me to Hell. They’re both absolutely terrible movies. I’ve been enjoying watching some Let’s Play videos on YouTube much more. That’s where somebody records and comments on their progress through a video game. Really great since I definitely don’t have time to play these games on my own now! I’m also doing a good job of learning how to cook and am quite proud of some of my recent dinners, simple as they may be.
Friendly reminder: I am looking for Guest Posters. I want to hear more perspectives on the themes dealt with here at Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction. Because I am dealing with such a sensitive topic, I don’t think I can actively recruit new posters, since if I went onto someone else’s blog and said something like, “Hey u wanna write a post about your sexual health and/or feminism on a public forum?!” that would probably be very invasive. For this reason, Guest Posters requesting to remain anonymous will also be taken seriously.
At this time, criteria for inclusion is, “If you think you would fit in here, you probably would.” This may be subject to change but for now we’ll try that & see how it goes.
In an attempt to preemptively fight spam and rude comments, this blog’s email is private. Please leave a comment on this post if you want to write something. I’ll screen comments so you can remain anonymous if you want. That way I’ll have your email and we can collaborate.
Have something you’ve been working on? Send it my way.
Comments made by new e-mail addresses here are auto-screened before going live, so if you want to stay anon use an e-mail address that you haven’t used here before.
Can’t get enough of feminism and sexual dysfunction on the internet? You may want to think about following the Twitter feed, which is more accurately described as my Twitter feed since no one else manages it. Some of my daily mundane and/or angry thoughts sneak in there but I try to include trendy topics as well as a healthy dose of sexual dysfunction related news when I find it.
Now then, on with the blog link roundup that’s starting to become an irregular feature around here. Posts I found interesting over the few weeks. Share links if’n you got’em.
Reminder: MTV’s True Life: I Can’t Have Sex is set to air on Monday, December 6, 2010, at 10pm EST/9pm Central. This is turning into a big fucking deal more so than I first anticipated – even Babeland is involved! Babeland, people! I can’t attend the Black Fence Manhattan premiere party and fundraiser so I’m anxious about the reception this episode will get – a lot of people think dyspaerunia and sexual dysfunction are a laugh riot. We don’t know what the episode will look like until it goes on TV. And I mean think about it, this isn’t going to be a 7-minute video clip or a 2-minute plot point like we usually see in media depictions of dyspareunia and pelvic pain conditions. It’s supposed to be the entire episode. Oh man I still need to work on that video transcript from like 2 weeks ago too. Now unfortunately for me, I don’t even have my trusty VCR or a DVR where I am right now so I’m hoping that MTV will stream the video online. Oh I’ll definitely be watching tomorrow night, no doubt, but I need to be able to rewind in order to jot down good notes.
But wait, there’s more! Urgent – Tamra has word on the streets that this may not be the last time we’ll see dyspareunia on television! Tamra says to get in contact with her personally to see if making arrangements for an interview is feasible.
Oh man I’m so anxious now about all this vagina and pelvic pain stuff on television oh man I need something to break the tension. What th- look, it is a Vagaceratops! – Yeah that’ll work.
The Problem with Sex Addiction – Dr. Carol Queen goes over some of the controversies involved with this highly controversial diagnosis. (I don’t know man, I’m like, some folks, not all of them experts, insist that you can become addicted to video games, so I don’t see how if you can get addicted to one kind of behavior you can’t do the same with another. But then again as far as I know there’s no specialized field for video game therapy, either, like there with sex therapy. Hmm…)
I saw two posts about this concept called, “Sexual compliance.” That’s where you willingly go through with sexual activity – but you don’t actively desire it. So this raises questions about where compliance falls on the consent spectrum. Questions I find myself asking where this sexual compliance fits in with sexual dysfunction and where it fits in with sex therapy; for example I’ve seen a few sex therapists recommend scheduling time for sexual activity (but not necessarily specifying which sexual activity.) Here’s the two posts I saw based on sexual compliance. Consent, Compliance, and the Challenges of Negotiating Sex from Charlie Glickman and Not a dichotomy, a spectrum: on rape, consent, and desire from Hugo Schwyzer.
No Pleasure in the Ghetto – How racism and classism impacts the nature of sexual education you receive.
Accessing Sexual Health Part One: Barriers To Getting There – Hopefully part 1 in what I hope will become a continuing series of posts about challenges people with disabilities face when looking for sexual health care.
Sex and Mental Health – In this post, Midori goes beyond the relationship between antidepressant and sexual dysfunction, and asks questions about the day-to-day life with mental illness & how it can impact sexual relationships. Unfortunately she has not yet found resources she is satisfied with that address these intersections.
Then, Kitty Stryker responded with Love, Lust and the Black Dog, which did address some of these above questions and has a few recommendations for folks who do have disabilities and sexual problems.
Your Daily Dose of Rage - Jezebel is a feminist-leaning media portal, though it is careful to not explicitly identify as feminist. And so when a feminist-leaning website – which still has a long history of problematic posts, language and comment moderation – published a garbage piece [Trigger warning,] it received a lot of backlash – rightly so. The editor eventually offered a weak apology but it doesn’t address everything that needs to be addressed.
Your Morning TSA Security Round-Up – [Trigger warning] Are you someone like me who, for whatever reason, does not use vaginally insertible menstrual products? If so, you may need to skip using cloth pads with snappy buttons if you’ll be flying out of a US airport while menstruating. (I understand that the scanners can also see your menstrual pads – but most people use disposable ones so hopefully the TSA folks will recognize ones with sticky backs better than the cloth ones, and so let you pass through unharassed…) Folks with disabilities are likewise at increased risk [Trigger warning] of invasive “Screening.” Trans folk, too, are at increased safety risks because of transphobia + the scanners. Here is a summary of the new TSA screenings and some tips put together with transgender people in mind: Heading for the Airport? How the TSA policies impact transgender travelers
Giving Thanks for Sex…With a Bit of Melancholy – Good news & Bad news on the history of sexuality in the USA.
A Thanksgiving Coming Out: My Traditional Holiday Poem – I hate something like 90%-95% of all poetry. This is one of the 10%-5% I don’t hate. (Which is how I say “I liked it.”)
An Open Letter to US College Students – Please hold all questions until the end of the blog post. Thx.
Thoughts on Record of the Dead – On the FWD blog, a monthly recap of known deaths of PWD was posted just three times. It’s overwhelming, seeing all the names, and some common elements to their deaths.
WikiLeaks founder & consent (by Suzie) - WikiLeaks and its contents have been all over mainstream media. What’s not always mentioned or made clear is one of the reasons WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, is a wanted man. He has been accused of rape by two women.
Introducing :: Project “What Are You Into?” - Clarisse Thorn is looking for submissions if’n you got’em.
Waking up from The Pill – What is this? It’s something written down. On the one hand it’s just raising the ever-present specter of “OMG WOMEN WILL FORGET TO HAVE BABIEZ AND WILL REGRET IT LATER! Better stop using contraception, ladies!” so we can obviously point out the problems with that all. But on the other hand the first page talks about like, this fake birthday party held in honor of The Pill, for turning 50 and I’m like… waaaaaait a minute, back the truck up: Why was The Pill given a birthday party? Is this a regular thing that pharmaceutical companies do? Hey wait a minute… aren’t we supposed to like, make a critical, feminist analysis of giving a prescription which targets women, giving that a birthday party? Aren’t we like, supposed to say “Hmmm?” I am very much uncomfortable with The Pill getting its own symbolic birthday party… Isn’t that birthday party in and of itself another form of marketing? How do I examine problematic elements of The Pill, its history and its marketing without simultaneously harder to obtain birth control? I don’t want to do it the way this article did it — this article is condescending. There has got to be a better way.
Last blog link roundup, I mentioned the birth and death of Privilege Denying Dude. Now witness his rebirth: Fuck Yeah, Privilege Denying Dude: illustrating many of the derailing tactics used when trying to discuss social justice issues. When the first Privilege Denying Dude picture had to be removed from Tumblr for copyright violation, one volunteer, Edman, offered to let his image be used for the purposes of this meme. Now last roundup, you may recall, I had made an image with the meme generator that I was unable to post here due to the copyright violation thing. So here is the new version, with Edman’s picture. Remember though, this image may be upsetting if you are unfamiliar with the greater context of the Privilege Denying Dude. The purpose is satire. Please drop by the last weekend roundup to catch up on some news relating to PDD if you are unfamiliar with this meme, or check out some feminist blogs that have been covering it.
[Picture: Background: 8 piece pie style color split with red and teal alternating. Foreground: White, cisgender guy with glasses and light shadow wearing a sweat shirt over a button down and short black hair. Has a smug, arrogant facial expression and crossed arms. Top text: “Female sexual dysfunction?” Bottom text: “You’ve just never been with me, baby!”]
Uugh I still feel real dirty after posting that uuugh I think I lost my appetite I gotta go take a shower or something wash my eyeballs. Cuz this is still the guy, right there, the one who goes around saying that sort of thing in comment sections to articles about female sexual dysfunction. Not edman himself. But symbolically. PDD.
No seriously I really need to shower now but in the mean time, I’m sure there’s more…