Guest Post: On sexual pain, consent & treatment

08/09/2011 at 10:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments
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[Dear internet, we have a guest poster today! The following was written by someone who prefers to remain anonymous. A trigger warning applies, for questions of sexual consent and rape.]

I offered about two years ago to make a guest post on this blog, then tried to actually write it, and vanished into thin air because I was so uncomfortable with the issues it was dragging up. I was trying to write something hilarious, and political, and historically enlightened. But it turns out that the only important thing I need to share right now is what happened to me.

This is a post about feminism, sexual pain, and consent.

Here’s what’s wrong with me: I have a pelvic floor dysfunction. It’s originally a muscular problem: it means that somewhere along the line, I got the habit of carrying tension in my pelvic floor the way other people carry it in their shoulders. I get vaginal muscle spasms the way other people get neck cramps. They could get set off by any kind of anxiety, such as direct stimulation of an already-painful spasm, leading to a godawful feedback loop called “secondary vaginismus”—a conditioned psychological response of increased painful spasms, and aversion to sex, due to the association of vaginal penetration with intolerable pain. The happy ending is that my primary dysfunction was treated by physical therapy, which gave me strategies for combating the muscular issues; and the secondary aversion went away because the association was broken. The physical therapy process took about 3 months. I wasn’t able to find it for 9 years.

The horrible thing about getting to the correct therapy for vaginismus was that even reasonably well-educated doctors seem to routinely believe that the only way a woman gets a conditioned aversion to sex is rape, or a fundamentalist upbringing that teaches that sex is dirty. I have had fruitless arguments with puzzled GPs who, I believe, left the encounter convinced that I had somehow buried sexual abuse trauma somewhere in my brain—when in actuality, the genuine traumatic moments of my life had been occurring on their own gynecological exam tables. And all in the name of getting my poor, long-suffering boyfriend laid.

To say that this sort of thing breeds resentment is just a little bit of an understatement.

Here’s the thing of it. Since I had my first orgasm (clitoral, manual), I never really saw the big deal with getting my twat all stretched out into fighting shape. I liked sex, I was fully capable of climax, I could make my partner climax, and as the pain mounted, I was increasingly convinced that there was no logical need for vaginal intercourse specifically. The boyfriend didn’t share this analysis. At his urging, and my initial gameness to experiment, we tried, and failed, and tried, and failed.

Maybe it’s really bad for all girls, but they put up with it better than me. I’m a spoiled, privileged elite wimp. I need to grit and bear it before I can get the good stuff. “Our Bodies, Ourselves” taught me sex was supposed to be fun for me. Was that just rose-tinted glasses?

The more we tried, the less it worked, and the less I wanted to have sex at all. I went to the gynecologist. I grit my teeth around the speculum, was told I was “small” and needed to stretch, was handed a plastic dilator and sent home. I couldn’t look at it. I put it under the bed.

I am lazy. I am a coward. I am frigid. Did feminism make me frigid?

(Years later, on vaginismus support groups, I would encounter all these women who described their boyfriends as saints. Soooo patient, soooo understanding. Here’s the thing, ladies: he’s not the one suffering dysfunction and pain. That’s you. Him? He’s horny. It’s not a martyrdom. Last resort solution: he whacks off.)

I am denying sex to my boyfriend. Every day we are together is an archetypical punishment for him. If other people knew, they would think he was crazy to stay with me. I can’t tell anyone this is going on.

He stopped requesting that we try, but everything had already turned into guilt. Without really knowing why, I no longer wanted to have sex with him. He would ask, and because I felt like it was ungenerous not to, I would whack him off. I let him touch me only when I wanted it, because that’s what a good feminist does, and that was less and less often. I was frigid when he was home, and I masturbated when he went away. This went on gradually for about six years. It was some kind of screwed up, semi-coerced, semi-consentual sex; nobody made me do what I didn’t want to, but I didn’t want to. The logic goes something like this:

1) Who would ever date someone who can’t have intercourse? Such a person isn’t a functional woman. Such a person isn’t a whole woman at all.
2) Therefore, this is my only option for a life partner. I have to make it work.
3) He wants consentual sex with me. So we will have (unwanted) consentual sex.

(All the while I’m angry as hell, on some level, and undermining the situation like mad.) I sought treatment again, and was referred twice to a psychiatrist for vaginismus, which was described as a mental condition caused by the aforementioned rape or ignorance. I threw the pamphlet away in disgust. St. Boyfriend became depressed, I was pretty sick of it too, and he broke up with me. In the desperation of feeling like I was defective—which I felt very deeply and very abstractly and clinically—I finally went to a psychologist, who confirmed that the problem was physical and not psychological, and referred me to a specialist in pelvic pain, who referred me to a physical therapy specialist in pelvic floor dysfunction. Three months later I was having intercourse.

Here’s the kicker, though. I went through the therapy process because I felt defective without the capacity for PIV intercourse—even though I thought, all the while (and I still think) that this is a nauseatingly offensive and wrongheaded idea, and that all those quiet thoughts I had between the lines of what happened were horrible and wrong and poisonous, untrue things. And I got desperate enough to fight my fear and pride and begin the therapy process because I believed that no matter how poisonous I knew they were, precious few men would be enlightened enough to date someone incapable of intercourse. I might even be right about that. But I don’t think I’m ever going to be quite reconciled to the fact that even though a streak of self-destructive pride kept me from seeking treatment in time to quench the lust of my own St. Boyfriend, I did finally seek it for the sake of the hypothetical St. Boyfriend of my future—not for my own sexual needs. Now every time I give consent, no matter how willing, it’s always going to be tainted by that history. And that strikes me as very unfortunate.

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10 Comments »

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  1. Great post! Thank you writing this. Be well.

    Rainee

    • Thanks Rainee! I’m doing well now.

  2. It took a lot of courage to write this post, even under an anonymous moniker. I’m really grateful you wrote it because I had a similar experience. My boyfriend–fiance, really, though it was never official–and I had a lot of problems having penetrative intercourse because it was incredibly painful for me. Though it’s never been my preferred method of getting off–honestly, I could do without it entirely–after months without it, he began to feel just as upset as St. Boyfriend, and I felt just as guilty as you. It’s one of the main reasons I broke up.

    I think I’m going to see a psychologist as well, but I’m also sad because I don’t even really WANT to. It wouldn’t be for my benefit, but for the benefit of any future partners. Like you said, who wants to be in a relationship without penetrative sex?

    I hope someday that mainstream society will start to rethink this hierarchical fetishization of P-in-V as the only legitimate form of sex. Queer communities have made a lot of progress with this; I hope it spreads to everyone.

    • Sorry–last sentence of the first paragraph should read “it’s one of the main reasons WE broke up”, not “I”.

      • K, I’m really glad that my words were helpful to you! I agree that the sexual mores of our culture put us in a really dreadful position, and I also hope that will change for the better. That’s the source of all this shame and deficiency that we start to internalize and feed back upon in nasty ways.

        One thing that I try to remind myself of with respect to my treatment is that I was originally curious about and interested in PIV sex before I had all that pain and aversion. So even though I am angry and saddened about the immediate motivations I had for seeking treatment, I can choose to see it as a deferred positive choice rather than as a pure self-betrayal. That perspective shift has been important to me.

        I hope you will be able to reclaim your treatment for yourself. It’s difficult to do when the thing that more urgently needs treatment is the greater culture, not ourselves.

  3. Dear guest poster, I hope you are blogging out there somewhere! You have a powerful story and a great voice to tell it with.

    I had a sex aversion for several years and engaged in it only experimentally with a few guys — and a couple of those times were because I gave in to his wants. Now that I’ve been dating someone long-term, every time I have sex it’s because I want to, and I am thankful for that. So it’s possible to move forward and celebrate your recovery with someone new without feeling that P-in-V obligation.

    • Esther – thanks for your reply, and glad to hear you are doing well! I have also since found other partners who are less focused on PIV sex, and that’s been great, since even though I can now have and enjoy intercourse, it’s never going to be my favorite. I think having a history of compliance does weird things to you more generally, though; it can be hard to sort out desire to please from sexual obligation, or I find myself oddly finicky about arousal sometimes. Very annoying.

  4. Great post

  5. […] sexual and genital pain on popular feminist sites, and I am eternally grateful when I receive guest posts that address the subject here. But big social justice & feminist sites have to keep up with […]

  6. […] vaginismus, in a culture that works to impede women’s enjoyment of sex in the first place. Guest post – on sexual pain, consent and treatment – an anonymous post from someone with PFD/vaginismus, addressing important topics. It’s […]


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