Tags: blogging, emotions, female sexual dysfunction, Feminism, flibanserin, FSD, health, medicine, news, sex, sexual health
Dear internet, I have returned from some scheduled downtime. During my off-time, I had many adventures with my boyfriend, and did not check my e-mail or blog on a regular basis. As a result of this break, I returned home feeling refreshed, renewed & restored…
…and buried by work that piled up in my absence, and new content in my RSS feeder online!
Needless to say, I’ve got quite a bit of catching up to do. We’ll get to that in a few moments. First, to bring interested readers (all what, 8 or 9 of you,) up to speed with what’s been going on with me,
I picked a very good time to take a break in terms of not letting too much work pile up on the job or at home. The weather where I went was pleasant, the crowd levels minimal, lots of things to see and do, and my boyfriend and I had some private time together. We had plenty of activities to keep us busy and amused, and we ate so much good food… I really could not have asked for a more perfect vacation.
Well, actually, there is one thing that could have made our time together even better. A certain piece of jewelry presented to me with a certain flourish would have made my year… but apparently it is not time for that yet. So be it then.
This time around, although we’ve done it before and have very few opportunities to try this, we did not attempt to have intercourse. Nope. Did not even try it. We both wanted a pressure-free, totally relaxing time together. Intercourse is this whole big production for me and we’re both so new at this. Attempting intercourse can be nerve wracking. It’s definitely worth it when it happens, but it’s not too far off the mark for me to say that for us, the act of intercourse is about as intricate & requires about as much rehearsal as a Broadway musical.
That’s not to say that we didn’t have sex though – we had enough quality sex & intimacy to keep both of us satisfied. No pain on my end, however it looks like that Bartholin’s gland cyst is going to keep coming back whenever I spend a lot of time aroused (as I often do when I’m with my boyfriend.) The cyst is already starting to decrease in size and firmness on its own, so I’m not worried about it right now. But I know that sooner or later I’m going to need to have that gland looked at. Some day it will likely require a more complex and permanent intervention than warm compresses & sitz baths.
One thing at a time. Worry about that later when the time comes.
While my boyfriend and I are comfortable with the quality & quantity of sex we enjoyed while on break, unfortunately the rest of the world is not satisfied with it.
Upon my return home my family started in on me about whether we’d had sex – by which they mean intercourse. On one hand, it’s great that I have their support – they want me to have a happy, healthy sex life. My mother & sister especially supported me when I was recovering from vulvovaginal surgery. On the other hand, it’s not great that their support can often turn into invasive nagging & pressure to perform. “Did you do it? How was it? That’s all?! Aw K, you gotta put that vag of yours to good use while you can!”
Even my boyfriend had some family pressure regarding sex, or rather pressure to not perform. Even though he is an adult, and even though we’ve been together for years, his family still does not approve of our relationship. His family certainly does not want him sleeping with me, and so he returns home to a different kind of nagging.
Why is sex so heavily policed by peers & family?
Anyway, now that I’m back online, I mean to return to regular blogging about feminism & sex & female sexual dysfunction – and all the work I left behind before my break remains to be done. Those draft posts don’t write themselves. Even the “Fluff” needs more tweaking.
It’s probably going to be a few days yet before I’m all caught up with my RSS feeder, and even longer before I find time to pick up & read some books on my shelves. Unfortunately for me (fortunate for the interested & patient reader though,) more articles & editorials & blog posts were written about FSD in my absence. I must have picked a bad week to take off in terms of blogging. I won’t be able to put together a weekly blog-link roundup for awhile longer, yet I still want to bring attention to a few pieces you may have missed:
For instance, that Nation article I had such a big problem with a few weeks ago – it’s been joined by yet another anti-FSD cohort. So someone (probably me) is going to need to sit down and analyze this article & see if it contains any troublesome (even if well-meaning) implications and dismissive language (hint: it does.)
Meanwhile, there’s a new drug for female sexual dysfunction on the horizon, and I’m sure it will set the feminist blogosphere abuzz once word spreads – so far Violet Blue is on the ball, a sex therapist sees the potential benefit for patients, and a sex educator takes a comprehensive look at it, including the history of FSD. This drug, Flibanserin, is a type of antidepressant – it’s an SSRI rather than a tricyclic. (Tricyclic antidrepessants, in low doses, are sometimes used to treat pelvic pain, including sexual pain.) It won’t work like Viagra, which increases physical response but doesn’t necessarily instill a craving for sex in and of itself. Flibanserin is designed to increase libido.
This drug actually sounds like it would be less appropriate for me than Viagra, as I am comfortable with my current libido. My main problems in sex are with this physical body of mine.
So I may need to talk about Flibanserin, Viagra, et al soon.
Regarding vulvovaginal surgery (labiaplasty in particular – always with the labiaplasty to the exclusion of other genital surgeries and/or surgeries done without aesthetics in mind,) we have some Fightin’ Words:
Angelica Kavouni, a cosmetic surgeon who carries out labioplasty, said it was wrong to “terrorise patients” with suggestions of long-term consequences.
Them’s fightin’ words! Strong, unequivocal language – you may be wondering what sort of anti-surgery/surgery awareness tactics could possibly terrorize a patient about to undergo vulvovaginal surgery, whether the surgery is for purely cosmetic reasons or not. I may be inclined at a later date to tell you some examples of tactics which yes, even I would consider over the top and counter-productive.
Also, if Kavouni is a surgeon, I wonder why the editor did not include “Dr.” or “Ph.D.” in the title of her name… she does have a medical degree, yes?
Brie is keeping up with Private Practice, the ABC television show which a few years ago aired an episode about a patient diagnosed with vaginismus and vulvodynia. The show now includes a recurrent theme of a female sexual dysfunction clinic, but it is not doing a very good job of actually talking about FSD.
There’s a LOT of news going on outside the realm of FSD that I’m trying to stay abreast of. One of most frequently-spotted topic in my RSS feeder is about US health care reform, including discussion of the Stupak amendment. I’m also overwhelmed & appalled by the amendment itself – this is bad news for women’s health. Health insurance reform, but at a very high price. One particularly good post on the topic I’ve seen is over at Female Impersonator. I, too, speak legalese (although possibly not as fluently as Jenn.) This isn’t the only news topic going on; I’ve seen posts about the Carrie Prejean slut-shaming scandal, the Ft. Hood shooting, and more. Then there are the posts that are not necessarily political in nature, but are interesting invitations into bloggers’ personal insights.
And that’s just for starters. Stay tuned – we’ve got a lot of work left to do.
Tags: emotions, female sexual dysfunction, FSD, health, media, movies, sex, sex education, sex therapy, sexual dysfunction, sexual health, Sexuality, surrogates, what
I should really check my e-mail more often. Check it out; remember that post I did about the movie, Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate? I said I’d e-mail the organization mentioned in the film, IPSA, with some questions, and someone answered me!
So far the questions I have gotten are, how would surrogacy work if a female client is a sexual pain patient, and in a heterosexual relationship – what sort of things would a surrogate do for the couple? Would the surrogate act as a stand-in for the female patient, or (this is what I was thinking) would the surrogate demonstrate pleasurable sexual techniques on both partners?
The other question was, what is the percentage of male surrogates (presumably the asker means within the USA)?
My own would question would be, how would one go about finding a surrogate who is equipped to handle pelvic pain patients?
And a representative, Shai Rotem, e-mailed me back (Name and response is being used with permission:)
1. The basic structure of surrogate partner therapy consists: Client-Sex therapist-Surrogate partner. In cases of female with sexual pain disorders, there is one more professional the client should work in conjunction with: physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor muscles. From our experience in this way work (client + surrogate partner + sex therapist + physical therapist) most of the cases get 100% of success.
2. Surrogate therapy was designed for people without partners. So, in case of couple, they both, together have to see a sex therapist. They have each other to practice with, most sex therapists will give them some homework – experiential exercises they have to do at home. It could be some techniques of touch, some sexual behaviors, readings, watch videos etc.
3. There are more female surrogate partners than male surrogate partners and that because there is a lot more demand. There are a lot more men seeking surrogate partner therapy.
4. The best way to find a certified surrogate partner is contacting IPSA by e-mail. Our associate will help with referral and locate a surrogate partner in the clients’ location. they can use this e-mail address: referrals@SurrogateTherapy.org
How about that! Ask and ye shall receive.
Tags: emotions, female sexual dysfunction, FSD, health, media, movies, sex, sex education, sex therapy, sexual dysfunction, sexual health, Sexuality, surrogates, what
“I’ll tell you what I do. I work with men who have sexual dysfunctions as their partner and I practice sex with them and I practice social skills & I practice communicating & I practice teaching them how to love people.” ~Maureen Sullivan in Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate.
I finished watching a documentary on sexual surrogacy. Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate, directed by Kirby Dick – the same man who directed (among other things,) This Film Is Not Yet Rated. It was filmed during the early 1980s – right at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, and long before Viagra and mainstream access to the internet.
Sexual surrogacy is an interesting topic to me, in large part due to its rarity as a therapeutic tool. How many people have even heard of it?
The first exposure I had to the idea of sexual surrogacy came from (of all places,) an erotic novel. As the setting in that novel was the late 1700s, and the book was fraught with grammatical & factual errors & stretchings of the truth, I didn’t think much of it.
Then, Anne Sprinkle touched upon it in her book, Spectacular Sex, in describing how a physically disabled person was able to have a sexual experience with the aid of a surrogate. Huh, maybe that erotic novel author was onto something.
Then there came a Feminist Review of Private Practices.
Wait, there’s a movie about this?
I’ve heard of sex therapy before, in terms of talk therapy & couples’ therapy. You go in, talk to a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist, and work through your thoughts, emotions & physical problems as they relate to sex. It shouldn’t matter if you have a partner or not; the therapist should be equipped to handle you (your mileage may vary.) You might be given homework assignments to finish before your next session. And I’m personally familiar with dilators and physical therapy as hands-on healing tools for vulvovaginal pain. (Dilators & PT are surprisingly unsexy treatments. Effective for me, but clinical almost to the point of sterility.)
Sex surrogacy is something a little different.
So what is it?
This is a real thing. The same organization that Maureen Sullivan was president of at the time of filming, is still around – the International Professional Surrogates Association. If you watch the film with the director’s commentary on, you’ll hear Kirby Dick and his interviewer talking about how surrogacy was gaining popularity as a treatment for sexual dysfunction, until the AIDS crisis hit and derailed it due to safety concerns.
As described on the IPSA’s own website, sex surrogate therapy consists of,
In this therapy a client, a therapist and a surrogate partner form a three-person therapeutic team. The surrogate participates with the client in structured and unstructured experiences that are designed to build client self-awareness and skills in the areas of physical and emotional intimacy. These therapeutic experiences include partnerwork in relaxation, effective communication, sensual and sexual touching, and social skills training. Each program is designed to increase the client’s knowledge, skills, and comfort.
The website goes on to list some problems that sex surrogacy can address and Wikipedia includes painful intercourse as one area. Although sex surrogacy is described as appropriate in some cases for both men & women, the impression I got from Private Practices, Wikipedia, and IPSA is that it puts a stronger focus on men than women. I get this impression because all three resources explicitly point out conditions that men experience – notably erectile dysfunction & premature ejaculation.
One of the big questions I’m still left with is, whether or not this counts as a form of sex work. There can be exchange of sex for money, and intensive therapy can be expensive. You don’t need to have any special qualifications or degrees to be a surrogate, although you should go through training with IPSA. The legality of surrogacy is dubious. And indeed, a text block at the beginning of Private Practices notes that the film would likely raise moral & ethical questions – questions that the IPSA attempts to address with its Code of Ethics.
However, According to R.J. Noonan, PhD., sex work and surrogacy should not be mixed up. Much of a surrogate’s time is going to be spent doing non-sexual activities & coaching. But then, is this distinction being made because sex work is so stigmatized? Would there be a distinction if sex workers were more respected?
The movie asks that rather than fixating on these questions, the viewer should focus on the lives of the subjects being filmed.
So how is the film, anyway? Is it worth a rent from Netflix? Does it answer any questions? Who might be interested in the movie? Well,
The first thing that struck me before the content was the quality of the film itself. The DVD is of a good quality, not a lot of extra features, but it runs smoothly. However the cinematography itself is definitely showing its age – it’s old.
It’s old, and it’s a documentary, so the director didn’t have millions of dollars to work with. The quality of the film (regardless of the content) reminds me of an old home movie or a soap opera. If you watch the movie with the director’s commentary on, Kirby and his interviewer, Tonner Barclow (might not be spelling that right,) say that this film could be an “80s time capsule” in and of itself. Everyone is wearing clothes that you would have definitely seen in the 1980s (The commentary includes a line like, Maureen’s blouse looks like it came from a set of the Golden Girls.) Home decor (Maureen works from home) is circa late 1970s & early 80s. Big hair abounds.
The sound quality is mixed – you can definitely hear everyone speak clearly, but you can also hear airplanes flying overhead outside of the houses.
The worst quality anything though, is the music. The music used in this film is awful. It’s described as ‘Avant garde,’ but it sounds like 1980s Synthesized Stock Music you could have bought in bulk and used to produce mass quantities of After School Specials (although in the director’s commentary, Dick says he knew the music arranger personally.) It hurts my ears. Luckily there’s only a music overlay for like 3 or 4 parts.
The second thing that stood out to me first was how the film conflates sex with love. You can have both at the same time, and perhaps more often than not that is the case. But, sex and love can exist exclusively of each other. You do not require an emotional connection to have sex; the film made it sound like sex = love.
However the director’s commentary notes that the surrogacy movement grew out of the Free Love movement, so “Love” may mean something different from what I’m used to in that context.
The film follows Maureen Sullivan and two men over the course of their months-long therapy, set in Los Angeles, California. Both patients are referred to Maureen through their therapists. We do not see how the patients & their regular therapist came to the conclusion that sex surrogacy was an option. We do not see what probing questions must have been asked. The director paid for Kipper & John’s therapy in exchange for allowing it to be filmed. (Did either one of them expect to see a revival of the film after 25+ years? Are they even still alive? We do not know.)
The first client we meet is Kipper, a 25-year old student & virgin who is so shy around women that he cannot form meaningful relationships with them. No, really; you may think that he’s just saying that so he can come across as a stealth-creepy Nice Guy, but I genuinely believe that he was afraid of women. He shows discomfort around Maureen even as she tries to lower his barriers through talk & touch therapy.
In the director’s commentary, Kirby & his interviewer question if Kipper was gay, and trying to “Cure” himself through surrogacy. The directors note here that that’s not really an appropriate use of surrogacy (and it probably wouldn’t work.) Kipper, as it turns out, has an older brother who strikes me as a real “Bro” type, while Kipper is much more introverted. We don’t learn much else about Kipper’s life and why he is so shy around women. He did not spend much time with his mother, and, it seems that he did not receive much affection from her as a youth. Indeed, when Maureen and Kipper finally embrace on her couch, her touch is more Maternal than sexual, or even friendly.
We do not see Maureen’s first session with Kipper (so says the director’s commentary,) so what you see when we first meet Kipper really cuts to the chase. It starts off right away with touch therapy. (We do not see any questions of consent discussed; hopefully surrogate & patient have an understanding of consensual vs. non consensual touching & respecting other people’s boundaries in a non-therapeutic setting.)
The second patient is 45-year old John, a newly divorced teacher after 20 years of marriage. John’s primary complaints are feelings of sexual inadequacy (exacerbated by mean comments made by his sex partners,) erectile dysfunction & premature ejaculation – although as the film goes on we learn that his problems likely go deeper than that.
John may be overestimating the importance of sex & sexual performance, to the detriment of every other area in his life. Going into the patient/surrogate relationship, he automatically assumed that he would fall in love with Maureen, and she with him (Entitlement much?) While he thought poor sexual performance was the primary reason for his divorce, his ex-wife appears on film to state that no, that wasn’t one of her real concerns.
It seems that nobody likes John. His ex-wife doesn’t like him and calls him a “Slob.” In the commentary the director says he engaged in pathological hoarding at home, and even Maureen calls him a “Cheapskate.” Maureen is somewhat open about her discomfort with John – when he says things that make her uneasy, she says so, framed in the larger context of therapeutic benefit. Yet he has two happy daughters at home – who nonetheless chide him for seeking out younger partners instead of women his own age.
The director filmed some of Kipper & John’s individual therapies. Both clients spend time nude with Maureen in front of mirrors, talking about their bodies. Both clients undergo touch therapy; Kipper’s looks more like sensual massage & sensate focus to me, while John’s consists of Maureen training him how to avoid premature ejaculation by masturbating him (out of frame.)
This is probably the most explicit and uncomfortable scene in the whole movie.
But, this was also back in the day before Viagra, so it’s not like John could have just popped a pill and problem solved.
Maureen also lets both patients explore her body and genitals sexually, trying to show them some techniques (with mixed results.) What’s really odd to me here is that, Maureen spends a lot of time talking about her vagina, but no time talking about her clitoris. Why is that? If you are trying to teach pleasurable technique on a female bodied person, shouldn’t you at least speak the word, “Clitoris?” Or “G-spot?” Or something like that?
On the other hand, I must also acknowledge the wide variety of what gives women pleasure. Perhaps Maureen enjoyed vaginal stimulation more than clitoral?
No intercourse was caught on film, and, if I’m understanding the director’s commentary correctly, there wasn’t any with either of these clients anyway.
One of the most revealing scenes does not involve patient and client at all. Kirby brought Maureen, her brother and father together for the climax of the film. Maureen and her brother confront their father about what Maureen’s career is (The quote at the beginning of this entry is taken from that scene,) and about how witnessing thier father’s abuse impacted their lives. Maureen and her brother both witnessed (if not experienced) physical abuse by their father. He reacts to their confrontation with a blank stare. I don’t think he was ready to admit that what he did was wrong and how long-lasting the effects of witnessing this abuse was. Maureen candidly admits that part of her motivation in becoming a surrogate, was to seek out what love is supposed to be like. For Maureen, surrogacy is a learning experience too.
The film leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but I suppose that is the nature of the work. After completing any therapy, I’m sure some patients stay in contact while others lose touch. In this case, Kipper & John eventually lost touch. We learn at the end of the film that two years on, Kipper has had some dates, John is in a relationship and Maureen has a boyfriend. After that we don’t know what happened to John or Kipper. They may still be out there, posting on FaceBook or eating a snack even as we speak. The director’s commentary reveals a little more about Maureen, as he stayed in contact with her.
Other questions unanswered though, include the practical application of surrogacy for – pretty much any other case. For what kinds of dysfunction would this be most appropriate? How have Viagra and other medications, the mainstreaming of sex toys, the internet, internet pornography, and laws impacted business? How would a surrogate address female sexual dysfunction, including sexual pain? What steps do surrogates take to minimize the spread of sexually transmitted infections? How does this compare to mainstream sex therapy? How would you find a therapist who is prepared to refer you to a surrogate, or do you seek one out without a referral? What makes a good surrogate? Do surrogates face the same dangers as sex workers? If you have a sex partner, how do you communicate a desire to seek out a surrogate? Is it like starting an open relationship? Is this therapy covered by insurance?
I’m sure there’s more questions even I haven’t thought of.
I think a lot of the therapies Maureen used could have been executed within a mainstream sex therapy setting, without a surrogate. Kipper may have been able to benefit from getting a professional massage at a spa before letting Maureen (or any other partner) give him one. That could have been a homework assignment to address social anxiety around new people, anxiousness about being touched, and relaxation. Professional massage with a licensed therapist isn’t the same as sensual or sexual massage like Maureen was engaged in, and therefore may have been easier to start with. Likewise, if Maureen had had access to the internet, she may have been able to direct John to helpful websites to help address his social skills and premature ejaculation. And self-reflection exercises – like standing in front of the mirror and talking about how you feel about your appearance – that can be done at home alone, with paper & pencil.
As for the movie itself, it’s definitely one of the more… unique movies I’ve seen, even for a documentary. It would be worth watching if you have an interest in sexuality, sexual dysfunction (especially male sexual dysfunction… strong emphasis on male sexual dysfunction,) or possibly sex work.
For everybody else, it’s definitely catering to a niche market. If you have a nosy family, you might even have to hide the DVD from prying eyes. And, because of the sexual content, it may be triggering to those with a history of sexual abuse.
One final note: I would not consider this to be porn. If you rent this expecting it to be porn, you’re probably going to be disappointed. There’s sexually charged scenes, but … it’s… rarely sexy. The final line in the director’s commentary sums it up best: if you’re looking for porn, this is more like “Emotional porn.”
So if you’re looking for a good comedy, thriller, romance, or anything else, look elsewhere.
Basically, only watch it if it sounds remotely interesting. All others, save your time & money.
Tags: communication, emotions, fear, female sexual dysfunction, Feminism, FSD, language, pain, sex, Sexuality, vaginismus, vulvar vestibulitis, vulvodynia
A few weeks ago there was a post over at Renegade Evolution, a response to something feminist blogger Heart had said about heterosexual sex. Essentially Heart said something to the extent of, women are threatened by sex with men. It’s never truly consensual.
Heart said, “Women are *always* vulnerable in sexual encounters with men. Every single time. All het sex is threatening to some degree to women”
It’s a pretty broad generalization, and precisely because of its breadth, it fails to account for a large chunk sexually active women who feel no threat, and maybe even enjoy heterosexual sex. So Ren posted a response…
Unfortunately, Ren’s response post degenerated into victim blaming and bootstraps logic in the comments, to the point where Ren closed the discussion. Rather than address Heart directly, Ren addressed the women who express these feelings of sexual vulnerability. I’ve had some time to think about what she said it still doesn’t sit well with me.
You know what? I feel sorry for any woman who has that attitude. For whatever reasons, whether it be abuse at the hands of a man (or men), or how she was raised, or whatever. I can’t be angry at that kind of fear…no room for anger at that kind of fear. I mean, I look around and I read all this stuff how women just “come up” feeling inferior, to know that they are second best, what that spawns…and you know, it makes me want to slap the shit out of some peoples parents, teachers, extended families, whatever. I want to scream at them “What the hell is wrong with you??” But I don’t want to scream at people who have that kind of fear. In fact, it makes me sad. Very much so.
And then there’s me.
Someone who has experienced some type of sexual fear.
Enough for it to interfere with my sex life.
I don’t want your pity. I don’t want your sorrow, as I bear enough of it on my own. Do not add to my pile, as your pity just adds more stigma & social pressure to perform “Correctly.” I’ve let down yet another person for failing to live up to arbitrary sexual standards.
“I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.”
Pity doesn’t carry me far. I want your fearlessness. I want your respect. I want your understanding.
I’d never, as a het gal, want to feel that damn powerless when it comes to sex. Here is one woman who does not feel that fear every time…hell, hardly any time at all…if any. And I thank whatever powers that be for that…especially today after reading that statement. I do not want that kind of fear. I don’t think I could deal with it.
I don’t want that fear either, yet it’s there. I have learned it and I don’t know if I’m ever going to completely un-learn it. I think on some level, it will always be there, lurking just under the surface.
Yet somehow, I’m dealing with it, in my chosen manner.
And I’m still standing.
I don’t want to deal with it; I want to be sexually pain-free and carefree, relaxed, assured, bold. I’m not.
Yet still, here I stand, even as I acknowledge having sexual fear.
There’s no single person or event for me to blame for my dysfunction & sexual anxiety. I do not have a history of sexual abuse. My health history is too jumbled to pick out any single variable as THE definitive cause. While I’m still interested in learning the causes for vulvodynia, vaginismus, and their ilk, I do not blame anyone or anything for my case.
Who are you going to “Slap the shit out of” about this hot mess I find myself in?
Who is there to correct?
No one “Did” anything to me to cause the pelvic & sexual pain disorders to develop. It just kind of happened. My partner, family and friends were all (and remain) supportive. The pain & injuries I sustained during sex with my partner were unforeseeable accidents (especially the pain that happened after we took proactive steps to prevent it from happening again.) I cannot see a direct link between my sex-negative sex ed teachers and biological changes on a cellular level in my vulva. As far as I’m concerned, I did everything exactly the way I was supposed to.
It still happened.
I’ve come a long way from where I was during those peak pain days. I can enjoy non-sexual activities that nonetheless still employ my pelvis. I can usually sit comfortably for long periods of time. Following treatments, I’m getting to a point where inserting things into my vagina is starting to feel good in and of itself. Slowly but surely, my body is beginning to learn sexual pleasure, and un-learn fear & tension.
So we’re getting there. It’s a slow and bumpy ride, and there are times when I backtrack. But I see how far I’ve come already. I’m going somewhere.
But the kind of fearlessness Ren and others enjoy when engaged in sexual activity remains the elusive carrot on a stick. How are you people doing that?
…I really am still vulnerable during sex.
At least, a little bit.
I’m reluctant to admit it, since I don’t want to feed Heart or stereotypes about women in general. Not everyone feels the way I do. This is all on me.
But I can’t deny it – the feelings of vulnerability & anxiety, it’s there.
I fight against negative attitudes toward sex that I find myself mired in and acutely aware of. Yet despite US culture’s mixed feelings about sex, it seems like nearly everyone in the media and online is nonetheless having sex, especially intercourse. How can I possibly measure up? Then there’s the whole virgin/whore dichotomy to overcome, questions of how to give enthusiastic consent to sex, what kinds of sex I can safely & comfortably engage in, have I thoroughly examined my thoughts and desires, where they come from and what is inherently problematic with them etc etc… It goes on. It’s complicated, often needlessly so. It’s enough to make my head hurt and my vagina clamp shut. So many things to worry about.
When it comes to sex, physically and emotionally, I remember the pain and fear. It only took a handful of consistent “Failures” to associate intercourse specifically with fear & pain – and unfortunately, that fear & pain just went on and on long after the actual event. The vulvovaginal discomfort remained for days – weeks – months, prompting multiple doctor visits. The discomfort ate away at my patience & mental health. There just seemed to be no end in sight.
And to think I felt ~mostly fine before attempting intercourse… sure there were some little warning signs here & there but how would I have even recognized them for what they were?
My body may be slowly lowering its defenses, but they’re not completely down yet. Physically, my body is still holding onto tension in the pelvic floor, perhaps in an attempt to defend itself. It’s going to take time and training for my body to learn that there (hopefully) isn’t much left to be afraid of.
Emotionally, I still fight against feelings of sexual inadequacy. How can I possibly measure up to competition? Should I even be in the dating pool? What does it mean when I do not meet rigid requirements for a satisfactory sex partner? What does it mean when I can’t pass rigid requirements for being a sexual being alone, in and of myself? What does it even say about me that I continue to pursue an active sex life, even though it will not be a completely fearless one?
On some level, I know, I will always have to fight that little nagging “What if?” voice in the back of my head.
“What if I can’t perform? What if we can’t get it in? What if I develop a post-sex infection? What if the infection wipes me out? What if I reset back to zero?”
“What if it hurts?”
“He’s bigger than me…”
The fear remains. It’s still there.
It’s there when I am safe & alone in my room, lying comfortably on the floor, maybe even aroused – yet my right hand holding the dilator still quivers, and my heart beats faster as I get ready to start the dilator exercises.
It’s there when it takes several minutes of additional coaxing to relax the vaginal muscles enough to allow the dilator entry – and even then, only slowly. I won’t be able to handle the biggest one that day.
It’s there when I’m at the gynecologist, and although I need to “Scoot down to the edge of the table,” I instead recoil & draw my pelvis away from strange hands and devices.
It’s there when my partner gently places his hand on my visibly shaking leg when I know he is about to go down on me.
It’s there when there is still some muscle resistance just before I push him inside of me.
How do I turn this residual fear off?
Do I even need to?
These fears don’t usually interfere with me nonetheless having a good time or making it through the day.
Sometimes though, the fear wins.
Sometimes I wind up not going through with some sexual activity I originally set out to do. Sometimes the anxiety is just too much and it’s just not happening at that moment. So my partner and I instead change course and explore something else.
I mean, I don’t want to feel powerless either – that is why I speak up about using such de-powering language with regards to women’s sexuality. I can’t be told that I’m just a fuck hole. I can’t listen to messages that say I don’t measure up but oh if I would just do this thing or that thing to improve my looks or my virility then maybe I could please my man. I have to not read between the lines. I have to block out reinforcement that I’m just damaged goods.
I can’t listen to this shit, I have to tune it out.
So, I come away feeling like, I’m still not doing it right. I’m still not living up to outside arbitrary standards of sex & sexuality.
Because, despite all my best efforts, there is still, on some level, a little fear there.
Tags: communication, emotions, experts, female sexual dysfunction, Feminism, feminism friday, FSD, language, nature, pain, relationships, sex, sex education, sexual health, Sexuality
I’ve been struggling with an idea I’ve run into a couple of times. Usually I see it mentioned online, but sometimes I’ll hear about it in the media or during a face to face encounter with a close friend… The idea is that of “Natural sexuality.”
It sounds like something that should be intuitive. It’s two very simple words, put together. Something that comes from nature, and nature is good. Something about sex, and sex is good. I feel like should automatically know what natural sexuality is.
But I really don’t know.
I’ve seen natural sexuality mentioned a few times before. I’ve seen well-meaning messages of encouragement online that say we are all naturally sexual creatures. (What if you’re asexual?) A few months ago on another blog, there was an analysis about an e-zine that questions whether kink & BDSM activities are natural or whether they are a symptom internalized oppression & abuse. More recently a comment on Renegade Evolution’s blog addressed a tangent about natural sexuality. I’m struggling with the idea independently, although it turns out that Dr. Teifer, whom for the most part I don’t like and don’t trust, may have beaten me to the question by writing a whole book about it.
And I still don’t get it.
Natural sexuality, what does that even mean?
Is it heterosexual intercourse for procreation? Is it something that forms in a vacuum, and is only tainted by outside influence? Does being naturally sexual mean being driven by instinct? Is it something you just know how to do? Is it eros, a latent drive to act as a sexual creature? If it is a drive, then what do you do when you feel it? What is the natural way of expressing sexual desire? I didn’t automatically know how to express my sexuality. I’m sure much of it has been shaped by the media and teen girl magazines.
Like, I really need someone to sit down and explain to me exactly what natural sexuality looks like. It sounds like it should be so easy, but for me, I struggle with the idea. Am I over complicating things? Am I, still, somehow, doin’ it wrong? Who is to say what I’m doing wrong?
Because so far very few things I have done sexually have come naturally.
I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m still exploring & testing my limits. I’m not sure exactly what I’m “Supposed” to be doing, since I’m getting mixed messages from different sources. Depending on who I’m listening to, certain activities like BDSM mentioned above are either acceptable as healthy sexual outlets to explore, or a sign of major psychological distress & dangerous interpersonal power imbalances and I need to stop what I’m doing and examine my desires and it goes on.
I’m whie, cis, heterosexual, and monogamous. If I was anything but, I’d also have to deal with additional questions, pressure & leers from a big chunk of my surrounding culture.
In my own heart & mind, I have an idea of what I want to do sexually & what direction I’m headed in. The path I’m on is still relatively unexplored, but I think I can carve it out. And maybe enjoy the sights & sensations along the way.
But is what I’m doing “Natural?” Expressing my sexuality sure didn’t come easily, that’s for sure. And what with the pelvic problems, I’ve got some physical limitations built in, preventing me from fully exploring & expressing my sexuality.
When I started doing what I *thought* I was supposed to be able to do by default – enjoy PIV sex – it didn’t work out so well. Like, wow, this is really awkward & painful. I think I may be having a serious problem here. Why does it look so simple on TV & sound so simple when other people talk about it?
I felt pain when inserting anything into my vagina – fingers, tampon, dildo, speculum, or my partner’s penis. It has been my understanding that those activities aren’t supposed to hurt.
The natural remedies alone didn’t make a satisfactory improvement in the pain levels, so I wound up turning to modern medicine for assistance. I even took the drastic step of vulvovaginal surgery to make sex (among other things) more comfortable. Well now there’s something you don’t see happen in nature. No, turning to big pharma, undergoing vulvar surgery – these are paths I’m more used to seeing condemned over and over again. Sometimes I even see the people who go down those paths be worthy of pestering and condemnation. (We’re not really, of course, but I rarely see authors of anti-medicine, anti-surgery writings to treat those who’ve tried such treatments as thoughtful, respectable persons.)
Even now, I use a lot of man-made, artificial tools – dilators, vibrators, condoms, lubricant. (I suppose we could make an argument that I can purchase Green sex toys, which would technically be closer to nature… yet still, someone has to put these things together.)
I have to think about what I want to do sexually. I have to learn about it. I have to read about it, be inspired, come up with ideas, then get instructions on how-to execute sex. I have to construct it out of my surroundings. I have to spend time and some money on it.
I mean, hell, I have to train my pelvic floor muscles to relax – left to their own devices, my pelvic floor muscles’ “Natural” state is one of tension.
In seeking out assistance, and cobbling together my own ways of expressing sexuality, am I moving too far away from what should come naturally? Am I corrupting myself by wanting – and taking – more? Is my growing interest in kink and sensuality unnatural and therefore bad, sine I cultivated that interest only after running into sexual pain? (Does that make me a poseur?) Have I lost part of my humanity & become some kind of cyborg by having my body physically altered under the knife?
If natural sexuality is something with surprisingly rigid rules and strict guidelines , then it is something I will inevitably fail at. There are certain things I can’t do, and other odd things I’d be really good at.
I don’t know where this leaves me with regards to sex being a natural part of life.
Tags: communication, emotions, female sexual dysfunction, FSD, language, sex, TMI, vulvodynia, what
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.
Tags: communication, emotions, experts, female sexual dysfunction, Feminism, FSD, language, pain, sex, Sexuality, vaginas, vaginismus, what
It’s not often that I come across discussions of vaginismus outside of the support communities specifically for it.
Once in awhile there’ll be a brief article about it in a health and beauty magazine, or in an editorial in a newspaper. There’s not a lot of books dedicated to vaginismus, although the topic can come up in chapters of larger books.
People don’t talk about vaginismus much. To this day if you say the word aloud, there’s a pretty good chance whoever hears it will go “Vagi-what?” It’s uncomfortable & weird to talk about pelvic floor dysfunction generally. It’s related to all that “Down there,” (and here I imagine someone making a vague sweep of the hand towards their pelvis,) including the bladder, bowels, and sexual functioning. Those functions are embarrassing in and of themselves. The embarrassment is only compounded if one thing or another isn’t working the way we expect it to. Keep it in the bathroom & the bedroom.
There’s a lot of ways to bring up a discussion about vaginismus. You could start by giving a brief introduction to what it is & isn’t. You could share a personal anecdote about yourself or an anonymous friend who confided in you about the difficulties of living with it. You could bring it up within the context of a sexual health conversation. You could ask a question about it.
Or you could dive right in.
Such was the introduction to a post by feminist blogger Twisty Faster over at I Blame the Patriarchy.
“That’s right, Vaginismus!” – her again.
Oh cool, what’s this, something new & interesting & feministy about vaginismus? Hmmm… Oh my. Maybe we should take a closer look at this.
The post in question was actually made over a month ago at this point, so I’m late getting to the party. I don’t usually read IBTP – Twisty’s reputation for coming on strong precedes her. I think I understand why she chooses this style of communication, but I feel more comfortable getting the same messages elsewhere.
I suppose it’s just as well that a friend pointed me in her direction some time after the post was made. Some downtime to get my thoughts organized & get out of rage-rage-rage mode.
Twisty jumps into the discussion of vaginismus as though it is something new and revolutionary, which, to her, I’m sure it is. Something new that warrants exclaimation marks. But really, vaginismus isn’t a new thing. It’s been documented for at least 20 years, judging from one of the books in my collection. Vaginismus has gained more notoriety within the past few years, probably in large part thanks to the internet.
So why bring it up on a feminist blog now at all? It’s been right there this whole time, if you know where to look for it.
My best guess is that Twisty speaks of it only now, in 2009, because someone went out of their way to bring it to her attention. I see a little note at the end of the post thanking someone called Nauright for sharing a link to a treatment website with her. Someone looking for feedback from Twisty on this topic.
Indeed, since I already knew of her, I kinda wondered myself if she’d ever be able to blame the patriarchy for vaginismus. In my head I imagined it happening eventually, but it would have to be in a roundabout, perhaps even Rube Goldberg manner, since there’s no single definite cause. Causes can vary from person to person, too, complicating matters. For me, I face a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Which came first – the pelvic floor dysfunction or the vulvodynia?
By now, I am too tired and too far along to want to blame anyone or anything for it anymore. I’m still interested in discovering the root causes, and I have some ideas… but for me, personally, it’s too late. My health & sexual history is too jumbled & tangled to be able to pin anything down on one event or another. At one point, when she first found out I have this, my own poor mother blamed herself for this, thinking maybe it was caused by her taking an antibiotic during pregnancy. I can’t blame you for that, mom.
So Twisty writes about vaginismus, from a feminist perspective, giving a quick-and-dirty definition from a “Phallocentric UK psych site.”
It’s not the best definition I’ve seen, but it’s not the worst either. This definition… isn’t so bad. I don’t hate this. Similar to other sites & definitions I’ve seen. Pretty standard stuff.
Which leads me to ask, Why choose this one particular website for discussing vaginismus? Why not link to the wikipedia article or any other number of informative sites? Why not the Vaginismus Awareness Network? That site even has a section on vaginismus & feminism. It’s completely relevant.
I can only conclude then, that Twisty was not trying to spread vaginismus awareness, which, is something that there’s obviously a need for or else no one would take it upon themselves to make a site called, “Vaginismus Awareness Network.” No, Twisty’s goal must be, something else entirely.
Twisty goes on to point out that “Other, more progressive sources cite tampons, specula, and fingers as objects that are commonly crammed into ‘normal’ women, but are dee-nied by the vaginas of wackjobs suffering this vaginismus dealio.”
Those words… “Normal,” “wackjob,” and the flippant “dealio.” Ugh, don’t remind me. Why are we talking like this again?
It took me about three tries at reading the post to realize that Twisty wasn’t actually calling me a “Wackjob” for having vaginismus.
No, that’s not Twisty saying that. That is, Twisty, speaking in the voice of the patriarchy. She is channeling. The patriarchy speaks through her, and the patriarchy thinks I’m a “Wackjob.”
But since it took three tries to understand that is what’s going on, that’s not very clear. I really thought Twisty was calling me a whackjob.
It doesn’t help that I’ve actually had feminists call me crazy for speaking openly about FSD. I’ve actually had a feminist say to me, “You are so irrationally angry, you obviously need mental help and are mentally ill.”
I may have a bit of a hair-trigger after that.
For some reason, it’s easier for me to write it off when a guy says something like that. They probably don’t have a clue. Where, in all the things marketed towards men, does anybody take the time out to say, “Hey just FYI, sometimes things aren’t as easy as we’re making them out to be and if you enter into a sexual relationship with a woman, you may want to take it easy if it’s painful for her. She might not need breaking in after all.” Slap that on an Axe deoderant spray label.
But when another feminist says something like that? Ouch. Damned if I do & damned if I don’t.
Actually, I had a hard time dealing with the language used throughout the post.
Twisty uses some pretty de-powering words for intercourse. To me, this sounds like yet another negative attitude towards sex I have to go around. Women are “Penetrated,” “Dominated,” women are passive “Receptacles,” and when women have sex with men, they are “fulfill[ing thier] destiny as toilets.”
It took me another three tries to realize I was taking that too literally. Still, even as a metaphor, it’s a condemning comparison to make of women. A public facility that men can use to relieve themselves and defile.
Why do we use language like this when we talk about sexuality? In Let Me Count the Ways, Klein & Robbins ask (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here,) “Why do we use such terms? Why don’t we use words like enveloped, engulfed; phrases that give more power to female sexuality? Why do couples use or not use euphemisms for sex and develop communication problems?”
Although in all fairness, I know I sometimes default to “Penetration” too, just from being exposed to the word so much. To me, it lacks the charge that Twisty sees. I try to use the word “Insertion” more often. It feels more right to me… That’s what I do. It also sounds more neutral, or that it gives more control to the person with vaginismus. She isn’t penetrated; she inserts.
In my personal experience with vaginismus, I have to be the one in control for insertive activity to take place – including intercourse. If I can’t relax emotionally and physically, get the angles lined up just right, have my choice of lube & condoms readily available, I probably won’t be able to allow my partner entry.
Intercourse is an intricate dance…
I’m only half-joking when I say if the planets are not in perfect alignment, intercourse is just not happening for me.
And that’s okay too. It doesn’t have to happen every time we have sex.
The post goes on, talking about how women with vaginismus often seek treatment, perhaps feeling pressured by an intercourse-centric, patriarchal society. Indeed, not everyone needs treatment for vaginismus. Some women do perfectly fine without treatment. Not every couple feels the social pressure for intercourse. Some couples will develop other creative means to express their sexuality, which is excellent & perfectly fine. There’s some ways to really turn the experience of living with vaginismus into a positive sexual experience in the long run.
I like to believe I’m doing that myself.
But maybe some women feel pressured to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their relationship. Theoretically, vaginismus doesn’t have to break a relationship. If you can’t have sex, there’s still lots of other interesting things you can do.
Patients with vaginismus might even be able to come around to this idea – but if they’re in a long term relationship, or married, their partners may not. Even if the patient is single, I’ve seen women struggle with whether or not to withdraw from the dating pool. The patient may be ready to expand the definition of sex – but the surrounding community from which she has to draw potential partners from, is not.
And if you’ve waited until marriage to have intercourse, fully expecting to be able to, never knowing that such a thing as “Vaginismus” exists, only to discover that it’s not going to happen, well… that can certainly put a damper on the honeymoon. What a shock.
Marriages have been dissolved by this. Or this, plus whatever other communication errors were preventing a couple from exploring alternative forms of expressing their sexuality.
And those latent communication problems may not become appearant until actually attempting intercourse.
I’m getting the impression that Twisty thinks when women do seek treatment, it’s because they feel like they have to, in order to please their man. Or a more abstract, general Man that is the Patriarchy. There’s no way a woman would ever possibly want to seek treatment in the absence of the patriarchy’s influence.
Maybe I’m lucky. Maybe I’m a weird exception to the rule. Being in a long-distance relationship, my partner and I got used to going long periods without any partnered sex, and when we do get together, we usually spend a long time getting to know each other sexually once again. That means we rarely actually try to have intercourse. Both of us can return home sexually sated, until next time, without having had the most narrow definition of “Sex.”
It also means that I probably could have gone without treatment, if I so chose. Content with other activities, and away from my partner for 95% of the time, there was no pressure to perform. Even if/when it comes time to move in together, our sex appetites will probably be about the same as they are now – content with a wide variety of sex, including occasional intercourse. Maybe our appetites will drop as we age.
I like to keep my options open.
I also like to satisfy my curiosity. “What is all this hub-bub about? How do I do this?”
I also like not being in pain and not having super-tense muscles. Did you know gynecological exams aren’t supposed to hurt? I never knew that until after I started treatment. I’m starting to think I might even be ready to give tampons a try again soon. Organic ones only.
When I was consumed by thoughts of having a broken vagina, I thought about seeking treatment “For him.”
As soon as I thought of it, I knew how short-sighted this seemingly selfless act would be. If I sought treatment “For him,” or anybody else, and I wasn’t satisfied with how it went, or if something went terribly wrong, I would grow to resent him for “Making” me do this. The resentment would fester like an open wound & poison our relationship.
And then the relationship would end and I’d question why I sought treatment in the first place.
Conversely, if everything did turn out just perfectly fine & healthy, would I have to be grateful to my boyfriend for making me do this? Would he lord over the fact that he guided me in this direction? “That was totally my idea.” I don’t owe you my sexuality!
No, I can’t drag him into this. He needs to sit back and support whatever I do, but I must be the leader.
I have to do this for myself, and no one else.
I have to do or not do this, and that is the path that *I* choose.
It has to be for me.
The decision of whether to seek or not seek treatment for vaginismus must be left to the individual.
Twisty then goes over a handful of the standard treatments available, first & foremost dilators. “Yeek!” A thing that penetrates!
Or, a thing that you insert. YMMV.
She doesn’t get into much detail about dilator therapy. It is somewhat self-explanatory – although detailed instruction sheets can still be useful for new patients who are interested in it.
The other treatments touched upon, anti-depressants, PT and sex counselors, may also be legitimate treatments for vaginismus & worth investigating if you are so inclined to seek treatment. I’m not sure that she’s familiar with the fact that sometimes those treatments wind up doing double-duty for other conditions as well. I’m more familiar with tricyclic antidepressants as a treatment for vulvodynia (does something to the nerve endings) than I am the kind we usually think of (SSRIs) as a treatment for vaginismus.
In my case, if I choose to get the type of antidepressants we usually think of (SSRIs and the like,) it probably wouldn’t be that bad of an idea to begin with, considering my history with depression & anxiety. Chances are if I needed antidepressants, it would be because – I needed antidepressants.
For now, I’m holding off since, I’m not clinically depressed, and my nerve endings seem to be a little quieter nowadays. I’m also not sure how SSRIs & Tricyclics would go together if I did wind up going on one and then needing the other.
Physical therapy is an option I’ve used with great success in treating both vaginismus, residual VVS, and a weird not-vestibulitis but nonetheless pelvic pain flare that radiated all down my leg. Also, less urinary urgency & frequency now. I still don’t know the root cause of the not-vestibulitis, not-vaginismus flare, but since it responded so strongly to PT, I’m leaning towards something muscluar or skeletal. The PT & I eventually pinpointed one area nearby the sitz bone as being problematic for me. Once we got the problem addressed though, the rest flowed naturally. Within a few weeks I was able to sit down long enough to enjoy sit-down activities again that I had had to put on hold for months.
The PT I use also involves biofeedback, which is completely non-penetrative and trains the pelvic floor muscles. Much to my own surprise, I don’t have to go to the bathroom as frequently or urgently as I used to before training the pelvic floor.
I have no personal experience with sex counselors, unless you count the authors who have written sexuality books I’ve read. Suffice it to say, some of these books… are better than others. Get a book or therapy session with the wrong counselor, and it can be a big waste of time and money. Get the right information, and you may see the same information repeated over & over again, cited & cross-referenced in other books. I’m not really sure how much new information a sex counselor would have for me that I haven’t heard before. Do I even need one now? I don’t know; I thought I was working through the emotional & mental side halfway decently on my own.
I’ve never actually had anyone recommend consuming alcohol to me as a treatment for vaginismus. I’ve had one well-meaning but completely ignorant doctor recommend a glass of wine to relax before sex – but I say he was ignorant because he didn’t know about vaginismus or vulvodynia. In all fairness, at the time, I didn’t know either.
Then we move into the notorious botox injections.
I said above that Twisty approaches vaginismus as though it’s something new. She approaches Botox the same way, as though it’s something new. This is evidenced by her description of the above listed treatments as the only options available to vaginismus patients for years, “Until now.”
“Now?” What… 2009? Within the last year? The last 10 years?
I’ve seen rare accounts of women who’ve gotten these treatments, either for vaginismus or vulvodynia, for a couple of years now. The idea is that it paralyzes the pelvic floor muscles into a state of relaxation.
Sometimes intercourse is the goal. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes intercourse is incidental.
Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes it’s the first thing tried. Sometimes it’s the last.
But why would anyone want to inject a biological poison into their bodies in the first place?
Why, indeed. Believe it or not, botox injections to ease chronic pain have been looked into medically for at least five years.
I’m thinking there are at least three reasons Twisty and her commenters recoil from the thought of Botox injections for vaginismus.
One, its use as a cosmetic product marketed towards women in such a way to make them feel bad about the natural aging process and its signs – wrinkles. Botox as a legitimate pain treatment has a bad reputation for exploitation to overcome.
Two, location location location. The fact that it’s getting injected into the genitals. That’s a scary thought. A precious area with a lot at stake. Why would anybody do that to themselves?
To ease pain. To feel better. Here I find myself thinking of vulvodynia in particular again. There are times when oral prescriptions are warranted to relax muscles. An injection is more direct. I seem to recall a college professor talking about how he was getting something (I seem to recall an animal protein?) injected into his bad knee, and that injection enabled him to ride a bike again.
Maybe nothing else worked.
Maybe it’s the only option readily available.
And of course three, like all treatments, it does still carry its own set of risks.
With regards to what treatment option a patient with vaginismus chooses,
Let’s not forget about all-important insurance. Or the lack thereof. It’s possible (although probably quite rare!) that one insurance company will cover botox injections. More probable is physical therapy, or dilators, etc, but not other treatments.
Or it’s possible that the only available specialist in-network is only trained to provide one service or another.
It’s also possible, if not probable, is that when seeking help from a doctor, a patient may be uninsured, and so have to pick whatever option looks cheapest in the long run.
Also possible, is insurance refusing to cover anything for vaginismus, or the patient not having insurance. In the long run, it may be cheaper to spend a few thousand dollars on a botox injection than to spend a few hundred dollars per visit for PT or sex therapy. “I can spend $2400 on one botox injection, or I can spend a little over a hundred dollars per PT session over the course of an unknown length of time, potentially exceeding $2400.” That can really add up in the long run. I can imagine this coming up later on after trying multiple treatments too – “I spent several hundred dollars talking to this sex therapist and I’m still not satisfied, I am going to do something else.”
Money may very well play a role in some patients treatment decisions.
Or you could, just plain not go through any of that and not have sex. “If sex hurts, don’t have sex!”
I think this is actually a more progressive idea than I’ve seen spread around before – “Have sex anyway! And quantify it! Do it once a week! No excuses!”
It’s clear from the rest of her post, that Twisty not referring to sexual activity in general – just male-female intercourse. Stop having that particular kind of sex.
When you still have painful intercourse, and keep on doing it, there’s a risk of developing vaginismus due to he pain feedback loop. Expanding the definition of what “Sex” is can come in quite handy here. Or, anywhere, really.
But Twisty speaks here, with a note of Finality. She doesn’t say “Stop temporarily,” or “Don’t have sex until you feel better.” Because that part is missing, it sounds to me like she’s removing that option forever.
Which is something I don’t want to do.
I’m all for expanding the definition of sex & enjoying different varieties of it. FSD, vaginismus, can force you to get real creative, real quick.
But I do not want to take intercourse off the table forever.
Especially since, I sought treatment for vulvodynia & vaginismus – and went on to have pain-free, even pleasurable, intercourse.
I feel like I’m in a bind here – Was I not supposed to do that?
Twisty admits that taking that advice of “Don’t have intercourse!” is easier said that done. I agree. I do not deny the existence of a patriarchy, which permeates everything to varying degrees. Sometimes its influence is strong & rigid, other times it is relatively subtle & maybe worth ignoring. We cannot make our sexual decisions in a total vacuum because we are always surrounded by a patriarchy in one form or another.
That doesn’t necessarily mean all our decisions are invalid.
I also agree with Klein & Robbins of Let Me Count the Ways again – we live in a very intercourse-centric society. That’s an old phenomenon. Is that the patriarchy’s doing, or did the patriarchy grow from that? I can’t tell. Feminism gives me the lenses I need to be able to see the patriarchy – although at times it is blurry or a moving target.
Regardless of which one is older, the patriarchy or intercourse-centric mindedness, it isn’t that easy to un-teach decades of heterosexist upbringing.
It’s hard to be a young woman expecting to make love or to fuck for the first time, possibly on her own wedding night, only to discover it just isn’t happening. Of course, it must also be hard to be older, wiser, more experienced, maybe even to see the patriarchy for what it is – and still meet vaginismus.
Feminism probably did a good job preparing me to embrace a wider view of sexuality. Maybe I don’t have to listen to very strict religious groups who preach that premarital sex is always a sin and the onus is always on the seductive woman. Also a sin if not done for procreation or if conception is used. Maybe I don’t have to listen to the uptight gym teacher who stands up on the desk screaming about “Body Condoms” and STDS & pregnancy as punishments for promiscuous behavior. Maybe I can tune out folks who say this or that consentual, if somewhat odd, behavior is bizzare & wrong.
There are certain schools of feminism which I feel are in conflict with expanding the definition of sexuality.
Pornography and BDSM are two big areas that are also taken off the table by some schools of feminism – or if not taken off the table outright, framed in such a way as to make it seem as unappealing as possible. BDSM is the subject of cross-blog feminist flamewars, and porn has been the bane of radical feminists for 30 years – here I’m thinking of Dworkin, who is recognized as a pioneer of the modern anti-porn movement.
I have a very difficult time reconciling my feminism and my sexuality with attitudes that say, “This or that so-called consentual but still non-penetrative activity is not-feminist at best (But we’re going to talk about it anyway,) and anti-feminist at worst.”
These two areas – BDSM & porn are frequently brought up as areas worth exploring in the sexuality books & resources I’ve used. Usually the authors who suggest it know full well that these are touchy areas & the decision of whether to include it in your sexuality or not must lie with the individual. Instead of asking “Why do this?” the message Klein & Robbins (again) ask the reader is, “Why not?” (95). Yet even they recognize that there are women who have been burned by either or both of these activities in the past, and so it will hold no appeal for them.
So no, it really isn’t that easy to say “Stop having intercourse and do something else.” Sometimes, “Something else,” is something else to stop doing, too.
Which leaves me feeling stuck somewhere in the middle. There’s other areas to explore left, but I want to explore this, too.
In the end, I came away from reading Twisty’s post and some of the comments feeling like someone thinks am indeed a wackjob – not because I have vaginismus, but because I have vaginismus, and I seek treatment for it, and I still want to have intercourse with my male partner.
I’m still isolated & the weird one, here.
Tags: emotions, experts, Feminism, health, language, media, sex, Sexuality, TMI, vulvodynia
This blog is probably TMI for folks with delicate sensibilities.
This is a blog in which, so far, I have talked about vaginal pain, pain with sex, sex besides intercourse, menstrual blood tangling up pubic hairs, and pubic hairs getting jammed underneath my clitoral hood.
I know I’m not the only one who has suffered grief at the follicles of my own pubic hair, among other things. People have stumbled upon this website while doing searches for terms like “Pubic hair stuck in clit” “Pubic hair pain” and variations on that theme. But I’ve never heard anyone talk about such things offline.
Female sexual dysfunction, vulvodynia, even just plain vanilla sex, is still a taboo. Oh maybe sex is more acceptable to talk about in mainstream media, but only so long as we’re talking about heterosexual intercourse. But the female anatomy and all the amazing things that can go right with it, all the mundane things that it does every day, and all the painful things that can go wrong – there’s still backlash against talking about that. “That’s gross & disgusting & you should be ashamed of yourself.” “Why would you post that on the internet.” “There are more important things to talk about than your broken crotch.” And of course the always edgy, anon-esque dismissal, “Get back to the kitchen.”
Yet for as many folks think such discussions on discharge & the gory realities of childbirth are disgusting, there are others who recognize these topics as valid & worth spreading. I’ve seen it myself on other discussion forums, VaginaPagina in particular. “Please, go on. Tell me everything. Thank you for sharing this and letting me know that I’m not a freak.” Because if no one talks about it, it’s very easy to think that you’re the only person some such thing has ever happened to – and if you are bothered by what is going, being alone means you may not be able to find the resources needed to get help.
When I first learned about vulvodynia, there was ~some information online, and I quickly exhausted nearly every resource I could find. As of 2009, there’s more sites, forums, & even whole weblogs about living with it, and finding effective treatments. How difficult it must have been for the older women, the ones who had it before the internet became mainstream. How isolating it must have been to feel like you were all alone in the world with no network of answers. How liberating it must have been when, in recent years, women started talking about this condition. You are not alone. I know I remain grateful.
And then there’s the ambivalent response. Some combination of wanting to be impressed by the women & men posting on the internet & sharing the experiences that their fragile mortal shells endure… and yet the reader is not able to recoil from the sheer horror of it all.
Such is the response of a one Rebecca Traister of Salon.com.
Traister writes about, women who write about the experiences unique to a female body. Throughout her piece, Traister’s tone is obviously one of ambivalence. She seems to try appreciate that in talking about the human body, especially the sexual aspects, we de-power the mystery behind it & find release. She states, “There is no question that many women find the process of self-revelation, as Holmes said, cathartic. It’s about breaking certain silences, yes. It’s about letting loose with long pent-up questions and anecdotes and curiosities and fears. It’s about laughing about things that might otherwise make you wail with shame or pain or fear.”
But at the same time she uses terms such as “Nasty shit,” “Embarrassing,” “Irritating and Crass,” to describe these juicier parts of life, and accuses women who talk about these things as making a desperate grab for attention.
You know, every day I question whether I should go on with writing this blog, precisely because I don’t want to grab too much attention. I did not contact the Oprah show when it was recruiting women with vulvodynia to share their stories, because I did not feel ready to put my face out in the world & say “I have this.” The internet though, provides me with some level of anonymity – although at times I realize it’s a very thin veil.
Yet I go on – compelled, goaded on by ignorant statements like Traister’s, and Sheenah Hankin, who once claimed that “Women are not like faucets that get jammed up and will not turn on.” Obviously we’re dealing with someone who has never heard of Pelvic Congestion Syndrome. So clearly, there’s a need for such information & opinions to get out there.
I feel more embarrassed about having vulvodynia, when this author basically comes out and tells me I should be embarrassed. Perhaps I become too comfortable in my close circle of friends & support groups. As if talking about FSD wasn’t humiliating enough, due to the kernels of self-doubt living with it sows. Now I have to care about what other people think about myself, too. Maybe I really am a freak.
No, I am not a freak. I am as real & statistically likely as other bodily snafus. It was just my luck of the draw to be standing (sitting – and I remain grateful for my ability to sit, something that Traister probably doesn’t recognize as being an amazing bodily feat,) here before you, talking about that condition which bad luck & irony handed to me, nay; strapped to my body. I know I am not the only one, thanks to other women who have taken the time out of their days to write about their bodies.
Here’s another Traister gem to talk about, regarding second wave feminists and Riot Grrrls, who have taken steps to allay individual fears about the female anatomy through self-exploration –
“But all that communal celebration or shouted fervor for the female body and its effluvia was always a little too marginal, too embarrassing, reeking of moon-tides and red tents and creaky second-wave earnestness.”
“Marginal?” “Reeking?” Even I, a one who does not identify as a second-wave feminist, and who is frequently turned off by what they have to say about sexuality, am grateful to those who pushed for self-exploration with a speculum parties and the like. I wasn’t there at that time to particpate, but now I can reap the rewards. I want to know how to read what’s going on inside & outside of me, especially all things pelvis-related. How is that “Marginal?”
I’ve sen these reactions of horror and confusion with the female form before, particularly in reference to many of the comments posted about Susanna Kaysen’s book. The consensus, with a few exceptions made by sensitive people, is “I don’t get it.”
It’s a real shame. Kaysen tries to make vulvodynia accessible & tangible for laypeople, so that we don’t have to say, “You had to have been there.” Yet all too often, we do still have to say that, perhaps due to an unwillingness to listen – or a grudging, resistant willingness. “I could have gone my whole life without knowing about this condition.” So could I…
So could I…
Forgive them, lord, for they do not know of which they speak.
It’s the same way with Traister. Forgive her, lord, for she clearly knows not of which she speaks. A one who, judging from the tone of her article, seems to have had the luck of owning a fully-functional body and working female pelvis. I guess she didn’t have to Work for hers the way I had to – have to continually – Work for mine.
Ironically, it may be worth noting here that this same Traister wrote another article about the female body, and in a much more sensitive tone. She also wrote about Uterine Fibroids, and, for some reason, didn’t use the words “Gross,” or “Crass,” and the like, even once.
I wonder why that is.
Except not really. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that these fibroids are hidden & unseen, an invisible problem, and therefore more Abstract than menses & childbirth. She doesn’t have to think real hard about the blood & guts, because she can’t see them on an every day basis.
What’s up with that?
My blog, and other places like it, are probably TMI for Traister and other folks. I expect that the title of mine should serve as fair warning of what lies ahead – “What you see is what you get.” Perhaps when you go to Jezebel and find out that it’s not what you were expecting, you should turn around and read about Victorian-era romance instead of writing a great big long schpeil about how shameful it all is, and, by inference, how shameful we all are. The internet is a big, wide place. There are other, more comfortable places you can go where you don’t have to confront your internalized norms about what the female body and mind “Should” or “Shouldn’t” do.
But I’ll stick around for now… perhaps, one day, if something unpleasant happens to Traister, or someone just like her, maybe then she’ll come around and see what it’s all about. I’ll probably be waiting.