Valentines Sex Fest (or not)

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

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

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

So where do I begin…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had intercourse

02/23/2009 at 8:03 pm | Posted in sex, Uncategorized, vulvodynia | 3 Comments
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A rhetorical question:

Do you still have FSD if you are having S? Under the narrowest of definitions; for I have had sex many times under the broad view. Under the narrowest of definitions, where “Sex” is synonymous with “Intercourse.”  I don’t like that narrow view much.  I like the broader, more flexible view. The narrow view minimizes the importance & validity of other forms of sexual activity, & places too strong of an emphasis on one type of sex as the end-all, beat-all definiton.

Yet I do not wish to de-emphasize intercourse completely, pushing it below oral, mutual masturbation, anal sex, and others. That I was able to enjoy sexual intercourse means something to me on a personal level, too.

Finally, after a quarter-century of life – and at least 3 or 4 of those living with vulvar pain, I have had pain-free sexual intercourse. 2 or 3 years with treatment for vulvodynia & vaginismus, which fall under the “Pain” or “Medical reasons” category of female sexual dysfunction. 2 years post-surgery, about a year & a half of at-home dilator therapy, 1 year of chiropractic & acupuncture for some kind of not-vestibulitis flare, and 6 months of physical therapy.

I have seen both sides of the same coin (although I only just glimpsed one of the sides as it was spinning.) Do I still have a right to talk about this? Or am I supposed to pack it all in now & never talk about it again?

Pain-free sexual intercourse is a wholly different experience compared to my first attempts at it, which ended with me torn, bleeding & in pain (quite on accident, I assure you.)

I believe some of my exact words upon thrusting were, “My god is this what it feels like to other women? This doesn’t hurt!” There was zero pain. I don’t mean there was minimal pain, a 1 on a scale of 1-10. There was no “Ow!” just, “Oh!”  I felt a warmth and a weight and a fullness. I was even lucky enough to experience some pleasure from penetration – a thing which has always been elusive even when I search for it by my own hand.

I did not experience Dyspareunia. I didn’t tear or bleed. I was… okay. Whole & safe & sound.

I don’t know how I did that.

Is this that “Hope” feeling I have heard tales about? Does it really not have to be painful?

It wasn’t easy, don’t get me wrong. I had to work for it, knowing full well that even with hard work, there were no promises of ever having pain-free sex. The promise remains slippery as a fish. I have been conditioned to feel pain with intercourse, and some anxiety even with other sexual activities.

My ability to have intercourse may still come with a price – I went to physical therapy as usual while my partner was visiting, shortly before attempting intercourse. My physical therapist noticed a rather large, firm lump deep within my left labia. It wasn’t there the week prior. She recommends I see a gynecologist soon regardless (I’m long overdue for a routine pap smear,) and point out the lump to the gyno.
I have a feeling that the lump may be a cyst. With my partner around and indulging in my sexual whims, I was spending a lot more time in a state of arousal than average. I have a feeling my lubrication glands were getting overworked & clogged up. After another day of sexual stimulation, even I noticed the lump – it felt firm & sore. Enough to make sitting & sleeping difficult & requiring a dose of Tylenol.

So although the act of intercourse itself was pain-free, I still wound up experiencing some discomfort afterwards.
“You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?”

There’s not a lot I can do about that if it’s a cyst. I can take warm sitz baths & give it a rest now that my partner has returned home. But I’m probably at a higher risk of developing cysts for the rest of my life now, following surgery. Although my understanding is that most of the time if you were going to get one, it would have appeared within the first few months post-surgery. Still. Healthy women without FSD can develop cysts so, I don’t feel too inferior about it. Happens to the best of us.

The lump seems to have decreased in size somewhat over the last few days to the point where I’m having trouble finding it again – which is probably a good thing. Perhaps I’ll get lucky & the fluid will find its way out of my body by itself. Maybe the gland isn’t totally blocked, just, clogged & overworked.

As I suspected, sexual intercourse did not change the dynamics of my current relationship. I laughed, I danced, I crowed when I was able to experience this activity so long out of reach.

But it did not change who I am or the state of my relationship.

Without a full understanding of what causes really vulvodynia in the first place, I don’t know if I’m at risk of developing either ever again. Is whatever process that caused it, still floating around within my body? Waiting, latent, biding its time…

I remain cautious, protective, reluctant to lower my guard & freely indulge in this newfound sexual option. Having known vulvar pain for so long, I must forever remain vigilant, lest it rear one of its ugly hydra heads. Will it return? Will one of its siblings pop up, in the form of a string of infections, cysts, muscle tension, pudendal neuralgia, et al? Will the hormonal shifts that happen with menopause drain my libido and cause my vulvar tissue to become inflamed once again? Will I develop an adhesion in the clitoral hood & have difficulty orgasming?

I believe that at least the vaginismus remains in place. I’ll probably have to maintain my stretches, kegels & dilator work long-term to keep it under control. I can still feel my pelvic floor muscles tensing against my conscious orders to relax. They’re doing it right now if I take my mind’s eye off of them.

Psychologically, any improvement or decrease in my mood following intercourse has been short-lived. My outlook & philosophy on life seems to be the same. I am not going to be going out and throwing any large parties. I do not currently feel depressed, either. Sexually, as my vulvar specialist put it, I “Probably won’t be swinging off any chandeliers.” I remain ~some kind of feminist, even as I struggle to cobble together a working definition for myself.

Relationship wise, I cannot detect any change in my or my partner’s behavior or overall mood. My ignorant, mean high school sex ed teachers constantly droned on about how “Sex changes everything,” but maybe it does not always. Or maybe it already did from a few years ago, when we just started being intimate, and we have already worked through the change. After this most recent attempt at intercourse though, we treated each other the same after as we did before. We still enjoy other sexual activities. We still play video games. We still tease each other. We still love each other. We still aren’t married yet, nor engaged.
And we’re both still nervous about intercourse. Some performance anxiety & a fear of pain & injury remains.

After all, sexual intercourse isn’t exactly easy on my partner either. It’s a pretty athletic endeavor and a real production for a pelvic pain patient. The basic setup required lots of materials & tools. It took multiple attempts to get the angles just right and then to actually keep my partner’s penis inserted. I’m definitely not ready for the kinds of positions seen in the kama sutra guides – or ready for more basic positions, either. I’m still figuring out how to line the angles up for spooning, woman-on-top, etc. And being in missionary position requires quite a bit of arm & leg strength, for both my partner and myself. Neither of us were able to achieve orgasm in this manner or maintain the state of intercourse for very long.
Intercourse is a pretty complicated dance and certainly one requiring a lot of practice & patience.

Which isn’t going to be an easy thing for me to have for at least several more months, seeing as I remain in a Long-Distance Relationship.
Which means, I have no idea what the long view looks like. My partner has returned home for a few months, and so I am once again a solitary creature for an unknown length of time. There’s a lot that can happen within a few months. I don’t know what will happen next time I see him. How am I going to do this again?

This may not be over yet. Or even if it is (hopefully,) I might like to continue speaking the words aloud. I know full well that it is possible to have vulvodynia, vaginismus, difficulty orgasming, low libido, and others, to varying degrees and still be able to enjoy intercourse & other sexual activity. Or not. And I still see places where alternate views of sexuality & sexual wellness are lacking. Still a gap needs a bridge.

And so I still feel the need to continue forward.

“Still the road keeps on telling me to go on. Something is pulling me. I feel the gravity of it all.”

The 2nd annual Beaver Day celebration

02/02/2009 at 7:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, vulvodynia | Leave a comment
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February is a very special month for me. It is the month of V’s.

Two years ago to the day, I had a vestibulectomy. This is THE surgical approach to treatment of vulvar vestibulitis, a sub-type of vulvodynia. When you hear about surgery for vestibulitis, this is probably what is being referred to. The quick & simple overview is, a surgeon excises a few millimeters of pain-feeling vulvar tissue and replaces it by pulling down healthy vaginal tissue and sewing it in place.
I literally wear part of my vagina on the outside of my body.
For me, the results have been good – a significant, measurable drop in my pain levels. Combined with physical therapy to address the residual, there are times where I feel almost “Normal.” But I’ve seen enough horror stories to know it’s not right for everyone.
Recovery from the surgery was the second hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. (The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was make it through college.. surgery on my vulva is second only to that.)

It was February 2nd – Groundhog Day in the US. I always thought this coincidence was kind of funny. I was having my “Beaver” worked on, on Groundhog Day. In life, groundhogs & beavers are both members of the rodent family, but after that, they branch off into different families & genuses.

Still. They’re both big brown furry rodents… they both like to chuck wood, so to speak. They’re not the exactly same but eh, “Close enough.” So I decided that henceforth, for me personally, Groundhog Day would be known as Beaver Day.
It’s funnier that way.

Especially considering that my elder sister gave me a stuffed Beanie Baby beaver doll when I was in recovery.
With band-aids on its stomach.
I named it “Buster.”
I think I’ve earned a right to laugh. I think I’ve been through enough.

So there’s one set of V’s, for “Vulva. Vestibulitis. Vulvodynia. Vestibulectomy. Vagina.”

February 2nd falls close to February 14 – Valentines Day in many parts of the world. A holiday dedicated to love, romance, seduction, decorated by hues of passion: Reds, pinks, whites… and shared with candy, flowers, movies, food, sexual activity…
…And marred by commercialization.

Valentine’s Day falling shortly after Beaver Day is especially relevant this year, because for the first time, my partner is going to be here with me on Valentine’s Day. We’ve been doing the long-distance relationship thing for several years now, so it’s hard to match up our schedules with work & finances. This is the first time we’ve been able to pull of an actual Valentine’s Day Event. In fact, he’ll be arriving shortly after midnight – which means the day of his arrival will officially be February 14. About 1:00AM in the morning of February 14, but that counts. We’ll have the entire day to spend together.
What a perfect present for me! Talk about a special delivery…

(And now that the day is fast approaching, I’m thinking to myself, “I have no idea what normal couples do on Valentine’s Day… what do I do??? I’ve never done this before!” I am experiencing some performance anxiety.)

So here we have yet another V – “Valentine.

February 14 does double duty as V-Day, as put forth by Eve Eisner, creator of the Vagina Monologues. In practice, the events of V-Day spill over throughout the month of February, and, really the entire rest of the year. It is a time in which people from around the world organize events with the goal of defending women’s rights, and stopping violence & sexual assault, among other things.

Taken directly from the V-Day site, “The ‘V’ in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina.

How appropriate.

There are various criticisms & praise of the Vagina Monologues. Some of the criticisms, I understand. It’s not perfect. One play in particular, about the teenage girl finding sexual healing with an adult, has been called into question due to its flippant use of the word “Rape.” This piece has since been altered to age up the girl. It may be more appropriately called “The Vulva Monologues,” since some parts of the play deal with the external flesh rather than the birth canal.

But other times, I don’t understand where the criticisms are coming from. I do not believe that VM is out to “Get” all men. In my experience, men would do well to watch a performance live, or even the DVD. I do not believe that it objectifies or reduces women to this one part of their anatomy; rather it is an acknowledgment that this part exists. I do not believe it foolish to think of the vagina having its own voice and trying to channel whatever it is your vagina has on its mind.
In my personal experience, I have to listen to whatever it is my vagina is trying to tell me.
You try ignoring your vagina’s voice when for days & nights at a time it is singing its song of pain.
So personally, I’m a big fan of the VM.

V-Day also seems like a noble alternative – or supplement – to Valentine’s Day. Even if you do not currently have a partner (or even if you do,) or do not enjoy Valentine’s Day for one reason or another, perhaps you would be interested in these events. To participate in something greater than oneself, with the goal of reducing violence & rape around the world.
I can get on board with that.

But the first (second) day of the month is Beaver Day. This marks the beginning of the Month of V.

I like to recognize February 2 specifically as an important date in my life. Two years out, I feel a lot better following the surgery (and some subsequent treatments.) So I consider Beaver Day to be my vagina’s Birthday. I like to give it a little celebration.

Partly, I do this because this is an area where I feel superstitious… part of me fears if I don’t take the time out to recognize it, it will throw a tantrum and my pain will flare up again.

I may modify this Beaver Day Ritual since it’s still new, but for the last two years, I’ve acknowledged this date by performing a little Ritual. One year was marked by re-applying and then removing the band-aids from Buster’s belly, by candlelight. For this February 2nd, I poured libations.

It may be worth noting here that, I am not spiritual, like at all. I haven’t decided which organized religion, if any, is best for me. I’m on the fence with the whole afterlife thing. When bad things happen to good people and vice versa, most of the time I wind up taking more comfort in the cold logic of Statistics rather than God’s great plan.
Still. I want to believe in something greater than myself. Some kind of benevolent life force running around in each & every living cell.
I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it some more.

It may also be worth noting here that, I don’t drink like, ever, so I don’t actually own any wine to pour a libation with. I had to make do with what I do have readily available – Kahlua liquor.

I stepped outside. It was unseasonably warm this year. For some reason, the Pennsylvania Beaver Groundhog determined we still have 6 more weeks of winter left. The year I had surgery, he heralded an early spring.

Outside, I poured one ounce of alcohol into a shot glass and consumed it.
One for me…
To be grateful for how far I’ve come but always aware that I could revert back.
Wow the Kahlua is good. :9

Then I poured one ounce into a decorative porcelain dish, then tipped it over & let it hit the ground.
And one for my Homies…
To acknowledge other women who experience vulvar pain.

Then I said a little silent prayer to whatever spirit may be listening… I like to imagine my prayer going up to the Snatch Gods.
I don’t know who those are.

CREEPY MOMENT: This year as soon as I was done pouring the libations, a strong wind blew up out of nowhere & pushed me forward about a step. My hair blew forward into my face. It’s an otherwise beautiful, sunny day – especially for early February.
Welp I guess something was listening. That was kinda weird. Why did the wind blow at that particular moment… that was an odd coincidence… that was enough to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I didn’t think I was that superstitious.

Then I ate a big ol’ cupcake. Buying a whole birthday cake seemed a bit much, since it’s not all of me that’s aged another year. One cupcake is enough, for one part of me.

And now I go forward with my life as best I can, my personal coping mechanism ritual complete…

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