A Conversation With My Partner About My Vaginismus
By S. Nicole Lane
My partner and I have been dating for three years, and I’ve had vaginismus for seven.
When I first met my partner at the tail end of my senior year in college, we decided on a strictly no-relationship-just-sex agreement. For the first time in my life, I had pain-free intercourse, and it continued fluidly and successfully for five months. Naturally, I fell in love.
But then, without any warning, my vaginismus snuck back into the bedroom, and I was back to where I had started — pained, confused, desperate.
Vaginismus is the medical term for a painful muscle spasm or contraction of the pelvic floor muscles that occurs as a result of physical contact. The tightening of the muscles causes intense pain; even inserting a tampon or finger can be virtually impossible. Some who are diagnosed have been sexually abused, while others are plagued by the problem for no apparent reason.
Dating can seem nonsensical and daunting when suffering from vaginismus. Because of this fear, I decided to talk to my partner of three years, on the record, about our joint experience with vaginismus.
Here’s a look inside my gender queer partnership (we believe gender is not binary and do not identify as specifically male or female) that doesn’t always include penetrative sex, but is still really sexy. My questions are in bold, followed by my partner’s responses.
Can you recall the first time I told you about my painful experiences with painful intercourse, or if I told you at all?
Yeah, you detailed experiences that you had with past partners and how you recalled experiencing pain with almost, if not all, of them.
When I first started experiencing painful sex, did you think that it would only last for a while or . . .
Last forever? I wasn’t sure. I thought that what you were describing were just symptoms of a condition that you could have had identified by a doctor or specialist. I was not too worried about it until it became a more serious conversation about your experiences at the gynecologist and “treatments” that they offered you. I wasn’t really going to harangue you about the condition either, as I don’t really know your body better than you do.
Had you ever even heard of anything like this before?
Painful sex? Yes, I knew it’s possible, if that’s what you’re asking. I just didn’t know if there was a specific condition, but I knew that people do have painful sex and sometimes heterosexual couples can’t have intercourse at all.
Have you ever been with someone, before me, who had problems with intercourse?
Yeah, but I can only speculate on what her issues with intercourse were. She didn’t really talk about the pain she felt during sex or other issues relating to sex. But I also didn’t press her on it or attempt to open a dialogue about it. I mean I was never really sure where my role as a caring partner ended and an overbearing one began when it came to a woman’s bodily agency. Regardless of the feelings we had about vaginal intercourse, our sexual relationship was mitigated by engaging in differing types of intercourse.
Did she tell you that she was in pain?
She did. That’s partially why we stopped. I mean there were several occasions when she bled during vaginal intercourse. During that period of painful sex, her reassurance and my complacency sort of perpetuated this period of painful sex until it reached a tipping point and vaginal intercourse became a less frequent thing. She never had a researched name for what was wrong.
Would you call vaginismus a sexual dysfunction? I’m not really sure if it was a physiological issue, a psychological one, an intersection of the two, or something else entirely.
I recently had a small conversation with a few other people in a vaginismus Facebook group led by Meg Zulch. Someone asked if we should consider this a “disability” or a “dysfunction” and what the different terms meant. Your body is trying to protect you from something that caused you pain in the past.
It probably has its own classification — though I’m leaning more toward dysfunction. Sort of like male erectile dysfunction. Is it a malfunction?
But your body isn’t broken. I’m trying to stay away from the concept that my vagina is broken.
It’s not a malfunction.
Your body is trying to protect you, but it’s hurting you at the same time.
It senses something so it responds to that something.
So, you had never heard of vaginismus, or a muscle contraction, by this direct name?
I had never heard of it, no.
I know that there are two main categories of vaginismus: primary, which is lifelong, and secondary, which occurs after a period of normal function. I just learned about global, which occurs in all situations and with any object. There is also situational, which can occur in certain situations, such as with one partner but not with others. It’s always been scary to admit to myself that I have primary, so now that I’m reading this, it may be situational. I can’t have sex, but going to the gynecologist has never caused me pain. It’s all a very complicated situation to diagnose yourself.
I’m curious if I were to be with someone else right now, would I have this pain? Is it situational in that sense?
Moving on, we went from having a very active sex life, to no sex. Our relationship was based on being friends with benefits in the very beginning. Right when we decided we wanted to be together in a serious committed relationship, we weren’t able to have intercourse successfully anymore. How do you think it’s changed our relationship?
I mean it was hard to deal with because I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening — I wasn’t sure if it was something I was causing, if it was on your end, or if it was a combination of the two. In short, it was worrisome. It was an abrupt change. It was a frustrating time in our relationship. But once you started getting “answers” from doctors, or suggestions from specialists, then it became a less obscure problem and we figured out ways around it. We voiced frustrations, but we settled the hash.
Have you ever been worried that you were the cause of my pain?
Yeah, I mean I thought this might be a repeat of a past relationship where this was a problem, where again, we wouldn’t address the issue, and it would again be a situation where it would be a compromise without addressing the more fundamental question of my partner’s health.
How do you feel about me writing about our personal life, specifically our sex life?
I’m comfortable with it, but you know my stance on those types of things, I’m not really that open. Sure, I’ll talk about it with someone I’m really close with, but I’m not that interested in projecting it any further than that. I also understand that from an information-sharing standpoint we should all be sharing these kinds of stories and normalizing this sort of condition. We should be talking about these situations because there are so many people with so many issues. That’s why the internet is really important. It all boils down to the fact that you realize that you are not alone. No one should have that feeling.
Okay. Thank you, I love you.
Lead image: Wikimedia Commons