Many women have been here, I know. They go to be intimate with their loved ones only to discover that the experience is painful, sometimes excruciatingly so. For some women, this happens after years of blissful sexual activity. For others, they’ve never had enjoyable sex in their lives and maybe never will. In my case, I have never had sex that didn’t feel like agony and I’m on a journey to figure out how to live with that reality.
I have written about my experiences discovering that pleasurable sex was not going to come naturally for me. My first sexual experience happened on my wedding night, and it was so painful that actual sex never happened. It didn’t happen for eight months after my wedding night, either. It was not until I shut my eyes and grit my teeth that I could say I had ever had any kind of sex at all, and the result for me was a bloody tongue and lip from biting down in an effort to keep from screaming while it happened. The next few years for me involved a variety of medical opinions, all of which seemed to conclude that it was in my head. They could not see any outward causes of pain: no funky lab results, no discolorations, no strange swelling. None of the usual culprits of dysfunction. I just had mental issues, the doctors told me.
And then I discovered a doctor who answered all of my questions. She said I had a condition called vulvar vestibulitis. Many gynecologists fail to recognize it or lack the training to see the indications; many women – including me – never hear about it. And yet, it affects a large portion of the population. Vulvodynia, defined in part as “a syndrome of unexplained vulvar pain that is frequently accompanied by physical disabilities…[and] sexual dysfunction” (Metts, 1999), may affect as much as 15 percent of the population.
I know how isolating it can be not to know the cause of painful intercourse. I know how frustrating it can be to have everyone around you denying that the pain is real, insinuating that it’s histrionics, that it’s all in your head. And I know the heartache of dealing with this condition on a daily basis.
And that’s why I decided to start this series on living with painful intercourse, because women need to share their experiences on this subject. We need to know we’re not alone, we’re not histrionic women, and that we’re okay – even if we can’t have wild, pleasurable sex, we’re okay. We’re going to be okay.
Metts, Julius M.D. Vulvodynia and vulvar vestibulitis: challenges in diagnosis and management. Am Fam Physician. 1999 Mar 15;59(6): 1547 ““ 1556. Accessed 7/8/2012. http://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0315/p1547.html.