Adele is rolling in the deep, Lady Gaga was born this way, and I was on the brink of seventeen, giving Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’ a run for its money.
I’d met Jay a couple of months earlier and was totally besotted. He was older than I, drove a beat-up silver wagon with his surfboard lodged in the back, and once made me a mix-tape dedicated almost entirely to José González.
The first time we did the deed was hard.
In fact, it was abnormally difficult. But if I had been taught anything from my incredibly heteronormative and limited sexual education (and one particularly frightening story about a cousin’s friend’s sister’s dog-walker’s legal guardian who had a seizure when she lost her virginity due to him being too ‘well endowed’), it was that sex was meant to hurt.
However, the second, and the third, and the one-hundredth and fourth time continued to hurt. It felt like I was participating in a torturous tango with a dildo wrapped in sandpaper… and then doused in bleach.
Our relationship ended after Jay found himself amongst the ripper swell on a Balinese beach, and my vagina thanked the Lord for the seven-month hiatus that proceeded.
It was then that I met and began a relationship with Theo, and the pain continued. This time around it was worse, even – which most likely had to do with the fact that sex didn’t need to revolve around school-hours and protective parents as it did when I was seventeen.
One afternoon, my best friend and I were driving to lunch, and she made a mention of what sounded like a fairly impressive orgasm she had experienced during sex with her boyfriend. I found this baffling, and encouraged her to be real with me – girl-to-girl; woman-to-woman, vagina-to-vagina.
I wanted her to slap me across the shoulder and heartily laugh, “I’m kidding! It fucking sucks!” and we’d drive off into the sunset giddily with our burning, red vulvas. But that reaction never came. I was tired of pretending that sex was enjoyable when it in fact made my skin crawl. But I also had no idea what penetrative sex was actually meant to feel like.
After doing some research on the interwebz, I came to the conclusion that I must be suffering from a condition called Vaginismus: which, according to vaginismus.com, is caused by the “involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor, especially the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle group”.
Because of this, penetrative sex is often incredibly painful, if not impossible.
In quick succession, I made it a mission of mine to be cured. But it is particularly difficult to cure yourself when you have no idea why your condition developed in the first place. So, whilst standard protocol for those with inflamed, ‘sealed’ vaginas is to undergo physiotherapy regularly, my physiotherapist suggested I see a sex therapist as well to resolve my anxieties surrounding penetrative sex.
Instead, my sex therapist and I laughed about toxic masculinity and she would pretend her hand was a ‘pussy’ and patted it each session to ‘calm my vagina and I down’. Whilst it sounds somewhat unconventional, it no doubt helped. She even had me name my vagina, so that it assumed an identity so to speak. That way, I wouldn’t ever want to cause it pain or discomfort ever again.
The pussy-patting and the vagina-naming was a walk in the park compared to the dilator usage I had to undergo. Those opaque, rigid, plastic sticks seemed unthreatening at the start. The first one was potentially the size of my pinky-finger and I inserted it regularly, with a huge smile on my face and an inflated ego as if I had climbed Mt. Everest. However, the last one looked like a large Rexona bottle. When my Mum, after joining me at one session, saw the monster-XXL-dilator, she nervously giggled and said, “But I’m sure… I’m sure penises don’t get that big.”
There are still things I squirm at; like pap-smears and tampons. The last time I attempted to insert a tampon was in the company of my physiotherapist, who – in a maternal fashion – attempted to guide me through the entire ordeal. I was fine until I realised that I had a foreign, obtrusive object lodged into my insides, and then grabbed the string and screamed horrifically as I tried to remove it. It was as if I had been possessed by the demon himself, but instead he had ribbed edges, medium absorbency and came in a delightful polka-dot packaging.
Penetrative sex doesn’t have to hurt. In fact, it shouldn’t. I encourage women to listen to their bodies and understand that their comfort is incredibly important. No amount of masking my yelps for pleasurable moans proved advantageous. Now, after about eight months of patience, practice and persistence; the pain has subsided entirely. It sometimes shocks me, that after five-years of constant pain and rawness, I can have penetrative sex comfortably.
It no doubt helps that I am met with an incredibly considerate partner, who doesn’t insist on making love to me the way a preteen would his sock whilst dribbling over ‘Put Your Hands Up For Detroit’ on Channel [V].
Madison Griffiths is a writer and illustrator from Melbourne.