ARB tells her story about living with vaginismus.
OBOS Today: In the sign up form, you kind of talked about the intersections of mental health, sex and contraception and your own experience of having vaginismus. And so, I guess starting from the beginning, I guess like, if you wanted to just like, talk about like how that started for you or how you first noticed it?
ARB: Yeah, so, um so just for background, so I’m 31 years old now, um but I would say since I hit puberty, I had had a lot of anxiety and fears around sex and pregnancy in particular. So, I now know after um you know, receiving diagnosis for, like, obsessive thinking, um an anxiety disorder, you know, like where some of the stuff stems from.
But growing up, I was very afraid of getting pregnant regardless of whether or not I was sexually active and similarly, I’m very nervous about using different forms of birth control particularly taking pills. Like which is now I know, like you considered a fear of contamination, like, bodily contamination.
And with all of this in mind, it centered a lot of anxiety around the actual like, act of sex, whether it’s vaginal intercourse or other sexual activities. And I didn’t really have language for it, and I was definitely really embarrassed to talk about it because I was already a late bloomer.
I was already somebody who had a lot of questions about and discomfort with, you know, with my own body being vulnerable with my body with somebody else’s body.
So, it’s the kind of thing that I just kept to myself. So, when I did start becoming sexually active every month, I had the same sort of like fear that I was going to become pregnant again whether or not there was any actual chance. Or you know, you know, clearly using contraceptive in ways that—
Like using condoms in particular in ways that were going, you know, in ways that I could recognize that you know, they were not broken or that they have been successfully used.
So, every month this was happening more and more, like with more and more anxiety and then that coupled with the actual first time I ever had penetrative sex with someone with a penis really hurt a lot.
And I think that that for many a long time and I was also in my early twenties at this point you know, I had assumed it would hurt because that’s sort of like the myth around having penetrative sex for the first time, you know, and people’s experiences vary.
But I figured like that’s what was supposed to happen and then more and more it didn’t get better and even, you know really affected my relationship with that partner at the time.
You know I was in a relationship where I felt very safe, and we had a lot of open communication.
So, my partner at the time had a lot of—
He could really understand and like he had emotional intelligence to see that even though I was giving consent and saying yes and like wanted to have penetrative sex.
Like when we were actually performing that act, I was like uncomfortable and in a lot of pain, my muscles were not like relaxing in a way that showed that I was enjoying it.
So, you know, I was felt supported but and respected, you know sexually and emotionally, but I just sort of accepted that that was how it was going to be for me.
And so, it wasn’t—
And it was like that again with you know, every partner I had following and until I was reading something, and I wish I could remember what it was, but I saw like there was a list of you know, typical symptoms of people who experienced Vaginismus.
People for who sex is painful for long after, you know, even after—just every time, I guess. And so that helped me to make sense of what was happening.
Whenever somebody whether it’s a partner or even like a doctor would touch like my thigh area ahead of perhaps me or something,
My knees would for you know, slam close my muscles would seize which ultimately ended up making everything much more painful.
So, you know, for me, I think a lot of it was—is very much tied to mental health and feeling safe and trust, like trusting.
So, one thing that has helped me so far has now that I’m older is being in a relationship with a partner who has really worked on this with me over the past, you know, eight years at this point.
And also seeking mental health therapy. So, practicing mindful and breathing techniques because again it creates like—
It’s almost like a dissonance between what your mind wants and what your body is doing.
So, trying to work on like having those two pieces be a little bit more harmonious with one another.
And then there are also of course, you know, talking to your gynecologist, there’s physical therapy available for your pelvic floor.
And so really recognizing that it was a thing that existed in the world that other people felt and have experienced rather than something that I thought I was alone.
And couldn’t talk to anybody else about because it wasn’t the common experience for you know, a young woman or like what sex should be like for somebody in their twenties or you know.