Guest Blog -Journey to Physical Peace
I begin my story with a short letter to my friend and foe, V, reflecting on how we have lived together all this time, often fractiously, sometimes gratefully, but mostly in a state of bewilderment.
How you have held me.
Held me prisoner.
Held me safe.
Kept me in the dark,
Vaguely waved your existence to me from the shadows.
Caused me to blame the other person for years, protected me from attack, from undesirables, from accidental embryos. Kept me single, humiliated, unable to share my trauma with others.
May we make peace?
In this still patriarchal society, I see girls and women all around me who settle for less, or worse, in the masculine counterpart. They believe that they have no choice. Once doomed with that lesser value, many of them even fight to protect it, to prevent it from leaving them. For these beautiful women, anything is better than being alone, the fear and stigma of which holds such great power in our culture.
When I was attacked nearly four years ago, by someone I initially chose to become involved with, it triggered a pinnacle to an existing condition. The man involved went to prison, not for his crime to me, but for violence to a woman who went before me. In my low self worth I did not speak out, believing myself to be to blame - I had chosen to become involved with him. It did not matter that I had had to lock my door at least once to stop him entering my room.
Further back in time, whilst still an angry teenager, my drink one night was spiked by colleagues, and I was teased for being a drunk, because they were accustomed to me partying. Then a recently overheard conversation about Rohypnol shook me to the core, as I learned of its proper use as a relaxant, and how a friend who had had an operation remembered the point at which he regained consciousness, only for his sister to tell him he had been laughing and chatting with her for an hour already. Of this, he had no memory. Of what may have happened to me that night, I have no memory.
Vaginismus is: "a condition where there is involuntary tightness of the vagina during attempted intercourse The tightness is actually caused by involuntary contractions of the pelvic floor muscles surrounding the vagina. The woman does not directly control or 'will' the tightness to occur; it is an involuntary pelvic response. She may not even have any awareness that the muscle response is causing the tightness or penetration problem. "
Until about five years ago I did not even know Vaginismus existed. I had suffered quietly, and for a long time. Repeatedly I had told myself it was the other party's fault, that they did not know how to treat me, and that I just needed to find the right person. Then, I blamed myself. I was lurching from one disastrous relationship to another, never recovering, and the condition was getting worse. I was rejected repeatedly for sexual reasons. Some men tried to rescue me, to be the knight in shining armour, "we will get through this", but they would lose confidence at the first hurdle, running away in fear, their egos distressed.
Vaginismus comes in different guises, for different women. The options for 'curing' it are depressing. Unable to find much through my GP, I was eventually referred for some short term counselling through the sexual health unit, which was held in a redundant hospital, and ran out after a few weeks because of funding. I then paid for some Tantra counselling, at around £120 a session, thinking an alternative route might help me, but my savings were finished by the third session and I was no further forward.
My last cervical smear test had to be done under general anaesthetic, and I sobbed all the way through the gynaecologist pre-appointment. My family were far away, and only a casual friend was free on the day to come with me.
The hospital provided me with dilators: depressing, pink plastic objects or 'vaginal trainers' which I was meant to practice inserting daily, until the vagina was stretched. To say this felt cold, clinical and disheartening is an understatement. Another option I learned was to have an operation, where the vaginal walls are forcibly stretched. I wondered, do we live in an era of barbarism.
Finally I quit relationships. I was fully in my own company for around 18 months. I recovered strength and confidence, and felt more comfortable in my body than I had for a very long time. With a childhood in shadow of the traumas of boarding school, initiations and long term humiliation, this was a powerful piece of progress. Although my journey is long, and I am approaching the age beyond which I can have children, I am growing in confidence, and making peace with myself and my experiences.
I envision a future where our culture reveres womens' sensuality and sexuality as the highest, most powerful life force. Where it is only ever honoured, and men find strength and masculinity in the process of encountering it. Where girls reaching puberty are allowed to embrace their changing body and chemistry, and fully honour its transformation. Where men are content in society, and in harmony with the feminine.
I write this for any woman who has suffered or is suffering from Vaginismus. For some, a label is unhelpful, restricting. For me, it has brought relief and clarity and something to work with. I hope that this writing shows that there is support out there. And I wish to encourage the truth that penetration is only one part of intimacy, and that as women we do not have to bow to the societal pressure that it is the only goal, or acceptable form of that intimacy.
Finally DRCS, who I rang from a public payphone in distress after the attack four years previously, have, for me, been a miraculous source of support, empathy, and empowerment. I am deeply grateful to them for their women-centred work and their service.
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