Vaginismus plagues many women who read this blog.
It’s a condition where your vagina tenses up, completely involuntarily (you have no control over it) during intercourse, making intercourse either very painful or downright impossible. I get so many letters from women suffering from this, and I shared in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex about how my marriage was plagued by vaginismus for the first few years. I know what these women go through, because I did too.
And so I’d like to do a three-part series on it this week, sharing some stories and then doing a round-up of resources.
We’re going to start today with this vulnerable and very open post from newlywed Lauren Meeks, sharing what she wishes she understood before she got married, which would have prepared her better.
I was raised to view my virginity as almost as important as my salvation.
It was my most precious possession, to be guarded at all costs, and the loss of it before marital bliss was possibly the most shameful thing that could possibly have happened to me.
I took those warning to heart.
I signed the pledge to wait to have sex until marriage, I wore the purity ring, I restricted my dating life to a handful of guys in college and beyond…I even swore that I would refrain from kissing my husband until the wedding day.
But I assumed that all of that work would pay off with a hot, passionate sex life with my husband after we had finally said “I do.” I assumed that because no one had ever told me differently. Despite my repeated and direct questions, the best advice I got from my trusted friends, family, and even doctors was always along the lines of “it’ll all work out,” or “don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.”
Then 3 months ago, I was married to the most wonderful man I’ve ever met.
And let’s just say…things haven’t worked out as planned.
Shortly after returning from the honeymoon, after a week of tears and pain and frustration, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with vaginismus, involuntary contractions of the pelvic muscles that make sex extremely painful or even impossible. What followed were the darkest few months of my life.
My challenges were caused by much more than mere physical challenges, and they affected me much deeper than I expected them to. As I came to a more realistic understanding of just what a difficult road I had ahead of me if I wanted to overcome my diagnosis, I became engulfed deeper and deeper into depression, ever more convinced of my utter failure as a woman and as a wife.
As I fought to find time on the calendar and money in the budget for daily physical therapy and weekly counseling, I also found myself becoming enraged with everyone around me – my husband, my family, my friends, and most of all, God. The injustice of it was more than I could bear. I had worked so hard to stay pure for my husband, and now that I was married I was rewarded with nothing but stress and anxiety.
I am not out of the woods yet. The therapy and counseling continue, as do occasional recurrences of depression and self-pity. But I have learned a lot during the past three months, things I desperately wish I’d known before I was married. Here are 5 things I would have told my pre-wedded self if I could; 5 things that hopefully will benefit your unmarried daughters and keep them from going through the same mental and emotional trauma I did.
1. Your sexual performance is not a judge of your quality as a woman or as a wife.
This was by far the most damaging lie I believed when I got married. My husband was consistently very supportive of and patient with me…but in the back of my mind, I always knew how important sex is to men. And when I couldn’t easily give him that, I allowed it to color every single thing I did with a terrible sense of gloom and failure.
I remember one night, my husband asked me to preheat the oven to 350 degrees before he got home from work. I mistakenly set it to 400 instead. When he got home and we realized my mistake, I had a complete mental breakdown. I had been walking around with such a deep conviction of my utter failure as a woman because of my physical struggles in the bedroom, that something as innocuous as preheating the oven to the wrong temperature would send me into a tailspin.
What I have had to learn and accept is that I am valuable and worthy of love, period. My performance as a wife, as a daughter, and as a friend does not and cannot change this fact. Once I was able to embrace that fact, the emotional breakdowns became much fewer and farther between.
2. There is no requirement that you have sex on the honeymoon.
My honeymoon week was filled with fights and frustrations and tears…lots and lots of tears. My husband was more than willing to wait, but because I’d been so thoroughly coached by popular culture about how all honeymoons should be full of passionate lovemaking, I tried to force myself to give him what I thought he needed. The only thing that accomplished was making me more miserable and convinced of my failure as a wife.
As newlyweds in general, but especially on your honeymoon, you are getting to know each other in a completely different way. It’s almost as if you’re a brand-new dating couple again. And so, just like when you had just started dating, it’s important to not put undue pressure on each other. Talk about your expectations beforehand, of course, but the main focus of your honeymoon should be just enjoying being with each other and getting to know each other. Don’t feel like you have to force yourself to give him something that you’re not ready to give. He will wait for you, and he will still love you and think no less of you while he is waiting.
3. You need to be honest and upfront with your husband.
The biggest fight I’ve ever had with my husband since we’ve met was the night after our wedding. And it was all a result of a simple miscommunication about expectations for the wedding night. If I had been completely transparent about the things I was nervous or scared about beforehand, we could have avoided that fight completely (and many others after it, as well).
4. Find a doctor you trust…preferably before the wedding.
When I got married I was pretty naive about both the female and the male physiology. Being more informed would have helped ease my nerves enormously.
It’s not that I didn’t try to inform myself. I did go visit doctors several times between the engagement and the wedding. But they all shrugged off my concerns, assuring me that everything would work out after the wedding.
That’s no help at all. You need to find someone who will be upfront and honest about any potential problems, listen to and REALLY respond to your concerns, and help you prepare for any issues you may not have considered.
Sheila Says: in my book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I try to prepare new brides for what’s coming, including talking to them about what may be “normal” pain and what is something else entirely. And I explain the ins and outs (pardon the pun) of everything that will be happening! If you’re about to get married, or know a woman who’s engaged, pick up a copy for her so that she’s prepared.
5. Self-pity will get you nowhere.
Some people prefer to wallow in self-pity instead of trying to fix their problems. I know, I was one of them. And for a while, it may be somewhat cathartic to just feel sorry for yourself. But eventually self-pity will paralyze you, leave you unable to take control of your life and really LIVE it to the fullest.
I have vaginismus. It isn’t fair.
Some people have cancer, depression, autoimmune disorders, missing limbs, cleft palates, diabetes, paralysis….obviously the list goes on and on. Those diseases aren’t fair, either. Everyone has their own cross to bear, some sort of unfair challenge they must fight that no one else around them has to deal with.
But personal challenges don’t mean life isn’t worth living. They are a normal part of the human existence.
When you come across an insurmountable challenge that seems so unfair to you, when you wrestle with anger and bitterness and thoughts of “why me?”, don’t let the unfairness of life rob you of your joy of it.
Eventually you’ve got to pick yourself up, find some supportive people to surround yourself with, and figure out what the next step is to having a happy, productive life again.
It’s easy for women in positions similar to my own to play the blame game. They blame their parents, their teachers, their husband, and most certainly they blame themselves. But even if there is a very clear party that is directly to blame for your struggles (which is very unusual), passing blame will not make your situation any better, and it will probably make it worse.
I am valued, treasured, loved and worth loving. As are you.
That is a fact that does not change, regardless of what is going on in your life, regardless of how much of a failure you think you are. But hopefully, by preparing yourself ahead of time and learning how to love and accept yourself as you are, you can avoid a lot of the post-wedding anguish that I went through.
I would love to hear about any challenges you’ve worked to overcome in the comments below!
Lauren Meeks is a travel junkie and life enthusiast. She believes that everyone has a story, and writes to share her story and help others develop theirs. There is always an adventure to be found, no matter how mundane one’s life feels! She blogs about how to create a meaningful life at forgingsignificance.com. You can find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/laurenpmeeks, or follow her on Twitter @laurenpmeeks.