This post is one person's experience, and should not be considered medical advice.
As told to Shona Hendley
My name is *Mel, I am 29 years old, in a long-term relationship, and my vagina and I both have anxiety.
If you laughed, I understand. When my specialist first told me I did too, because I thought surely she was telling me some sort of joke. Vagina anxiety? Come on, is that even real?
Watch: How well do you know your lady garden? Post continues below.
But she wasn’t joking, and it is real. Scientifically, it is called ‘dyspareunia’, which is “an overarching medical term for pain caused during, or after sexual intercourse” (her words). Technically this pain can be experienced by men and women but is more common in females. Typical.
Although dyspareunia is used to describe pain caused by a variety of underlying reasons, after what felt like an eternity of assessments, appointments, exercises and treatments that didn’t work, I was finally told the reason why I experienced this pain myself, and this was vaginal anxiety - or a tightening and tension of my vulva and pelvic floor muscles, a side-effect of my own anxiety.
My journey to a correct diagnosis wasn’t straightforward. It took months. But it would have probably taken longer if I hadn’t been so persistent in finding the answers and a solution for my pain. When you experience such intense pain that it hurts for days after you have sex with the man you love, you become determined to find a solution. In my case, I was desperate.
For the majority of my sexually active life I haven’t had any issues with intercourse. I found the experience almost always pleasurable, and definitely didn’t experience any pain. When I began dating my current partner nearly six years ago, I was having the best sex of my life, and it remained this way for years.
Two years ago, I first began to notice a burning pain - not every time we had sex, but on occasion. At first, we just thought it was not enough foreplay, or being tired. But then the frequency and the intensity of the pain increased so much so that I was physically cringing when we were having sex, so badly we had to stop. It was very clearly not pleasant, let alone pleasurable, for either of us.
After speaking with my GP, I got a referral to an OB-GYN, who asked a multitude of questions. I explained, in great detail, my sexual history, my current sex life and everything in between. After a few appointments and some assessments she couldn’t determine a diagnosable problem that would be causing my issues and referred me on to a pelvic physiotherapist.