“It hurts in a way that’s really hard to describe…” I said to my doctor just after lunchtime on a Monday.
“The pain is sort of, muscular? I’ve googled it and I couldn’t find anything,” I mumbled, looking down at my clammy hands, immediately embarrassed that I’d admitted to googling my symptoms before coming to the doctor. “It’s not just at the beginning of sex either,” I quickly added. “It’s also when I go to put a tampon in, and my last pap smear really hurt.”
I’d always suspected that maybe I just had a really low pain threshold, and that’s why I fainted when I kicked my little toe on a coffee table, or wanted to yell very loudly whenever I accidentally bit my tongue.
But something told me this wasn’t entirely normal.
I couldn’t remember the precise moment it started, I explained to the doctor; maybe three years ago? Four? Sex certainly hadn’t always been uncomfortable, but it was like something had happened, and all of a sudden I was – for lack of a better term – clamping up.
She looked at me like I was a puzzle she had proudly worked out.
“You have vaginismus,” she said.
Unlike most, I actually knew exactly what vaginismus was. The condition is typified by painful intercourse, sometimes making penetration difficult or impossible. It also manifests in painful tampon insertion and gynaecological exams.
LISTEN: Why so many women aren’t getting pap smears. We discuss on Mamamia Out Loud.
The muscle spasms that cause the discomfort are involuntary, and therefore no amount of “just relax” will fix the problem. It is also believed the condition is psychosomatic, meaning the psychological state manifests the physical symptoms.
What I didn’t understand, however, was why this had happened all of a sudden. The women I knew who lived with vaginismus had struggled to have sex in the first place – not just out of the blue at the age of 23.
That’s when the doctor asked if I’d ever experienced sexual assault.
“Oh. Yeah there was one experience,” I said. “I was attacked on a street, but it wasn’t penetrative or anything, so I don’t think that could be it…”
I was referring to an incident that took place in 2014, during a late afternoon in winter.
My twin sister and I had done some grocery shopping and were walking home together, talking about nothing in particular.