When Sex means the Emergency Room: My experiences with a sexual dysfunction

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The first time I had sex I ended up in the ER. I don’t have a regretful story about how it wasn’t the right person, or I wasn’t ready. Instead, I was terrified.

I remember thinking at this point like I was broken or inadequate. I had always had difficulty using tampons before, but I figured I just wasn’t used to them or I wasn’t using them the right way. It never occurred to me that something else could be going on as it was just never talked about within my networks or online. It just never occurred to me. So when I did have sex, it was too tight. It was like hitting a wall. What was wrong with me? I felt broken and inadequate. I even started to believe that it I would never be able to have sex.

Vaginismus is psychological condition that causes the PC muscles of the vagina to clamp tight or spasm involuntarily that can prevent penetrative sex. It’s often caused by an unconscious fear or discomfort of penetrative sex, and can be a source of shame for many who are unaware of their condition. It’s currently listed in the DSM as a sexual dysfunction. The treatment for Vaginismus is to use dilators so the patient could slowly get used to the feeling and begin to relax the muscles.

I didn’t know any of this at the time though. I had never heard about it before. It was never covered in my sex ed or puberty classes, I had never seen it on my Facebook newsfeed or never talked about in conversation. If I had known, I wouldn’t have made that trip to the emergency room during my first time.

So I did it the stupid way: we pushed forward with sex even though it seemed impossible. We managed some level of it before the pain hit. It was excruciating. It was like I had been punched incredibly hard in my lower abdomen, from the inside. For every minute that passed, my muscles contracted at least twice, sending shooting stabs of pain through my lower body. We stopped, but I started having a panic attack and ended up passing out from shock and exhaustion. I woke in the ER 3 hours later.

I did eventually end up having sex and getting past my vaginismus. Fortunately, it’s a condition that is easily cured with time and patience. My partner and I went slowly and gradually, using lots of lube and mental relaxation and over time next few weeks we were able to slowly relax the muscles by a little more each time. It hurt, but I was determined to push through, if only so I could have control over my body again. 2 years on and it’s completely gone, I still occasionally double over in pain out of the blue every now and then but it’s manageable.

There is so much awareness and recognition that can be done to raise awareness of vaginismus. There is too much silence and erasure of vaginas in our society that it’s causing many to fear asking for help. Why are we afraid to talk about it?

There are too many of stories of those who suffer in silence, afraid to discuss the intimate, or in ignorance with confused and pressuring partners. We need to erase the shame and the silence that is created by sex-negative attitudes and embrace our vaginas as beautiful and magnificent things that deserve care and attention. Maybe then, we can help those in pain and suffering and allow them to enjoy their vaginas and their sexuality.