Beautiful woman: On experiencing vaginismus
In my head, the thought of sexual intercourse became inextricably linked with pain, a convoluted correlation impossible to detangle.
Everything was going well; the way you’d always wanted it. The setting was exactly how you’d imagined it: the amount of lighting, the amount of warmth, the amount of passion. Everything was going well, it was your first time. A small door was about to open before your heart, allowing it to love the body it inhabits, showing you more ways to know yourself. “You are a beautiful woman,” I kept telling myself the whole time, “and you are about to become even more beautiful,” I added with every breath.
Back then, I was ready to delve into the experience; to break that one cursed barrier I had long believe was the main reason behind my misery and my inability to accept myself. That wall separating me from myself, dividing me into two persons: one I know well and had grown fed up with, and one I had always wanted to be. I was on the threshold, about to make my transition from a girl who gives away a little too many smiles for free, to a woman who measures every movement she makes; well aware of its effect on whoever stands before her. I had decided that the major obstacle keeping me from becoming this woman was my hymen. We agreed, my partner and I, that this little membrane was indeed a silly thing; an imaginary problem we can easily remove just as soon as it’s penetrated.
Everything was going well. We were in the the throes of the passion and the heat, eager for the moment when he would try to slide his shaft into me. I was certain that I was going to burn with ecstasy, that I was going to feel something I had never known; had never imagined before. I fantasized about a mad pleasure that would transport me to otherly worlds from which I would return only moments later; moments that would seem to me like an eternity in which I no longer knew who I was.
A deep pain consumed me.
That was the first feeling I deciphered at the moment, but I ignored it because it was normal. The pain increased, little by little. I tried to tolerate it, smiling inside, consoling myself with the fact that that naive child I’d grown tired of was leaving soon; congratulating myself on the inevitable birth of a wild, strong, sexy woman. “This is only the first time,” I kept reassuring myself. Piercing screams. Once, twice, three, times. I could no longer take it. The wall didn’t fall, and I lost the war. That was my first shock.
It was the longest night of my life. We wishfully told ourselves that it was merely fear, the fear of the first time, and I searched hard and in vain for that fear within me. I wasn’t afraid, nor was I uneasy or flustered. I believed that I needed to have sex, and, even more importantly, that I was ready to. We tried again, several times, but we still failed. I didn’t sleep at all that night, and I wouldn’t try again for weeks, this time because I really was afraid — afraid of the pain; a real and tangible fear. In my head, the thought of intercourse became inextricably linked with pain, a convoluted correlation impossible to detangle.
Wrapping my head around the idea that something was wrong with me — be it physical or psychological — was really difficult, but even more difficult was accepting the truth that, when I tried to break one barrier within me, I realized that I, in my entirety, was one impenetrable wall. I had become nothing; not a girl and not a woman. Instead, I was an asexual creature, once again trying to define itself. I had always thought I was immune to the threat of vaginismus, only to discover, after days of thinking, researching and reading, that my body was in fact prone to all possibilities, and that that particular condition was in fact what I was suffering from. In that defining moment between denial and acknowledgment, I came face to face with the overbearing power of cultural heritage, and the extent of its influence on our consciousness and our behavior, even when we’re unaware — or won’t confess — that it’s a factor at play.
I had always believed I’d been “liberated,” freed of all restrictive, regressive and backward ideas; that all the theories I’d adopted about women and freedom would rid my body of its chains; long-nurtured illusions about virtue and vice; chastity and sex. I had come to learn, over the years, that sex was a natural act and a basic need — even more, it was an essential element to a balanced existence, a crucial link in the cycle of life: without it, we lose a lot of ourselves, and live in isolated burrows within our souls. I considered sex an indispensable variable, without which the equation of existence could never be solved, and I believed that these ideas, among others, were enough for an easy, seamless transition to a smooth, uncomplicated sexually active life.
I thought everything was going well, until that night, when I discovered that the conflict between my inherited ideas and my acquired values was in fact an unjust war, one where I was a lone, unarmed soldier facing armies and fleets that stretch back centuries into history; centuries filled with myths, religions and traditions. I was alone against the culture of a nation where people were fed ideas of vilified sex from childhood, women drink fear of men in their mothers’ milk as babies, and puritanical genes are passed down from one generation to the next.
I went back in my memory, and started to recall a lot about my life. I remembered the day our biology teacher separated boys and girls, to teach the former about syphilis and to the latter about the menstrual cycle. I remembered that, because of this separation, I was deprived of seeing a penis for the first time in my life, even if it was a flaccid, wilted, syphilis-infected one in a picture. I remembered many things, the thoughts crowding my head. I remembered that the question of sex was put on hold in my mind for so long; to the extent that I wasn’t even curious to explore porn sites the way other kids my age did. I thought intercourse was a natural thing that just happened on its own upon the agreement of two people, without any accumulated knowledge. I remembered how my mother and my aunts would reprimand me if they found me listening in on one of their “adult” conversations, because I was a child. I never asked the big existential question: “How did I come to the world, mama?” and my parents never took the trouble of answering on their own; as though I were a branch thrown from the heavens into their arms to become their spoiled little darling. I was blind, so blind I was never compelled to ask any questions about my body; about sex.
I had all the symptoms of vaginismus, and I wouldn’t admit it to anyone, not even those who were very close to me. I was too scared to talk, and even more scared to see a doctor. Back then, I couldn’t fathom how effective a visit to the gynecologist would be. I was struggling with the dichotomies within me: between accepting my condition and denying it, between my capacity to deconstruct the issue to understand and overcome it, and my powerlessness to find any answers to questions like “What’s happening with me now?”, between my belief that only those who have suffered sexual traumas get vaginismus and my bewilderment at the fact that I got it, too. How can I have this disorder when I have no sexual history to mention, save for a few kisses and impassioned caresses?
All of this made me put off seeing a gynecologist, even though my partner insisted I should. During that time, I had gone back to my primitive status, abandoning all ideas “modernism” had imbued me with, which I’d come to realize were all invalid — not for a flaw in their nature, but for my own rapid and sudden embracing of them. They were beams of insufficient light in an overwhelmingly dark reality. I understood then that what I’d done was no more than paint the facade of a deserted house I’d walked out of, no longer engaging except with its pretty, manicured garden. I faced many facts, the most significant of which was that I knew nothing about sex, and that I had to start from scratch. I spent seven months in this manner — seven months speckled with more trials and failures — throughout which I nevertheless took baby steps that finally culminated in my ability to have sex normally. I have not seen a doctor yet, but I am now more convinced that I should, that I eventually will. I no longer view my experience as a disaster, rather, I came to think that what comes after a long wait often tastes sweeter, like a woman who has a child after years of trying, or one who meets a lover after a long time apart. Like those women, I became one with something within me, and we laughed a lot.
Today, I no longer feel that the pain was that bad, after all, it was the one thing that put me face to face with my disorder. That particular pain was a major turning point in my journey from mental realization to physical realization; it is what allowed me to touch my condition with both hands, to further know it and monitor its progress. Today, everything really is going well, but I am thinking of all those women who were never embraced and understood by their partners, their communities, and especially by themselves. I am thinking of every single woman who has been through this painful experience, only to find herself thrown in front of her house on her wedding night. I am thinking of how I could have easily been one of them, had it not been for the unjust hand of fate.