GUEST POST: Managing Anxiety with Dilating at Home

 

We're delighted to share some fantastic dilating tips, from Network Member Andria, Somatic Therapist SomatictherapyNYC.com...

 

I know the feeling, this plastic (or silicone) thing is about to go where? My mind immediately thought “But - that’s going to hurt” and my body responded! Anxiety often gets paired up with penetration and the fear of pain and wondering if this will work.

 

Or maybe you are at a point that you’re up to the 3rd dilator and now the pressure is ON.  Determination flips into frustration because why can’t you get this one in; que disappointment over a set back or progress slowing down ushering in more anxiety.

 

My name is Andria and I kicked Vaginismus’ butt, and so can you.

 

Dilating at home is often referred to in the community as ‘stretching’. That statement is limiting, dilating at home is much more than stretching and it’s often pivotal to many women’s success.

 

 

Dilating retrains your brain and body literally through neuroplasticity, physically rewiring long standing pain often coupled with anxiety, into penetration being safe. With the aid of dilators we can explore how to build upon safety, control, empowerment and kick anxiety to the curb, in the context of this condition a dilator can be your secret weapon if you let it.

 

 

Penetration being safe and pain free might sound like a crazy notion to some of you right now as it did to me as well, it took a lot of figuring out what worked for me and what didn’t when dilating at home and today I am here to share some tips and tricks to soothe anxiety so you can  re-educate your body’s response to penetration. Pick and choose what feels right for you, for me I started with distraction which sounds counterintuitive, read on to learn more.

 

 

The goal is safety. Our bodies are organized for safety and our vaginas are created to expand. Keep this in mind while you dilate, every time.

 

Create your sense of safety when dilating.

 

Find the position that works best for you. Some women lay in bed spread eagle while others put a pillow under their butt and find the butterfly position (feet together, knees spread apart) to be more relaxing.

 

 

Relaxing ~ with your 5 main senses. Bring in a comforting smell, lavender, chamomile and bergamot are known to be relaxing scents. Our olfactory (nose) system runs right past the limbic system of our minds which holds emotion and memory, take advantage of that.

 

 

Get comfy! Bring in extra pillows, blankets, whatever you need to support you. Give your sense of touch a fleece blanket (light)  or a heavy comforter (weighted blankets calm anxiety).

 

Play music that relaxes you, or guided meditation. Explore the benefits of ASMR sounds if tuning out helps you tune in.  

Close your eyes if you can and focus on inhaling with slow prolonged exhales, this triggers your parasympathetic nervous system to enter homeostasis.

 

Too much pressure to focus for you? Bring in a distraction! Put on a rerun of your favorite show! Remember, the goal is to support safety and re-pair that with penetration. For me it was Grey’s Anatomy for the third watch through. Taking your mind off what your doing also allows your mind to forget that anxiety. There is nothing wrong with a good distraction if it helps break the fear, anxious, reaction cycle.

 

 

Lube is your bestie, but only if you are using the right kind. I highly recommend Slippery Stuff Water Based Gel it is long lasting, non-staining and water based. Avoid lubricants that are not water based as they can cause irritation. Some women prefer to use natural lubricant such as almond oil. Find which lube works for you and embrace it.

 

 

Be prepared for after, get out the cool and warm arsenal. The body loves warmth so a heating pad on your lower back after dilating can help integrate the state of relaxation. If you have vuvlodynia then get out the ice packs and frozen peas! It’s better to be prepared to integrate a positive sensation after dilating then to let that sensation go. I had vulvodynia too and after dilating I “iced” regardless if I needed to for a long time to make sure I would still feel okay afterwards.

 

 

Awareness is the first step to change! Notice your small successes. Whether your binging Netflix or super zenned out; if that dilator is in there and you’re okay - affirm that! Say to yourself “Hey - I got it all the way in and my muscles are relaxed”!

 

 

Patience is key even though it’s tough. I know, it sounds like cold comfort and yet it is the truth. A setback is only one small thing unless you let it grow into mountain. Hit a wall in your progress? Stop, shake it off, move on to something fun because setbacks will happen, the good news is they happens less and less often as you move through and past them.

 

 

Bring in a Pro if you feel you need the extra boost or if you are feeling unable to do this on your own. Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist, Pelvic Pain Specialists, Talk therapist, Sex Therapist, Somatic Therapists - whatever you feel is right for you. I had the help of two pro’s on my team.

 

 

Share your success stories either with a partner, a good friend  or online! Speaking your successes out loud validates how wonderful they are.

 

 

I truly hope one of the tips above helps you calm your anxiety and start or improve your dilating at home. This condition is as unique to each of us as the women that endure and heal past it.

 

GUEST POST: Explaining More About Psychosexual Therapy for Vaginismus

Explaining More About Psychosexual Therapy for Vaginismus

By Kate Moyle, Psychosexual & Relationship Therapist & Partner at Pillow Intimacy App for Couples

www.katemoyle.co.uk

www.pillow.io

The first thing I would like to comment on, as a Psychosexual Therapist who works with a variety of dysfunctions and presentations, is that as therapists we never underestimate the nerve and strength that it takes to reach out for help for the first time. It’s not uncommon for people to be very nervous about a first appointment, and that’s also compounded by the fact that ultimately the conversation is to do with a part of our bodies that we don’t openly discuss, and that a lot of this relates to sex, a topic that despite being all around us is still pretty taboo.

This also may not be the first time that you, as a woman, have asked someone for help.  There may have been an appointment with a doctor or medical professional, which ultimately would have gone one of two ways, well or badly. Many that come through my door have positively been referred by doctors who have recognised and suspected vaginismus as a diagnosis, and encouraged the sufferer to get further help. ( in whatever form that may be, psychosexual therapy is not the only answer ) But sadly, many leave medical appointments without a signpost or answer, apart from that ‘everything looks normal’, or ‘ you just need to learn to relax’. This is not always the fault of the professional either, more a general lack of training and understanding of conditions such as this, that are what we describe as psychosomatic; which relates to the interaction of mind and body or the understanding that a condition or symptoms are caused by, or aggravated, by psychological factors.

Psychosexual Therapists are specially trained in dealing with conditions and psychosexual dysfunctions such as this, with an understanding of the workings of the mind, and body and how they are in context of an individual- their experiences, background and personal history. Ultimately if you are seeking psychosexual therapy the approach that your therapist will take is a talking and explorative approach in sessions; with setting exercises to be done at home and then fed back and reflected to the therapist, in order that you can then work out how best for you to move forward with a treatment plan.

Each therapist will have their own way and style of working, and it’s important that you feel comfortable with the person that you are working with, it’s your process and you want to feel able to be open and honest with them, not that you are holding back. When you think about the feeling associated with vaginismus itself, it is one of tension, holding back, discomfort and being closed; and although therapy may feel difficult at first this isn’t a feeling that should continue, and you should be able to trust that your therapist can hold the space for you. Feelings of resistance are normal, it is a process of accessing help for a problem, but you should feel able to discuss these and how you are feeling openly in sessions.

In therapy, it will be important for your therapist to have an idea about you, what factors you think are influencing or have caused vaginismus, your background, sexual history and things like your ideas about how you feel about your body, any medications or procedures you have had, and what you have tried to improve your symptoms so far. This early part of the process may involve your therapist taking notes or going through a thorough personal history or what your therapist may call a ‘history take’. This isn’t about them being nosy. One of the best ways I know how to describe it is that it’s like putting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in place – it gives us a clearer picture. It’s also worth noting that, although you may be convinced that you know what is going on, this is a fresh set of eyes looking at your difficulty and we may see things that you haven’t connected with your situation that could be influencing it. For example, I have worked with a number of women who have experienced high levels of stress around their periods, which has created negative feelings about their vaginas and vulvas contributing to vaginismus, but prior to therapy they may not have connected it to their symptoms. 

Your therapist will be helping you to make links, and connect ideas such as negative messages that you may have received about your body, being a woman or about sex. For many women who experience vaginismus there are strong feelings of guilt and shame and there are a lot of myths around sex, sexuality and women’s pleasure, so a therapist’s job is to also challenge myths, and educate. Many women don’t have much sex education or knowledge about their own bodies including which bits do what e.g. the clitoris vs the vulva vs the vagina and it’s important to make sure that women have the correct information so that they can make informed decisions about their bodies and have a more complete understanding of what is going on.

It is also helpful to identify your goals for therapy. We all know that vaginismus is about so much more than just sex. It’s about pleasure, enjoyment, intimacy, self esteem and confidence, using tampons, health ( e.g. smear tests ) , relationships and much more. Your goals are unique to you, but don’t feel afraid to tell your therapist what you would like to achieve, as they will work their best with you to try and get you there. A concern for many women is that they would like to have children one day, and if that is the sole focus of your goal then don’t be ashamed to say that, but also think about including pleasure and enjoyment as a part of it. The more your are able to feel good and positively experience what you are doing with anything in life, the more you are going to want to do it, and this can help many women move from a place of sexual functioning to having a more fulfilling and relaxing sexual and intimate life.

Like any process, what you put into therapy you will get back.  Of course you will be tackling difficult and personal material, and exercises such as starting to use dilators, explore your body and discover different types of touch and what feels good for you, but the challenge itself is so often in the doing of these exercises and overcoming those boundaries as much as it is what you get from them. Your therapist will help you to tackle these steps one stage at a time, it’s not like jumping in at the deep end. The aim of every step of therapy, for example starting to use a set of dilators is that you start small and build up. This way of working aims to help you to become desensitised to the strong aversion or anxious reaction that you may currently be experiencing, and you will be focusing on mastering one stage before moving onto the next. What this also offers you is more sustainable progress as you build up to having a different foundation e.g. your comfortable minimum becomes using the first size of dilator or one finger and you then have the knowledge and experience that it is possible for you. For many women with vaginismus this first step can feel like the hardest but also one of the most rewarding. It’s not uncommon to hear sufferers say, ‘ I just don’t think anything can fit’ or ‘I’m not normal’ or ‘it’s too tight to get anything in there’ and at the time this may not be true for that person, it may not have ever been a possibility for them, but they have also not been taught, or helped or shown how it could be possible. When you think about how we do almost anything else in life, we learn but when it comes to sex, we just expect or feel that we are expected to instinctually know what we are doing, and although a psychosexual therapist will not physically be hands on showing you as it is a talking only practice, therapy is a process of education.

 Therapy is also about understanding the cycle of vaginismus and how you react in the moment when vaginismus happens. If we can break this down and start creating changes for you, then you will start to learn more about yourself. Sex for example shouldn’t cause you pain unless there is a reason for it, but many women tighten their muscles in the anticipation of pain which ironically is more likely to cause it as it creates tension.  If you are expecting something to hurt you aren’t going to be lying there relaxed just waiting for the pain, it is natural for your brain and body to want to prepare you for it. This again will be challenged in therapy. Exercises and the more you do them and more you progress will help you to challenge the assumption that penetration = pain and will aim for you to change your messages around the act of penetration so that you can relax more. Learning to control the pelvic floor muscles is an important part of this, but also breathing techniques and exercises to communicate to your brain that you feel calm.

So, to finally focus on what I name as exercises in this piece, each Psychosexual Therapist will work differently with each client, but dilators, ( my preference is for this set from Sh! As they are soft silicone and less medical and you have an optional vibrator if you would like to use it https://www.sh-womenstore.com/sh-vibrating-silicone-vaginismus-set.html ) dilators will very likely be a part of the physical exercises. You may decide to start or prefer to start by using your fingers, again the preference is personal. Others would like to start with a smaller, and I would recommend as simple as possible which is why dilators can be easier, but it’s your choice) sex toy and then once they feel comfortable with that, then purchase a slightly bigger size. But exercises will not just be limited to dilators, and may also include touch exercises which are also about learning about your vulva and parts of your anatomy like the clitoris so that you can feel less uncertain of the sensations and more sure of what to expect, which can also help you to calm that instant panic / pull back feeling or reaction. 

It’s also important that you know what feels good for you. Not for your current or future partner, but for you. The best way to do this without feeling under pressure is on your own. This may start by paying more attention to yourself in the bath or shower, exploring your body in a way that feels safe for you, or it may be starting by holding your hands on yourself outside your clothes or underwear and then moving them inside when you feel more familiar. Again, these exercises are all determined on a case by case basis and what may feel right or comfortable for one person may not for another, working through something like vaginismus is a process, there isn’t a clear start and a clear end, for many it’s about how and what they are feeling. Those presenting for therapy will also be at different stages of vaginismus, already using dilators and finding themselves stuck at a certain point, or having only just discovered that they are not the only person in the world that is feeling this way and that there is a name for this condition. It is also worth noting that some women are able to have a non-penetrative sex life with their partner just without penetration, again it’s personal but some women feel comfortable with oral sex or clitoral stimulation and are able to be orgasmic but experience vaginismus when it comes to trying penetrative sex , inserting fingers or tampon use; others feel uncomfortable with any form of sexual touch or activity. I am also a partner at Pillow App for Couples ( www.pillow.io ) which provides audio-guided follow along intimacy ( not sex ) episodes for couples that can help couples to connect and feel close in a non-sexual way. If sex is something that is not currently possible for you don’t be afraid to be creative in ways that you can be intimate if you are in a relationship.

The important thing to think about is where you are, and where you would like to be. Don’t compare yourself to others, do read other people’s stories and blogs and gather information but remember that we are all unique and how this condition impacts you will be personal to you, although many women describe a huge sense of relief when hearing the stories of others as there is a sense of ‘that’s how I feel’ the path through is different for everyone. Treatment for vaginismus is there and although it may be one of the scariest things you have ever done, don’t let the fear of trying stop you.

THE VAGINISMUS NETWORK MEET UP

It is with much excitement that we are announcing our first meet up event, on April 13th in London.  

This event will be a chance for network members to hear inspiring talks and then mingle and chat, swap vaginismus stories and make new friends.  For us, meeting one another and building a friendship, has been invaluable.  Having someone text you and remind you to use your dilators is a godsend (because we all know how easy it is to 'forget' about doing it!) And having someone understand when you have successes or difficult days is so important.

It will also be a chance for us to find out what members want from the Vaginismus Network.  We have spoken to so many of you on email now, it will be so lovely to put faces to names!

You can book a free space by clicking here

While we are very excited about this, we understand that attending a vaginismus event might be nerve-wracking and cause some anxiety.  We want to provide as much support as we can so if you'd like to chat before the event, or ask any questions, send us an email, or text or call 07429 142 483.  We'll do what we can to make you feel confident enough to come along- including meeting you outside and walking in with you!  

We can't wait to meet you!xx

VAGINISMUS_INVITE.jpg

GUEST POST: Debbie Does Dilators

We're really pleased to share a guest post from Network member and film maker, Savannah Magruder...

It is generally agreed upon by those of us with vaginismus that one of the biggest challenges we face is lack of awareness of the condition. To combat this, I’m making a short film called “Debbie Does Dilators”, a dark comedy about a young woman with vaginismus who works as a production assistant on porn sets. We need some more money to fund the film - if you or someone you know may be interested in sharing or contributing, please link to https://igg.me/at/debbie-does-dilators/x/18172751 to donate. Now, I’ll explain a little more deeply my motivation for making this film.

As 21st century humans, we have become accustomed to being bombarded with images constantly. In most cases they are either advertisements or entertainment (movies and TV). These images reinforce society’s expectations of us - presenting ideals for us to live up to.

Sex (and for the sake of this post reading smoothly, I’m going to say “sex” rather than “penetrative vaginal sex”, although there are plenty of other ways to have sex that do not involve penetration or vaginas) is something that is often portrayed in these ads, TV shows and movies. It makes sense - sex is a huge part of the human experience. However, very rarely is sex depicted as we really experience it. In heterosexual sex, how often do the man and woman climax at the same time? In the movies, almost always. In real life, not so much.

Research shows that 30% of women experience pain or discomfort during sex. As large of a percentage as that is, it’s almost never depicted as a part of the female sexual experience on screen. Which, in a twisted way, makes sense - the same study found that “large proportions” of people do not express to their partner that they are experiencing pain.

Unfortunately for those of us with vaginismus, it’s almost impossible not to speak up - in most cases, the pelvic floor muscles have contracted too significantly for penetration to happen (which demands an explanation), in others even if penetration occurs it is too excruciatingly painful to ignore. One of the biggest challenges in having vaginismus is explaining it to people - doctors, partners, family members. What wording sounds the least weird? How can I tell a partner I have this problem and ensure they’ll still be interested in me? How can I explain this to a doctor in a way they won’t just brush off as a need for “more foreplay”? It is frustrating to live with this condition when few have heard the word “vaginismus”, let alone know what it means. And because awareness is painfully sparse, treatment is not covered under health insurance, making overcoming the condition immensely difficult for those who can’t afford to pay out of pocket for treatment (it’s ridiculously pricey). Meanwhile, Viagra commercials are everywhere and the majority of health insurance plans cover erectile dysfunction - a comparable condition affecting biological males.

I was diagnosed with vaginismus after several unhelpful trips to gynecologists and an alarmingly dramatic misdiagnosis. After overcoming the condition, I decided to speak out about my experience to increase awareness. I spoke to Cosmopolitan and Self. I began receiving emails from women all over the world, asking advice about treatment, telling partners and parents, and living with the condition. I began openly speaking about it with friends, and by doing so realized just how common vaginismus really is.

I have been making films since I was nine years old. In recent years, my films have explored themes that I have experienced in my life - for example, my last short was about a teenager living in rural Maine who is questioning his sexuality (I identify as pansexual). It was only a matter of time before I wrote a film about a character who has vaginismus - for a long time I just didn’t know how to approach it.

I’ve now written and am in the pre-production process for “Debbie Does Dilators”. It’s a short film about a young woman who is a production assistant on porn sets - surrounded by idealistic and unrealistic portrayals of sex in a very in-your-face way. Ironically, she has vaginismus, and the film follows her as she experiences an awkward and hurtful sexual encounter, a treatment session at a sexual health clinic, and finally at the end, a triumphant experience with a dilator.

With this film, I hope to give a voice to the millions of women who have experienced vaginismus while spreading awareness about the condition, in a funny yet serious, relatable way. It’s my hope that people who have vaginismus will feel less alone upon seeing it, and those who have never heard of it will be made aware. It’s time for all of us to see our stories depicted on screen, whether or not they are aligned with society’s “ideal”. If you can, please contribute and/or share and help me make this film a reality.

 

GUEST POST: When You're Broken

We are extremely grateful that network member and vaginismus overcomer Samantha Kendall has shared her story...

I first realized that something was wrong in the fall of 2009. My boyfriend Jon* had just moved into his single dorm room and we finally had the privacy I had longed for. Although neither of us were virgins, I pushed that I wanted our first time to be memorable. I remember lighting a candle and putting on music, I was so determined to make this night special. My body, on the other hand, had a very different plan. As we attempted intercourse, it was like hitting a wall - it was virtually impossible and extremely painful. We briefly talked about what happened but I genuinely had no idea what to say. I couldn't understand why my body was betraying me, I felt so guilty that Jon was let down, and all I could do was lay down and cry my myself to sleep. 

Soon after, I had my first gynecologist appointment. At the start of the exam, I immediately winced in pain and asked the doctor to slow down. He stopped for a second, counted down from three, and tried again. Unsuccessful, he stood up, slammed the speculum down on the table, looked at my mother and barked, “there’s something wrong with her, I’m not touching her.” I had known something was wrong but I’d hoped that a doctor, a gynecologist, would be able to help. This was the first time I felt truly broken. 

I didn't hear the word vaginimus until I visited another gynecologist. I had seen her before, but had refused a full exam out of fear. When I finally allowed her to try, she knew the second she touched me. She asked whether I had always been like this and if I had experienced trauma in the past. She was able to just barely complete my exam with a youth speculum, as her nurse held my hands and reassured me. When the exam was over, I got dressed and was led to her office. She explained to me that I had secondary vaginimus, advised me to buy a set of medical grade dilators, referred me to multiple pelvic floor physical therapists and assured me that I would one day overcome it. I left that office with so many emotions - I was relieved to have a name for the problem, but I was so angry that I had to deal with this at 21 years old. 

One night, while out drinking with friends, Jon got mad at me for a reason that I no longer recall. We left the bar and he started to drunkenly ramble as we walked down the street. Eventually the words came out, "you can't even actually have sex with me, you're pathetic." I stopped arguing as the words of the first gynecologist rang in my ears. Jon is right, I thought, I am pathetic. Shortly after, I ordered the set of dilators recommended by my doctor and started reading about how to use them. I wish I could say that I started dilating right away, but I didn't. I looked at the set, scared of the possibility that it wouldn't work, and hid it in my closet until I was ready.

Over the years, Jon and I stayed together. Intercourse was rarely possible without severe pain and it became the biggest source of contention between us. I would like to believe that he genuinely was supportive in the beginning, but that support grew into deep resentment and anger. The weight of vaginismus hung so heavily on me. Moving through a world where sex is all around us was a sad, constant reminder. I would often offer him outs, telling him that I would understand if he wanted to break up; he always said he still wanted to be with me. I would try to encourage Jon to look at sex as a broad spectrum of activities; he insisted that it wasn't real without intercourse. I offered to figure out a more open arrangement; he didn't want to discuss it. I would try to suffer through and hide the pain, but we both knew this wasn't the right thing to do. I couldn't blame him for wanting a "normal" sex life; I wanted the same. 

At the same time, I was going through a lot of ups and downs with treatment. First, I tried to find a pelvic floor therapist that would accept my insurance. I was in college and there was no way I could afford it out-of-pocket. Unsurprisingly, many insurance companies do not consider vaginismus treatment to be "medically necessary". I struggled with this for a while - not being able to understand why something so painful was an illegitimate problem to many. I gave up after every office either had no idea what I was talking about or did not accept insurance at all. Every now and then, I would try googling ‘vaginismus’ and seeing if any other women had advice on what to do. I was advised to meditate, have a glass of wine, smoke weed, take a bath, try special lubes, do yoga and just relax. Nothing worked. I went through phases with dilating too. Some months I would dilate every single day and some months I just couldn't handle it. 

In May of 2015, Jon proposed and it was genuinely the happiest time of my adult life. He loved me despite the vaginismus and I was so completely grateful. As we began to plan our wedding for the next year, I became so inspired to take my treatment to the next level. I started dilating twice a day, for at least 20 minutes each session, doing hip stretches and keeping up religiously with my treatment. Not long after that, we were able to have sex with less pain than ever before. It wasn't the best and my muscles were still extremely tight, but it was huge progress and I was elated. The next morning, Jon looked me in the eye and casually said, "oh, you thought that was sex? That wasn't sex". My heart sank; I wasn’t ready to face what I already knew. 

In March of 2016, Jon called off our wedding, citing stress caused by my vaginimus as the reason why. He told his entire family about my condition, forcing me to explain it to my parents and my two brothers. Jon made himself the victim, saying that I totally killed his spirit and his sex drive. His mother sat me down and gave me a lecture on how women need to "give a man the sex he wants if she ever wants to keep one". She couldn't understand that it was a medical issue, that I had been working for years to fix it, that it was never that I didn't want to have sex with him. My parents, on the other hand, just wanted me to get help. With their support, I made an appointment with a specialist and had a Botox injection procedure one month later. All of my appointments, anesthesia, out-patient surgery fees, and the Botox itself had to be paid for out-of-pocket. With a wedding fund and no more wedding expenses, I wrote the checks without a second thought. It was expensive, it was mentally and physically draining, but it was the best decision I've ever made. 

Jon showed up late the day of the surgery. He had promised to be there and didn't end up showing until I was already in the car to go home. After I healed from my procedure, Jon was still reluctant to have sex with me and broke things totally off. The next day, I learned he was carrying out a serious affair and had left me to be with her. Soon after, his mother admitted that she knew about other serious cheating he had done throughout the years. She also gleefully wished him well online as he posted photos from his wedding to the other woman just six months later. 

Looking back, I now see how manipulative his actions were and how our relationship was mostly based on Jon having the upper-hand over me. He made me feel as though no other man would put up with my problem, that I was pathetic, that I should thank him for dealing with it. I was in pain every single day for years and I was still made to feel guilty over it. Part of me wonders if he preferred me to not be cured, because that was the way he maintained the power in the relationship. He made me think that I was unworthy of more because I was unable to physically give myself in the way I was expected to. 

I am more than happy to say that since the Botox procedure, I’ve been pain-free and I have a very fulfilling sex life. I don’t think I will ever be comfortable to call myself “cured” because vaginismus has helped shape me into the woman I am today. 

My name is Samantha. I'm 26 years old and I suffered from secondary vaginismus for nearly 7 years. I was so afraid of judgement that I suffered in silence. I’ve decided to tell my story now because I do not want any other woman to go through what I did, for as long as I did. 

Vaginismus is not your fault and no person should ever make you feel guilty for it. 

Vaginismus does not render you broken. 

Vaginismus does not make you less of a woman or less of a partner. Vaginismus does not make you less than. 

*name changed for privacy

GUEST POST: Exploring your vagina (without going up it)

We're delighted to have a guest blog post from Sarah Berry- a psychosexual and relationship therapist who specialises in (and is a former sufferer of) vaginismus. 

Every person with vaginismus has a different relationship to their vagina. Some just need to know about the Kegel muscles and what maintains their condition before they move to working through different-sized insertibles. Others find this process frustratingly slow, peppered with avoidance, backward steps and an idea that they will always have to “work” at trying to have pleasure or body connection. Some cannot bear the idea of anything going near their vagina. Others cannot bear the idea of looking at it – indeed it’s not something you catch a glimpse of accidentally. And there are many more who would prefer to ignore the fact that they even have a vagina, while still wishing they weren’t at the mercy of the condition. If you are stuck, anywhere on your vaginismic journey, some of these ideas might help you bond with what lies below your torso.

Name it

While penis owners can choose from a varied list of sexual, funny, sweet, offensive and biological names for their members; vagina owners have slimmer pickings. Indeed, even the name ‘vagina’, while colloquially taken to mean all of the below, only describes the passage inside you and not the vulva or pubic mound.

If you don’t feel comfortable with this word or any of the others (fanny, cunt, twat, quim, yoni), it can be hard to talk about it – to yourself, any partners, doctors, therapists – anyone! Thus, any shame you may feel about the condition, your body or sex (I do often find there is some shame somewhere with clients) is intensified as awkward silences and squirms are endured. 

Finding a word that you feel comfortable using can be very powerful. You can Google alternative names for a vagina, give it a person’s name or employ useful, euphemistic phrases like “my bits”, “down there”, “up me” or “inside”.

Write to it

Some people find writing a letter to their vagina can be an interesting exercise. You could also write a letter to yourself from your vagina. 

Venting feelings in these letters can be very cathartic. If you suppress feelings, this can lead to anxiety or depression. You may find anger seeps out in other ways (for example, getting disproportionally angry at internet pop-up ads). Or you might find yourself unable to stop thinking obsessive thoughts, maybe uncontrollably and even offloading them to other people. Expressing thoughts and feelings on paper gets them out of your head. You are facing them, acknowledging and respecting them. This is what feelings need. If you do this, then there is room in your head to move on. 

Another thing you can do, following this, or instead of it, is try writing a compassionate letter to your vagina. Imagine that it is a distressed friend in need of help. Recount what it’s gone through, empathising with how it might feel and assuring it that you aren’t going anywhere (of course you aren’t, it’s part of you, but expressing this within the letter, as a friendly, supportive sentiment can be comforting and connecting). 

Consider your ear

Some people with vaginismus do not have any problems with their vulva. They are happy to look at it, touch it, masturbate and enjoy arousal. Others find the vulva problematic. Some feel squeamish, describing as an odd squishy mass of hairy, squelchy flesh, around a hole that weirdly leads into an abyss. 

While penis owners often grow up cheerfully playing with this tail that grows out the front of their body, it’s a lot easier for vagina owners to avoid their bits. Unless you actually go out of your way to look at it, you won’t see it. And if you have a troubled relationship with your vagina it’s entirely understandable why what lies beneath would be more of a mystery. 

But consider another orifice that you are much more au fait with, that may not be so hairy (at least not for younger cis women), that can ooze (waxy) stuff and has an odd hole that leads into your body: Your ear. Of course, your ear doesn’t spasm and isn’t meant to enjoy being poked, so is usually much less trouble. 

Spending some time thinking about your ear, and comparing your thoughts about it to those of your vagina can help challenge fearful thoughts.

Mindfully wipe

When I see clients who find it hard to touch their vagina, I ask what happens when they wee. Most people were wiping their vaginas several times a day, long before any phobias came into play, and therefore take this motion for granted. 

When you next go to wipe, maybe linger a little and think about what you feel beneath the toilet paper. I would add that the most important thing is to not render weeing problematic. You don’t want to hold in your wee or scrimp on wiping because the awareness is difficult. If this feels like a good opportunity to bond, then go forth. If there is any unease then don’t worry, this isn’t the step for you.

Cup it

Fingers, as well as any phallic-shaped insertables, can drive fear into some vaginismus sufferers. Some may have previously been fingered by a partner and felt pain, either because of the condition, or maybe because the finger owner had long nails or wasn’t gentle enough. 

But when grouped together in a cupping position, placed in unison over the vagina, these fingers can seem less of a threat and feel more like a hug. Cupping yourself over clothes, knickers, or flesh on flesh can be a good way of connecting to your vagina. 

The aim of this is not titillation or exploration but to feel relaxed with yourself. In time, cupping may feel more natural and less of a daunting event. Maybe you could cup while reading, watching TV or as you drift off to sleep. 

Moving your hand

The next step from cupping can be moving the hand up and down, side to side or in circles. You could also try wiggling the fingers. I would recommend you use lubrication for this – Sh! Women’s store (www.sh-womenstore.com) has a lot of advice about these and which type might be the best for you. The reason for this is that the lube can help your fingers move freely, without friction. When the vagina is aroused, it usually provides it’s own lubrication. Sometimes, touching with lubrication can help stir these juices. 

Often, when clients are exploring their vagina, they feel disappointed or angry if it doesn’t get aroused. Their head fills with negative thoughts about the process and they feel more hopeless. Mitigating expectations and having an instruction for your head is important. 

At first, this exercise is about curiosity. Touch mindfully, exploring how it your vagina feels on your fingers. Are some bits more sensitive than others? You may find touching becomes comforting. You may build up to pleasure, maybe with the help of fantasies or stimulating material. But always remember, if it ever gets tricky, you can return to being curious. You’re getting to know your body and how it likes to be touched. 

Look at pictures

Some people are happy to never, ever look at their vagina. And that’s fine - you don’t have to conquer each step recommended to you in order to bond with or enjoy your vagina. Some people don’t want to look, hate fingers, hate vibrators, but are still able to enjoy sex. Others looked once, found it too difficult and fear doing so again. 

One of things that baffles me the most about vaginas is how they are represented in most clinical illustrations. From school text books to self help guides, they are depicted as neat, symmetrical, entities. In actuality, vaginas are as amazingly individual as the thumbprint. We all have different sized lips (from each other and from one side of our body to the other). And they may be redder, darker or lighter than your skin tone, hairy, tufty, not hairy, and many other things. 

If you find it hard to look at your own, looking at photos of vaginas can help you to understand and move towards accepting what is down there. 

Draw it

If you want to look but find it difficult, drawing your vagina, can help. It gives you the eye of an artist or intrepid explorer. To do this, a position you could try is sitting on the floor with a mirror between your legs. Often people find that the more they look, the more there is to see. And once you’ve drawn it, you’ll have a picture you can look at, to remind you of this bonding experience if you feel bad or disconnected.

Make time for it

Avoidance is a constant bedfellow of vaginismus, be it avoiding therapy, not doing any body bonding/exploration work, not talking about it with your partner or steering away from any forms of affection. Dealing with any of these can take building up to, deep breaths and leaps of faith. 

If you wait for the right head space to happen spontaneously, then progress can be very slow. Creating time and space in your week can help. This can be time alone, or with your partner. How much time you put aside is very personal. Maybe you could build up to two or three times a week. Anything from half an hour to two hours – if you want to work in time for a little avoidance, preparation for whatever it is you’re doing and space to take your time. 

During this time, you can do anything that involves your vagina, sex, love or the body. If you don’t feel like doing body work, you could research the condition or do some writing. You may plan to do something but find it isn’t working. If this happens, then think of something that’s easier for next time. Then when you’re done, do something that is completely unrelated, that feels good.

The most important thing is to treat yourself, including your vagina, with compassion. Take your time, though if you feel like you’re avoiding and not making progress, repeating steps you’ve conquered can help you to reinforce a new bond. I can usually help clients to think of less daunting steps, whether it’s with their vagina, or outside their body, looking at having fun in an uncontrolled way. If you are stuck, there are ways to unstick. The road to conquering vaginimus may be difficult, but the steps don’t have to be.

Find out more about Sarah and her work at sarahberrytherapy.co.uk

Tips for Surviving Vaginismus at Christmas

SURVIVING CHRISTMAS WITH VAGINISMUS

1. Those awkward questions…

Ah Christmas- that magical time of year when you get to see all the relatives, friends of the families and aunties who aren't really your aunties.  People that you basically never see and don't really know, but people who feel it appropriate after a sniff of sherry to ask you the most hideously personal questions without batting an eyelid.  

‘So no boyfriend yet?  Oh dear.'

‘You’ve been married for ages now: are you not thinking of having a baby?’

‘You’ll want to get a move on before your eggs dry up…’

 All very good points, fake aunties, thank you for your insight.  

I have found the best way to navigate this minefield of shite is to get in there first.  Before they get to the questions, drop a hint about your contraceptive pill, or how you killed a plant due to your irresponsibility and inability to keep things alive.  It wont make them happy, THEY WANT YOU TO HAVE A BABY NOW, OK? But it will at least shut them up for a while if they think you’re not interested.  

If this fails though, I think it would be acceptable to throw a drink on them.

 

2. Dilating in someone else's house

It’s Christmas, so there’s a high chance you're sleeping in your parents house.  Or worse, your partner's parents' house.  As much as you want to keep up the dilating you’ve been putting lots of effort in to, there’s just something a bit wrong about doing it in the bedroom you (or your partner) grew up in… 

Also, you and your siblings have of course reverted back to being teenagers, so if you excuse yourself and go upstairs for half an hour, this will not be OK.  WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHY ARE YOU GOING TO YOUR ROOM? ARE YOU IN A BAD MOOD? YOU’RE SO WEIRD! WHY ARE YOU LEAVING IN THE MIDDLE OF 'LOVE ACTUALLY'? HOW DARE YOU NOT WANT TO SPEND EVERY WAKING MINUTE IN THE COMPANY OF YOUR LOVING FAMILY!

Yep. Dilators are staying in the suitcase.

I have no advice for this, except don't beat yourself up about it.  And if you do manage to do a little festive dilating, well done! Send me your tips for escaping the smothering, all consuming love of your family.

 

3. Setbacks

If you haven’t been regularly dilating, you might notice you have some set backs.  That big old dilator that was sliding in with ease last week is now stabbing you in the vag like a hard, plastic dagger.  You have to go back a step.  Things are more difficult.  

Maybe you haven’t had time to see your therapist either; it’s a busy time, with a diary full of events.  It’s hard to find time to make appointments and stick to them.

It this happens, don't panic.  It’s natural that things will go backwards if you don't stick to treatment, but it’s a temporary blip.  You’ll get back to where you were once life goes back to normal.  Don't panic, stress or feel bad about yourself! You are not alone!!

 

4. Awkward sex chat

In the run up to Christmas, there are many situations where you will be surrounded by people pickled in alcohol. If, like me, you’re a sucker for a glass of wine or 5, you may find yourself in a super awkward chat about good old sex.  Whether it’s a reunion with old school friends that you haven't seen for years, or the dreaded office party full of very drunk people that you don't really know, there’s a high chance that sex will end up the topic of conversation. Because that’s something we all have in common, right?  hmm… right.

My favourite ways of dealing with these moments involve massive avoidance tactics. Old school friends reminiscing about losing their virginities is your cue to go the bar and get more drinks. Hopefully the chat has moved on by the time you get back.  Work mates absolutely steamboats and talking about the weirdest thing they've ever done in bed is your golden opportunity to go the bathroom for a very, very long pee.  

Whilst I don't advocate avoidance with your actual friends, when it comes to crap chat with people you barely know, just run for the hills.  Better than spinning an out of control lie, or sinking so deep into your chair that you’re nearly swallowed by the cushions.  

But tell your real friends the truth. They’ll be cool about it. I promise.

 

5. New Year's Resolutions

 

Christmas is over, it’s time to think about how much bloody better you’ll be next year.  And more often than not, that involves thinking about how bloody shit you are right now.  I have often made it my new year's resolution to get over vaginismus. It’s always been the thing I dislike most about myself, so let's use January as a reason to sort it out. YEAH!!! 

Except, NO. This is a terrible idea.  Firstly, vaginismus isn’t a filthy habit like smoking or not washing your hair regularly.  This isn’t something that can be ‘fixed’, just because the year has changed.  Since I got a  better handle on vaginismus, and learned to accept that overcoming it involves much more work than just ‘wanting it to go away now, please’, I have learned that you have to be kind to yourself.  And new year's resolutions are not about kindness.  They are about picking out your flaws and telling everyone around the dinner table about how much you are going to sort them (spoiler alert: you probably won’t). 

So by all means, overcome vaginismus in 2018. (I mean, please do if you can! I hope I will!) But don't pressure yourself.  If it happens it happens. And if it doesn’t, it’ll happen a different year.  You’ve got this.

Merry Christmas!xxx

 

originally posted on Kat's blog:  www.heyvaginismus.com

Guest Blog: Vaginismus- You Can Beat It

Hello there! 

My name is Renee, and I am the Senior Store Manager at Sh! , the UK’s first truly female-focused sex shop. Founded by Kathryn Hoyle 25 years ago, the shop is located in Hoxton Square and still very much focused on women’s pleasure. I have been with the company for over a decade, and I suppose you could say my hobby became my job! 

Whilst sex should be associated with pleasure (and most often is), for many that is simply not the case. And for that reason, I’m delighted to be visiting the Vaginismus Network today – it is such an important topic and I look forward to seeing this website grow as more and more women find out about it. 

Over the years, we have met thousands of women with Vaginismus and through this, we came to realise this condition is much more common than you may think. The problem is that many (most?) women don’t feel comfortable talking openly about their experiences of painful sex, and often end up feeling alone and insulted as a result.

We decided to do something about this.  

We created Vaginismus Awareness Day on 15th September 2016 and in time for this day; we launched the world’s first soft silicone vibrating dilating kit! 

After having spoken to so many (so many!) women about the dilators available to them, we found that many thought the NHS dilators were too plastic, too blunt and even too painful to use. So naturally, we set about designing dilators with women’s comfort in mind. 

It took a while, but the end result was definitely worth the wait: four dilators in graduating size, flexible shafts, tapered tips and pièce de résistance: a wide base where a small vibrating bullet slots in! 

 

ssh.jpg

Vibration helps to relax tense nerve endings and can make the process easier, the discomfort less and of course, it can also offer pleasure – an important component, I’m sure you’ll agree! 

Each dilator is hand-poured in our studio in London. We use only silicone, which is non-porous and hypo-allergenic, meaning it is the very best material for intimate products. It warms up to body temperature, and it is easy peasy to keep clean.

Lubrication is really important when it comes to vaginal comfort and painfree sex, and for this reason we always include sample sachets of lube with the Sh! Soft Silicone Dilating Kits. We also have our own range of water-based lubes in store; Pure Lube and Pure Plus Lube. . I recommend giving Pure Plus a go, especially if extra moisture is needed. The thickness of Pure Plus adds a nice, padded layer between finger or dilator and the delicate skin on the vulva or in the vagina. This should help keep pain to a minimum. 

It is also important to work on arousal, so I recommend purchasing or downloading a good erotic book or sexy clip – whatever you prefer. An aroused body makes insertion easier, as the vagina expands when a woman is aroused. 

 If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at Renee@sh-womenstore.com.

 Alternatively, you can pop into our shop on 57 Hoxton Square, London N1 6PB (Monday – Sunday 12-8pm) and speak to a member of staff. We have a friendly all-female team, who are always ready with a cuppa! 

Before I sign off, I’d like to say **Thank You* to Lisa and Kat for inviting me to the Vaginsimus Network!

Renee xx

One Month In...

The Vaginismus Network is one month old today! 

We’re not quite sure where the time has gone, and we wanted to stop and reflect... 

We created the network with the sole intention of connecting women with vaginismus. Yes, we have other goals we’d love to work to but, for us, this is the single most important one. We are delighted that, since launching the network, women worldwide have had the courage to reach out and contact us. Many women with vaginismus are out there wanting to join the network and connect with others, to share their stories, ideas and information. This has hands down been the most positive part of our journey so far. We are currently building a database of names and locations so that we can match women locally. As we have said, meeting another woman with vaginismus has made the world of difference for us and has shedded a great deal of the feeling of isolation that having vaginismus brings. Plus we are finding that it really is a small world: one woman lives just a stones throw away from Lisa and they’re arranging to meet for coffee at one of their local hangouts. All of this has made us realise that there are women everywhere, many suffering alone with this. And that shouldn’t be the case! Through the network we really hope to make a difference. We both believe that, had we found something like this ten years ago, it could have helped us feel a whole lot better about ourselves. 

During this first month we have also had therapists, sexperts, sex educators and other inspiring professionals connect with us to offer their help, share our website and support what we are doing. We are so very grateful for this support. ‘Women empowerment’ really is a thing. 

As we have said before - we are new and we want other womens’ views and feedback as we continue to grow our network. Please do share your views and ideas! 

In the meantime watch this space for more blog posts lined up: one from a fabulous lady who manages a wonderful sex shop, and another to follow from a lady who would like to share her vaginismus success story. 

Again, Thank You! 

Lisa and Kat xx