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