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 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.