Kat Wilson, co-founder

The first time I realised something might be wrong was when I was a teenager and tried to use a tampon.  No matter how much I poked and prodded around, it just wouldn't go in.  This led to a horrifying look at my vulva in a hand mirror, and the beginning of an extremely negative and detached relationship with that part of my body.  Even as I got older, went to university, and started having relationships, I always had a gut feeling that penetrative sex just wasn’t an option for me. But there’s more to sex than penetration, and, deep down, I just hoped that the problem would magically disappear over time.

Fast forward to 2015- I was about the turn thirty and, of course, there had been no magic vaginismus disappearing act. I decided it was time to take control of the situation, and started seeing a new therapist. Things were going well.  However, I felt that the biggest gap in my treatment was not being able to share my experience and feelings with another person with vaginismus.  I knew they were out there, but didn’t know how to find them!

So, I started writing my blog, Hey Vaginismus! I wrote about my treatment and progress and appealed for women to come and hang out with me, drink wine and talk about vaginismus.  Within hours of writing my first blog post, I began receiving emails and tweets from women all over the world, in the same boat as me, desperate for someone to talk to.  There were so many of us, all feeling the same isolation. And, as I suspected, talking about it to someone who understood how it felt, helped to normalise the situation.

When Lisa contacted me at the end of 2016, we very quickly established that we wanted to do something to help other people with vaginismus. The main aims for the Vaginismus Network were formed before we had even met. We have been overwhelmed by the interest in the network, and our first event in April 2018, which was attended by over 30 people, was an incredible moment. It was also the night that we first met Sarah, and officially asked her onto the team.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I have made huge personal progress with vaginismus, since starting the network.

Outside of the Vaginismus Network, I work in the participatory arts sector and am an experienced workshop facilitator and project coordinator, working with people of all ages and abilities in both formal education and community settings. I am a confident and relaxed speaker and facilitator, and hope to utilise these skills as the network moves forward.

 

Lisa Mackenzie, co-founder

My first boyfriend and I broke up without ever having a conversation about the massive elephant in the room that dominated our sex life: the fact that we simply could not have penetrative sex. For the duration of our eight-year relationship I’d felt intense shame that there was ‘something wrong with me’, and consequently I consented to all kinds of other sexual activities that, in my heart, I didn’t want to do.

After that relationship ended, I closed myself off – from relationships, sex, and even, to a certain extent, from my friends. How could I form real and deep friendships if there was a shadowy part of myself that I was always hiding? In many ways, I hid it from myself, too. All I really knew was that I was broken and ashamed, and I did everything in my power to squash those feelings down and pretend that I was ‘normal’. It didn’t work, and it wasn’t fun.

I consider myself very lucky that we live in a time where having therapy has become far more mainstream than it used to be. Because, whilst therapy didn’t transform my life overnight, it did allow me to find the courage to start opening up to someone, or, in fact, to several people. I trod cautiously at first, testing the water, and was amazed to find myself listened to and loved without judgement. I’d spent so many years believing that my vaginismus made me abnormal or unlovable, but it turned out that, actually, I was surrounded by people who didn’t give a stuff about what my vagina could or couldn’t do. They were ready to support and celebrate me just for being me.

And that’s where my journey really began: With finding the courage to talk to people, with finding the courage, one day, to finally say the word ‘vaginismus’ (it stuck in my throat for months after I first heard it). And, once I could say it, I could google it. And once I could google it, I found Kat’s blog, which meant that – to my surprise and delight – I wasn’t alone! Meeting Kat was the beginning of something amazing, because we both realised how extraordinarily powerful it is to connect with other people who are sharing your experience. It quickly became our driving goal to help others connect, and that’s now turned in to a desire to let the whole world know that there are so many different ways of experiencing sex. For far too long, mainstream culture has been telling us that sex equals one thing: penis in vagina. That message is toxic, not just for people with vaginismus or other similar conditions, but for anyone who simply wants to experience their sexuality and sensuality differently. And trust me, there are plenty of us out there!

My belief that I was broken stole a big chunk of my life, but now that I’ve owned my vaginismus, I realise that it’s actually a gift. It’s given me a unique perspective, and is allowing me to meet people and experience things I never knew were possible. I’m so proud of all the kick-ass women in the network, and I can’t wait to see where this journey will take us next.

Sarah Berry, house therapist

Having spent many years suffering with vaginismus and meeting all kinds of medical and psychological helpers - some good, some atrocious, some I wasn’t ready for - I decided to train as the therapist that I wish I’d had.

Now, as an experienced sex & relationship therapist, it is a real honour to help individuals, couples and groups overcome, manage and better understand all issues across the gender, sex and relationship fields, including vaginismus, which I happily specialise in.

I use traditional counselling techniques as well as specialist sex and relational tools to help people find answers to why they have the condition, what maintains it and how to overcome it. I work experientially with each person or couple. While there are patterns, everyone is different and needs to find their own way to achieve their own goals. And to understand that recovering from vaginismus is not just about getting something up something!

On the 7th November 2017 I got an email asking if I would like to speak at the Vaginismus Network’s inaugural event. It’s hard to convey how incredibly exciting it was to be asked. After the event, I asked if I could be more involved. Kat and Lisa asked if I would like to be in the team. Well, I did some non-therapist-like jumping up and down and cheering! If my 15-year-old-self could see me now…

I have spoken at various events, guested on radio stations, including LBC and my featured in publications including: Net Doctor, Cosmopolitan, The Telegraph, DIVA, The Daily Mail, Bizarre, Metro, The Huffington Post, The Evening Standard, Time Out, Company, Fiesta, Forum and Men's Health. And now I’m also on here!

If you would like to have an anonymous (or named) question answered on our website, if you have a media enquiry or would like to book a session with me, email me at sarah@sarahberrytherapy.co.uk. For more info visit www.sarahberrytherapy.co.uk.

Sarah is a member of the College of Sex & Relationship Therapists (COSRT). To find a sex & relationship therapist in your area, click here.