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 Vaginismus 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 Vaginismus Network moves forward.
Honestly, I'm not quite sure where the heck my vaginismus came from! Commonly you will hear about people with vaginismus who have either had a strict religious upbringing or have been sexually assaulted during childhood; I've experienced neither of those things. I do remember not being at all surprised when my first attempt at inserting a tampon was unsuccessful. And, when my first attempt at intercourse completely flopped, I felt sadness, embarrassment and disappointment, but surprise? Nope.
I believe that my first serious relationship has impacted upon my vaginismus progress - or lack of. Despite the issues that we didn't - or couldn't - discuss, my partner and I stayed together for 8 years, well into our twenties. Whilst we did have a sex life beyond the assertion that penetrative sex is 'sex', we certainly didn't have a healthy one. The 'issue' was never spoken about and, instead, our sex life was three way: me, him and the massive elephant in the room. As a result, I did and accepted things sexually that in my heart I didn't really want to. I guess I felt a desire to conform to make up for whatever the issue was.
My ex-boyfriend and I broke up without ever having had a conversation about the issue. After that break-up, I closed myself off for several years: I didn't know what was wrong with me and I felt 'broken'. It's true that vaginismus isn't just a physical thing: it impacts every part of your life. I've lived an isolated life for many years, never quite sure what was wrong, never quite giving my whole self to friendships because I felt alien and ashamed. It impacted massively on my self-esteem.
Fast forward to a few years later when I eventually started seeing a therapist and learned about the term ‘vaginismus’ and the fact that I was not alone! Fast forward a few years from there when I found Kat via her blog, met up with her in person and felt compelled to turn a negative into a positive by creating something together.
I feel passionately about The Vaginismus Network and its purpose to connect individuals who are struggling with this horrible problem. Vaginismus can be so incredibly isolating, but you are not alone - we are here and we absolutely get it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info visit www.sarahberrytherapy.co.uk.