College Women Freeze Eggs

My Experience: Vulvodynia, Let’s Put the Sex Award to Bed

Campus Correspondent Azia To writes about her experience of vulvodynia

 

My nights out used to be measured by sex. It wasn’t a successful night unless I hooked up with someone and it almost felt like an unspoken contest among my friends. “Prove your worth with your looks.” “Prove that you’re worth something if you ‘got game.’” 

If I didn’t end up going home with someone, I’d begin to list twenty things wrong with me to justify why no one thought I was good-looking enough. 

My worth was heavily linked to my body and whenever I was in a relationship, I’d constantly give. 

The first time I was in bed with a boy, he shoved his hand down my pants and terror flashed across his face. He told me that things felt better when I was clean-shaved and that I should get rid of the hair down there. I didn’t think twice and immediately shaved it off. All I could think was if he liked it, I’d do it. I pushed past the discomfort of daily razor burns as my skin would normally be red and sensitive. 

When I didn’t shave, he’d slip his hands down and quickly retract back and mention how the hair “poked” him. From that point, I felt that my vagina had to be groomed a certain way for me to be worth having. 

For the first few years of sleeping with boys, I never orgasmed. I was never asked if I wanted to come and it was always assumed that I already had. And by the time my partner finished, we were both exhausted and I felt guilty to ask for more. So, we would fall asleep. 

I normalized the expectation that it was always about the boy when it came to sex: have fun with foreplay, but make sure he comes first. Maybe all the boys took it for granted and never questioned this pattern. 

At one point, sex became a problem. I couldn’t do it. It was like my muscles seized up and I had awkward moments of “it’s not working”. Even with lube, nothing could go in without me screaming in agony before actual penetration. 

I was terrified I couldn’t give my now-ex boyfriend sex. He’d question why it wasn’t “working” and I kept telling him that I had no idea. After weeks of trying, he explained how his friends called me a “prude” for not giving him sex and how much of an insecurity it was for him to not be getting any. 

Horrified, as I thought something was wrong with me, I visited my campus doctor who kept giving me different ointments per visit. The prescribed medication did nothing. Each swab test felt like a papercut across the entrance of my vagina and I cried. Whenever I visited a doctor about it and they asked me to open my legs, my chest would clench in fear and the memories of the sharp pain would cause my thighs to tremble. I’d start to cry as they gently prodded and I’d have to swallow the hisses of pain as I told myself it was over in a few seconds. 

Months passed and the idea that even a doctor had no idea what was wrong with me developed a constant sickness in my stomach. 

Finally, I went to a male gynecologist and was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition called vulvodynia. The first thing that came out of his mouth was that there was “no cure” and that my “sex life would be very miserable.” 

I remember my whole body going ice cold. He kept rambling on about how no one knows how women get it but that it’s very uncommon. He handed me a list of URLs on a ripped piece of paper to “educate myself” on this newfound condition. 

My thoughts drowned him out as all I could think of was not being able to have kids and how I was going to tell my boyfriend and how to grasp the fact that my vagina was in constant pain every hour of the day. After his speech, the gynecologist checked his watch and told me I had to leave because there was another patient coming in now. 

I skipped class that day. 

I told my mom over the phone and my hands couldn’t stop shaking. She told me to see another gynecologist who ended up giving me the same diagnosis. I was told that taking antidepressants helped ease the pain, but the idea of constantly taking small doses made me queasy. I’m happy for those who can handle this type of medication, and if it helps, I’m all for it. Personally, I just felt uncomfortable taking it to numb the pain. 

I thought about how no guy would want to be with a girl that couldn’t have sex. Then I realized what I valued in myself was now unachievable at the moment. 

This condition has showed me that all this time, I measured my worth with sex. I felt more worthy based off sex. I couldn’t tell what made me feel sicker — that whole concept of self-worth or the fact that I had a chronic pain in my vulva which hurt physically and emotionally. 

There were times when I hated my body and my inability to do something that most people glorify and desire. I still cry about it when I’m feeling down. I get frustrated and upset and wonder why I was given such a curse. It took me a long time to finally accept my condition. And that it will take time to find the right combination of remedies that suits my body.  

Looking back at it now, my first encounter with a gynecologist was not ideal, however, I’m now with a gynecologist who sees and helps women with my condition every day. The first thing she told me is that there is a cure but it's different for everyone. And it’s up to me to figure out what that perfect remedy combination is. Some have tried acupuncture, increasing or removing specific foods, yoga, meditation and even laser treatment.  

Vulvodynia is chronic pain along certain parts of the vagina and that specific part differs for each woman. Mine happens to be in an area I never knew existed. This condition has allowed me to understand my body, how the muscles work around my vagina (and its relation to other muscles that are more commonly known) and just how connected our entire body is to our pelvic floor. 

Now, I choose to be present on a night out and focus on the people who I’m with. I go to pelvic therapy and try to treat my vagina with the right medication and practices to figure out what can lower the pain. 

I used to be terrified about telling people how I can’t have sex. I still struggle and dodge the explanation about why I can’t use a tampon. 

I can’t have sex. 

I don’t have sex. 

It’s hard to not be able to give your partner something that other people have. It’s hard to not be able to physically do something that society rewards with praise and accomplishment. It’s hard to live with a chronic pain in an area that is so precious and beautiful and uniquely yours. It’s hard knowing I can’t have a kid at this point in time. It’s hard to lie to everyone and say how amazing sex is when it’s become the most painful mental challenge I’ve ever endured. 

My stomach churns when I watch sex scenes in movies or during porn as my deep-rooted envy and frustration still leaves me feeling defeated. Sometimes I tell people my condition when I feel safe but I still struggle to be honest around people who I don’t. 

Sex is glorified. 

Just because you don’t have sex doesn’t make you any less of a person. Just because you don’t “get with people” at parties or nights out doesn’t make you any less worthy. 

One day I’ll find a cure, but for now I’m slowly sharing my story. 

A story I’ll hopefully share with my daughter. And I’ll teach her how her body is not made worthy by what men see, but by how she loves it and expresses it for her own selfish, beautiful, and empowering ways. 

 

Some excerpts were taken from Azia To’s self-published book ‘Tired of Being Tired, Sick of Being Sad’, which is now available on Amazon worldwide.