I’ve been having sex with my husband for about six years. However, only recently was the first time I had sex where I felt no pain. I have been dealing with painful sex for the entire time that I have been sexually active.
I met my husband in college. We immediately connected mentally and physically, and we had sex for the first time after about three months. The first time we had sex we were both very gentle and cautious. It was the first time for both of us. I felt some discomfort, but I expected it, and just focused on the task at hand.
We tried again the next night, and again I was more focused on successfully making my partner happy and satisfied than my own pain.
I did not worry much about the pain I felt during sex in the first months because I was just excited to be exploring my new partner and being open with each other. For quite a while I hid my discomfort from him because I just wanted us both to be happy with the experience together.
In fact, I tolerated the pain for three years. Yes, three years.
Over the course of this time, slowly opened up to my partner about the extent of the pain I was experiencing, which was worsening over time. As we developed a very secure relationship, I became open and honest with him, so we would sometimes stop midway when it became too painful. I often ended up crying because I felt horrible for having to stop and not fully pleasure him. And he tried unsuccessfully to comfort me and tell me that he understood and would be patient.
After three years, I went to my annual gynecologist appointment and, looking at the intake paperwork, realized there was a list of issues for a patient to check. One item on that was “painful sex.” I finally had the courage to check this box. During my appointment, I explained to my doctor about the pain I felt while trying not to cry in shame. My doctor also saw that the exam was painful as well. She had many questions. Did we do foreplay before trying to have sex? Yes. Was I lubricated enough? Yes.
At the end of my appointment, my gynecologist wrote me a prescription for physical therapy. The process of physical therapy includes biofeedback to try to relax muscles, using dilators, and practicing a variety of stretches. I went to two different physical therapists and gave it a try for about five sessions. It didn’t seem to be working. I felt discouraged, and stopped going, and kept suffering through the pain.
I continued to put on my happiest and bravest face. My partner knew of the pain, but I still don’t think he understood its extent. It was a burning and sharp pain that lasted for at least an hour after sex. I started to spend a good amount of time in the bathroom after sex in order to just give myself time to stop throbbing. I tried applying cold washcloths and icepacks to ease the pain afterword, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
Not surprisingly, the frequency of sex also decreased significantly. I kept track of how often we had sex and tried to make sure it wasn’t too infrequent for my partner’s sake, but I started to dread it every time. Even if it started out fun with foreplay, I always hoped that it would lead to other sexual acts instead of the vaginal intercourse.
Skip to my next annual appointment. Again, I was feeling distraught and hopeless, and I again brought up my pain with my doctor. She prescribed physical therapy yet again. I decided to give it another try again really focus on being open to the possibility. At this point, I was engaged and was getting married within a year. I wanted to have this problem solved before we went on our honeymoon!
I found another physical therapist who I hoped would make me feel more comfortable; going every week, taking off my pants, and laying on a table was not a fun experience. This time, it seemed like physical therapy was starting to be successful. Sex was still painful, but I was able to relax my muscles more after penetration. The pain and throbbing did not go away, but I felt like I was making some progress.
However, my insurer decided that my problem should be solved on their time frame, so they only covered eight sessions. My physical therapist successfully assisted in securing additional coverage, but again I ran out of sessions. Only so much that can be accomplished in such a sort time for such a pervasive problem. I told my physical therapist that I would continue the exercises at home.
However, I didn’t make much progress.
Recently, I had another OBGYN appointment. This time I had scheduled the appointment with a physician assistant in the practice due to scheduling issues. She conducted my exam, and then asked me if I was experiencing any issues. I explained to her that I was having significant pain during sex. She told me about physical therapy, again. However, this time I had had enough. I told her that I had tried this and it didn’t work. I was sure there was something else. I had done some of my own research at this point and realized my issue was more than the doctors had previously realized. The physical therapy was supposed to help muscle spasms during sex and help a woman relax her muscles to stop the spasms. I explained that my pain was not just internal, but external. In fact, I had learned to control my internal muscles quite well and I knew that physical therapy was not the answer to my pain. I explained that I thought I needed a treatment beyond physical therapy.
This is when the PA did something that made all the difference. She took me seriously. She left the exam room and went to consult with a doctor that she worked with. He had had other patients who had this kind of pain! He explained to me that there is something called vulvodynia, more specifically he thought I had vulvar vestibulitis, terms that I had never heard. He prescribed a compound cream that might help the pain. He also told me that if the cream didn’t work, there were further options, albeit more aggressive.
Finally, I felt hope again. After six years, during three of which I was trying to find a solution, I had someone who understood the extent of my pain and gave me options.
I used the cream daily for about three weeks before my partner and I tried to have sex again.
And when we did… I felt satisfied after sex, which I have never felt before!
I didn’t think it was possible. I cannot describe the amount of relief I feel knowing that there is a solution. I still have some minor pain, but I know I am on the right path now. I know that I have a positive sex life on the horizon.
So why am I sharing this? I am sharing this because sexual dysfunctions should not be shameful and stigmatized. While coworkers could talk about pain they were experiencing during work, I couldn’t share mine, which just made it more shameful. I couldn’t explain why I had to leave work early for a weekly physical therapy appointment when it seemed like nothing was wrong with me. I lied and told them I had a pain in my hip.
I am sharing this to let other women know they are not alone. Years of research magnified my awareness; I know that sexual issues are not uncommon. People just can’t talk about them.
No, I am not 100% cured. But for the first time, I am hopeful, and I wish for all people in similar situations to one day feel the same hope as I do tonight.