In our society, sex is commonly thought of as one specific thing — and that one thing revolves around the expectation that any participants who have vaginas also have the ability to be penetrated. But in reality, not everyone can or wants to experience sexual penetration, a fact that often goes unnoticed. For that reason, feeling body positive about my vaginismus (a condition that causes your vagina to tighten up so much that penetration is painful or impossible) has been very difficult for me. After being told about my vaginismus, partners treated me like a child because of my "inexperience." One partner assaulted me over frustration about my refusal to try penetration with him. And I've been labelled a "virgin" many times by family, friends, and lovers alike, a label that feels invalidating since I'm a highly sexual person.
To find solace, I talk with a lot of other people who suffer from the same condition as I do. But unfortunately, many of them have a hard time embracing any semblance of body or sex positivity in the face of their discouraging condition, as well. Which is understandable — not being able to experience vaginal penetration is tough, and the shame surrounding this inability (thanks to strict societal definitions of sex) can be debilitating.
But as a sex-obsessed person with vaginismus, I may be the first to tell you that this condition doesn't have to get you down, or even negatively impact your relationships. Switching your perspective and abandoning the fear of just "doing you" can be challenging, but here are some solid reasons you should feel body pos about your vaginismus:
1. There Is No "Right Way" For Your Vagina To Work
Okay, it's time to deconstruct how society expects vaginas to look and work. They're expected to be neatly shaven (and I'm already losing this one); they're expected to smell like roses at all times (so, of course, periods are out of the question); and they're expected to be able to accommodate objects the size of tampons, speculums, dicks, and even an infant or two. The thing is, this just isn't the reality for everyone. Some people prefer not to shave, or love having period sex. Some people are uncomfortable with penetration, and some can't experience it all. And of course, not everyone wants to have babies!
Vaginismus is often described as a sexual dysfunction, which sounds negative to me since that implies that our vaginas are supposed to function in one very specific way. Since my sex life is wonderful and since I can achieve multiple orgasms, I don't consider myself sexually dysfunctional. Sex with my partner is healthy and deeply satisfying, even though we may do it differently than some other couples. For that reason, I prefer the term "sexually disabled."
Getting society's toxic narrative out of your head about what your vagina is supposed to do can be super helpful in moving towards a more body pos attitude about your condition. You have vaginismus, sure — but chances are you might also not like shaving or have engaged in period sex at least once, too. Your vagina is unique, so it's not reasonable to try to force it to conform with what the "norm" is. No matter how you inhabit or use it, your vagina is wonderful and lovable.
2. Because You Don't Need Tampons
Beyond sex, there are other things that people with conditions like vaginismus can be insecure or nervous about, like their menstrual and gynecological health. For example, vaginal exams are very painful for me, and they're something I can avoid, since I have no history of vaginal/cervical issues or penetrative sex. But these problems can arise outside a doctor's office, too; in my experience, there seems to be an unavoidable cultural stigma surrounding using pads instead of tampons after a certain age. I used to get embarrassed around my friends and hide my pads after years of being laughed at for using a more "childish" method. But after I came to terms with my diagnosis, empowered by knowing the name of my condition, I proudly embraced pads in the same way I did my period. It wasn't my fault that I couldn't use a tampon, and I wasn't really missing out on anything by not using one.
Although I used to be hung up on this, here's the thing: it's just a tampon. You are no less valuable just because you can't use one. Besides, non-penetrative options like reusable cotton pads and Thinx period undies exists. Honestly, my hypochondriac self wouldn't want to use one anyway out of fear of toxic shock syndrome (even though TSS is a very rare illness).
It matters more to me to expend energy into opening up exciting and new possibilities in the bedroom than struggling to shove up an irritating piece of cotton up there. Personally, I have bigger fish to fry.
3. You May Have It For Reasons Pertaining To Mental Illness Or Abuse
There's a long list of things that could cause vaginismus, ranging from dryness and anxiety, to sexual trauma and a particularly painful IUD implant. Vaginismus.com describes the way that many of these reasons cause a tightening of your vaginal and PC muscles, which creates a cycle of pain: "Reacting to the anticipation of pain, the body automatically tightens the vaginal muscles, bracing to protect itself from harm." No matter why you have it, your vagina is fluttering closed like a blinking eye in order to avoid pain. And that's something that deserves your utmost compassion and patience.
Sympathizing with your body and helping it work through its post traumatic stress and fears associated with that is essential. When I was a bit younger, I used to try to force things like tampons or vaginal dilators into my vagina, in a frustrated attempt to train my vagina to work "properly." In the past, doctors had told me that everything would feel fine once I "just shove it up there," so I used this harmful logic when handling my dilators for a short period of time. But because of the nature of my vaginismus (it's exacerbated by my anxiety disorder and my history of sexual/medical trauma), this obviously didn't work. Hurting yourself and scaring your body into associating penetration with even more pain just isn't fair to you and your vagina!
Be patient, and if you're currently self-treating, introduce penetration very slowly and in a relaxed environment. I find it helpful to dilate while having sex; I have my partner hold the dilator while stimulating my clitoris. By patiently working with my body at its own pace, we have been able to introduce a bit more penetration and G-spot stimulation into our sex life. Just remember that you're body's not working against you — it just needs some extra TLC.
4. Your Sex Life Doesn't Have To Suffer
As I've previously written, it's certainly possible to have great sex and have vaginismus. Not all the pleasure in sex is about vaginal penetration — there are a million ways to get it on! From oral and anal to mutual masturbation and sex toys, there are tons of ways you can explore sexuality with your partner in a way that is just as satisfying as anyone else's sex life (perhaps even more so).
Since I have vaginismus, sometimes people assume my partner and I don't have sex at all, as if penetration is the only thing couples can do. However, my partner and I are certainly thriving in that department, and each have pretty high sex drives that enables us to have a rockin' and very climactic time. In fact, I usually have 10+ orgasms during our sex, showing that no penetration doesn't mean less satisfying sex (or no sex at all).
It's also annoying that people assume great things aren't happening in bed if the vagina owner isn't being penetrated with a penis. My sex life isn't devoid of penetration entirely, as my partner loves me to peg them with our vibrating strap-on. Part of becoming more body positive about your sex life is to be open minded to the fact that not everyone is having straight, penetrative, missionary sex. These definitions not only leave out people with vaginismus, but also exclude queer and trans couples, and people who may enjoy inhabiting different gender roles or indulging in more outlandish kinks during sex.
5. Your Condition Is A Great Learning Tool For Your Lovers
Skylar and I always joke about how thankful we are that my condition compels us to think outside the box when it comes to our sex life. As a result, our intimate moments are far from "vanilla." My partner and I are constantly spicing up our sex life with new toys, new additions to our routine (like watching porn together and roleplaying), and group sex. Since my previous partners felt limited by my condition, and my partner previously engaged in lots of vanilla-y type sex before me, we both agree that we're having the best sex we've ever had with each other. So I feel grateful to have my condition because it's helped teach my partner about the never-ending possibilities surrounding pleasure, which has created a varied and thrilling enough sex life that keeps us both very interested in the physical part of our relationship.
6. It Doesn't Make You Less Of A Sexy/Sexual Being
As I had previously mentioned, you are not necessarily a naive virgin just because you haven't been able to have penetrative sex (not that there's anything wrong with inexperience or naivete!). Own your sexual autonomy and validate your intimate experiences, because they are no less real just because a dick wasn't in your vagina. Celebrate your nude body with cute selfies, or treat yourself to some fun pasties. Try something new in the bedroom, indulge in more "me time" (winks), and dedicate some time to gently dilating if you feel like it. Do whatever you can to remind yourself that you are a sexual being with desires and a banging' bod. Because you are! Penetration or not, nothing can change that you are a valid person and a rockin' lover.
7. Your Body Is Wholly Yours
It's pretty cool to remember that, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what others want. This is your body! Whenever I tell anyone about my condition, I often get a lot of sympathetic looks and comments about how my partner is "oh-so-patient!" This frustrates me because I don't feel bad for myself, and neither should you! Having vaginismus doesn't stop you from leading a full life, after all.
However, I know not all partners are understanding — I've had impatient lovers, too. But no one should be pressuring you to do something that is painful, or to seek treatment for their sake. Your body does not belong to anyone else, and your partner is not entitled to your vagina any more than anyone else is.
Yes, my partner is patient for helping me work through my triggers during sex, when their face suddenly turns into the face of my attacker. That's some hard stuff to go through for the both of us. But I'm not about to reward them for not trying to force me to do something painful or making me feel guilty about my body. We all deserve to be loved and embraced unconditionally, and have every part of our body celebrated by our partners. My partner loves my body exactly how it is, and shares with me in my joy if I make any progress with dilating, etc. But they are in no way in pain just because they can't stick their dick in my vagina. They're more sophisticated than that. Besides, they get stimulated in many other ways. In fact, we can all be stimulated in a number of ways and through numerous creative means, even though we're not taught to believe this is true.
I know just how difficult it is to maintain a sense of body pos and sex posi when you're dealing with a condition as frustrating as vaginismus. But regardless of your situation, you deserve to feel sexy and beautiful and at peace in the body that you're in right now. Sure, one day you may be able to have penetrative sex with lots of work and commitment. But in the meantime, you are no less valid, no less entitled to sexuality, than you would be without your sexual disability. Your body is beautiful and wholly yours, so try to be patient with it.
Images: Pixabay, Andrew Zaeh/Bustle