My husband claims I see vaginismus everywhere. Okay. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I do…it kills me. When I see a woman who is totally avoidant of relationships I suspect she is fearful of penetration. When I see a young girl fearful of tampons, I suspect she is panicked at the idea of putting something inside. What kills me is that I know how unbelievably treatable the condition is!! And it kills me that anyone is letting it ruin their relationships or their life.
Anyhow, last weekend I was reading a book by AS Byatt, Possession. It’s a beautiful book about two modern English researchers who are studying 2 Victorian poets who they discover had a clandestine love affair. (By the way, writing this book was no easy feat since the author had to write poems that were supposedly written by 2 separate Victorian poets in addition to writing the book around their work!) Anyhow, back to my point that my husband suspects I see vaginismus everywhere. “Hey,” I gasp, “one of the characters has vaginismus.” He smiles knowingly…“No really.” I say. “Here. You read it!’
A few flames made their sinuous way upwards. She remembered her honeymoon, as she did, from time to time, and deliberately.
She did not remember it in words. There were no words attached to it, that was part of the horror. She had never spoken of it to anyone, not even to Randolph, precisely not to Randolph.
She remembered it in images. A window, in the south, all hung about with vines and creepers, with the hot summer sun fading.
The nightdress embroidered for these nights, white cambric, all spattered with lovers’ knots and forget-me-nots and roses, white on white.
A thin white animal, herself, trembling.
A complex thing, the naked male, curly hairs and shining wet, at once bovine and dolphin-like, its scent feral and overwhelming.
A large hand, held out in kindness, not once, but many times, slapped away, pushed away, slapped away.
A running creature, crouching and cowering in the corner of the room, its teeth chattering, its veins clamped in spasms, its breath shallow and fluttering. Herself.
A respite, generously agreed, glasses of golden wine, a few days of Edenic picnics, a laughing woman perched on a rock in pale blue poplin shirts, a handsome man in his whiskers, lifting her, quoting Petrarch.
An attempt. A hand not pushed away. Tendons like steel, teeth in pain, clenched, clenched.
The approach, the locked gateway, the panic, the whimpering flight.
Not once, but over and over and over.
When did he begin to know that however gentle he was, how-ever patient, it was no good, it would never be any good?
She did not like to remember his face in those days, but did, for truthfulness, the puzzled brow, the questioning tender look, the largeness of it, convicted of its brutality, rejected in its closeness.
The eagerness, the terrible love, with which she had made it up to him, his abstinence, making him a thousand small comforts, cakes and tidbits. She became his slave. Quivering at every word. He had accepted her love.
She had loved him for it.
He had loved her.
So, he did read it — and agreed I was right and it wasn’t my imagination.
I was moved because Byatt describes so dramatically and poignantly the pain and psychological damage associated with Vaginismus.
But all I could keep thinking that night and the next day was: We could have helped her! We really, really could have.
Alas and alack, there is little to no market for “fixing” fictional characters. And then poor AS Byatt would have had to rewrite the entire book.