Vaginismus and religious upbringing

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  • #32582
    Ella_Belle
    Participant

    Hello,
    I have just joined the forum and this will be my first time sharing my full story (albeit anonymously). I would like to connect with anyone who has experienced primary vaginismus long term and feels it is directly related to a religious upbringing. I am 41 years old, and was in an 8 year marriage in which we were never able to have successful penetrative sex. I have been divorced for 6 years now and have been in a series of relationships where penetration was attempted and never achieved. I have developed my sexuality around non-penetrative sex, and enjoy my sex life, but I”m now ready to work towards pain-free penetration with my current supportive partner.

    I grew up in a cult-like strict religious community where sex was viewed as sinful and not talked about. I received negative programming around sex from a young age and also from my parent’s experiences. As a sensitive child, I absorbed this negative programming. My mother was raped and sexually abused, and her stories became an intimate part of who I am. Her stories of my father dragging her into the bedroom by her hair because it is a man’s right to have sex with his wife, though dramatized, profoundly impacted my views of sex.

    I was unable to insert tampons without pain, and so chose to never use tampons when I got my period at 14 years old. I was shy and religious as an adolescent and did not have a serious boyfriend until the age of 19. My first boyfriend had experienced recurrent trauma and sexual abuse in his childhood, was unstable, and psychologically abusive. We explored a lot of sexual activities and were never able to accomplish penetration.

    I was married at the age of 27 and lived with my husband before marriage. We were sexual, but did not attempt penetrative sex until the wedding night. Upon attempted penetration I experienced a lot of pain, burning sensations, and muscle tension. We tried many times and were unable to achieve penetration. Our honeymoon was a time of anxiety and shame for me. I did research and discovered vaginismus and self-diagnosed myself. I had my first gynaecological exam after marriage and it was very painful. I wanted to work through my issues, but my husband was ashamed, and we didn’t talk about it. I experienced several years of depression and anxiety, and the processing of childhood trauma. In the last years of my marriage my husband and I were never intimate, but lived as friends and companions. I began to desire greater intimacy and want to seek help, but it felt too late. We had grown apart and I felt no attraction to him, and he said he was no longer in love with me.

    In the years after my marriage I experienced two unhealthy relationships which were psychologically abusive. I have done years of therapy and work on myself and felt that I had taken a step back, but I think it was a deep rooted shame that I was continuing to work through. I have had a set of dilators for the past 10 years, and have worked with them on and off, going through long stretches of simply ignoring my condition (especially when I was single). I know that I am a sexual being and I do desire to fully express my sexuality, and reclaim its beauty.

    My last relationship lasted a year and I told him that I experienced pain during intercourse (i couldn’t bring myself to say that penetration was not possible). He wanted to help, but every time we tried penetration it was very painful and I ended up in tears. He was eager to have sexual intercourse, and wanted to keep trying, but ultimately, I was not ready. We got into a routine of sexual intimacy without penetration.

    My current partner is kind and understanding. I have shared with him about the condition of vaginismus and my past. He is supportive and I am beginning to work through the book ‘7 Steps to Pain-free Sex’ by Claudia Amherd with a new set of dilators. I felt the desire to join a forum, and finally, share my story in full.

    I believe I can successfully overcome my vaginismus and experience pain-free penetrative sex with my loving partner. It feels good to share my story, and I would love to connect and share with anyone else out there who has a similar story.

    Thank you for listening/reading.

    #32651
    recessivegenequeen
    Participant

    Hi Ella_Belle, and welcome to the forums! I’m so sorry to hear about the pain and negative emotions you’ve experienced in your sexual life. While I wasn’t raised in an extremely strict religious environment, I was brought up with a negative, fear-based view of sex that I think definitely affected my ability to have a normal sex life. I dealt with vaginismus for about 10 years, a time which was filled with painful failed attempts, shame, rejection, guilt, feelings of inadequacy, and a lot of other negative experiences. I self-diagnosed my problem after a failed gynecological appointment and took several more years to actually seek treatment at the Maze Clinic (I ended up getting their botox procedure and dilating afterward).

    I can tell you from experience that even coming here to share your story and own your experiences is a big step on the road to healing. I am now coming up on 4 years since my procedure and I can say how possible and how worth it it is to work to overcome this. Not just so you can have penetrative sex, but so you can regain confidence and self-possession and learn to trust your body again. The feeling of strength that can come from that healing is a power I take through every day with me and draw upon in times of struggle.

    I hope you will continue this fight and keep dilating or seek whatever treatment most helps you. Please don’t hesitate to share your questions with us; there are so many women who know what you’re going through and would love to help you get to where you want to go. Best of luck as you keep working and you deserve so much happiness!

    #32786
    Heather
    Participant

    Let me just start by saying how brave you are, sharing your story. This is a safe place. And you’re a strong and resilient woman! I suffered with vaginismus for 10 years. My parents were extremely strict. Between being told that sex is wrong and dirty and not allowed, girls scaring me with their hymen breaking stories, and my Mom introducing me to a female book with graphic pictures when I was way too young and not ready — I’d say that’s how I developed my vaginismus. Mine was too difficult to beat on my own, but I gave it a fair shot first! Years of trauma, like you have experienced, is hard to overcome. But very much so possible! Vaginismus stems from both mind and body so it’s important to work on both. Enjoying yourself sexually is already a GREAT step and accomplishment!! Now it’s time to un-learn negative thoughts around sex and start learning that it’s amazing, and you deserve it!!!! For me, the BOTOX treatment was key. I couldn’t progress in dilating. It’s amazing because you’re body is capable of it! You get to experience sex, and in doing so… you learn and teach your brain that it’s okay. And it’s allowed! You’ve overcome so much already, I know you can overcome this too! Knowledge is power! Find books that will teach you tricks to re wire those negative thoughts about sex into positive ones! Even therapy! I saw a sex therapist for a while and she taught me a lot. It’s also very healthy for healing past trauma. Also, during dilation, spoil yourself! Make it a relaxing part of your day! I would lay on a heating pad, put on a funny movie, and make a foot rest out of pillows! There’s so many tools out there to help you girly! I know you can do this! Sex is so worth it and you deserve to experience it safely and pleasurably! Keep us updated!

    #32856
    Ella_Belle
    Participant

    Hi Recessivegenequeen,

    Thank you for your kind and encouraging reply! It is so helpful to hear people’s success stories, and know that I am not alone.Thank you for sharing your story. What are some of the ways you managed your feelings of innadequacy and shame while you were dealing with vaginismus? I would appreciate any tips. I will post some questions re. dilating as I have begun the process again, and am finding it discouraging because of a burning sensation. It’s hard to feel motivated to do a practice of something so painful and uncomfortable. But more than that, my feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, even with a supportive partner, can be overwhelming at times.

    But I am determined that this time my work with the dilators will pay off, and I will achieve my goals with a loving partner!

    Thanks again for your response!

    #32869
    Ella_Belle
    Participant

    Hi Heather,
    Thank you so much for your encouraging reply! Sometimes we really need cheerleaders! It was a big step to share my story on this forum. I have since shared my struggles with my mom and sister as well, so I am coming out of the shadows and secrets, and even though it is scary, It feels like the right next step.

    Thank you for sharing your story with me. It is so relieving just to know that other women have struggled with vaginismus and healed from it. I know that it is possible, and I believe that I am ready, this time. With the help of my supportive partner.

    I agree about sex, and vaginismus being a mind and body issue. Once I started reading the literature, I was relieved to find out that I had a physical, treatable condition. At times I felt paralyzed because I thought it was all in my head because of trauma. I have done a lot of therapy work, and I’m actually studying to be a therapist. I am very interested in addressing the issues of shame that women face, and I know that this is a part of my journey.

    I like your advice about spoiling myself during dilation. I will give it a try! Can I ask how long you tried dilation only, before getting the botox procedure?

    Thank you, I will keep you updated!

    #32974
    Heather
    Participant

    I think opening up to others about this is so brave! Good for you! I hope everyone supports you!
    When I was attempting to cure my vaginismus on my own, I ordered a book as well as a dilator kit. When I started dilating I could only get the first 2 in and it was always extremely stressful, painful and scary for me. I got a little of the 3rd in but it was so painful. I don’t remember for how long I tried. I ordered the set in January of 2018 and come November of 2018 I was scheduled for the BOTOX procedure. I think I called Maze after ANOTHER failed attempt at dilating. It is a bit on the pricey side, but I got a loan for it and after my treatment, I’d recommend it to anyone. Worth every penny! I also wasn’t very educated on dilation when I started on my own. I only really got the education from the women at Maze. But then again, Melissa told me that during my procedure, while I was under, I was trying to clamp my legs shut so the doctor couldn’t work on me so they had to administer more anesthesia.

    Every woman struggles with a different level of vaginismus. After she told me that I knew I was meant to have that procedure because my vaginismus was relentless.

    As for dilating. Knowing what I know now, I’d suggest first using the smallest one and going clock wise- use the tip of the dilator and massage inside your vagina. Get comfortable with this. Or you can even use your finger! Whatever you prefer! Spend serious time on this. Do this for 10 minutes every day for a week. This was suggested to me by a PT I was seeing. Then when you dilate, you’ll want to do it more often than not. Rest days are important, however, for both your mental health and physical health! Don’t rush the process! You don’t want to move up a size until the dilator you’re currently on becomes easy peasy!

    After my procedure, I was a little sad to find out I still had to dilate LOL! BUT my body was actually able to do so! So when I would dilate, I would start by inserting the dilator and I’d leave it in for 10 minutes. Then I’d take it out and put it back in and I’d move it in and out for another 10 minutes. Very slowly. Taking my time. Focusing on breathing and relaxing. And when I was done, I’d take it out, put it back in (to desensitize the opening) and I’d leave it in for 30 minutes to an hour while I watched TV. I just really wanted my body to adjust to the size and get comfortable with it.

    Also, once you get to a good size, not too small but not penis sized, sleep with it in!

    #32987
    Ella_Belle
    Participant

    Thank you for all the great advice Heather, I really appreciate it. I am making an appointment with a local pelvic floor physiotherapist who has experience in treating vaginismus. I am able to get the 3rd size of dilator in and leave it in for 10 min now. I think you are ready when you are ready, and it’s okay to be at whatever stage of the journey you are at. 14 years ago I was so overwhelmed with shame, and had no support, I didn’t even know what was wrong with me, I thought it was all in my head. But now I know that there are many women out there who struggle with Vaginismus and that it is highly treatable. I have support, and I have spent years processing my shame, and now I just feel ready to complete the physical healing part of this journey.

    #33011
    Heather
    Participant

    That’s AMAZING that you found someone like that!! They are hard to come by! I wish you the best of luck! And oh yes, I know all too well what it feels like to suffer in silence and not know what’s truly wrong. It’s haunting. When you’re cured, that weight will lift right off your shoulders! I’m so happy for you! You’re heading down the road to success! 🙂

    #35825
    Jane91
    Participant

    Hi Ella_Belle (and the others who offered responses). Thank you for sharing your story! I definitely connected with some of the things you shared. I just joined this forum and shared my story in the new members section. I am going to share it here too:

    Hello. I was so glad to come across this page. I have felt like I have been alone in this journey of vaginismus.

    I became a Christian when I was a teenager. I was taught that sex was a good thing but only within a marriage relationship. I decided to be abstinent until I got married. Flash forward to a few years ago on my wedding night – sex was not possible for us. My mind was saying yes but my body was saying no, and this was very confusing for me. That part of my wedding night was certainly not what we had envisioned.

    After some research, speaking with my doctor, and seeing a gynaecologist I was diagnosed with vaginismus. This provided some insight into how my body was reacting but at the same time this diagnosis was crippling. I felt so much shame and hurt. These questions always went through my head: How is this going to impact my marriage? What is it going to take for us to have penetrative sex? Why is sex so easy for others? Am I going to be able to conceive? Why me?

    My husband and I have been married for over 2 years now and still not been able to have PIV sex. I am thankful to have such a supportive and patient husband through this process. Within the first year of our marriage we accessed some online counselling. This counsellor recommended some books for us to work through: Restoring the Pleasure (Penner & Penner) and Becoming Orgasmic (Heiman & LoPiccolo) which I found to be helpful if we remained diligent in the suggestions/tips. This counselling didn’t last long as we didn’t have insurance coverage at the time and couldn’t afford to continue our sessions. I also participated in pelvic floor physiotherapy. My PT was amazing and non-judgemental. She recommended various stretches and techniques to help me relax my pelvic floor. Again, this therapy was discontinued as we didn’t have the coverage. During this time I started using vaginal dilators as well (I used a silicone dilator kit with 5 different sizes). When I first started I was so anxious to use the first one, but I made gradual process to the next sizes. My PT recommended that I use these dilators at least 4 times a week for about 20-30 minutes.

    After using the dilators for almost 2 years I can happily say that I am between size 4-5! I have to admit that I gave up on the dilators several times and didn’t use them for periods of time. I gave up on them because I was experiencing frustrating with my progress. In addition, the time I spent using the dilators was not enjoyable so I dreaded that time that I needed to use them. Lately I’ve been using them about twice a week, although I know I should be doing it more often.

    During the beginning of this journey for me I would have many nights a week where I would just cry, questioning “why me?” and “when am I finally going to be able to have sex?” I’m at a point now where I’ve accepted my vaginismus and know that it can be treated. I truly believe that I would have made further progress by now if I had a support network around me that I can talk to. I’ve only told a few close friends about my vaginismus but it is not something I think they feel comfortable speaking about with me. I now have insurance coverage so I am looking into going back to see my pelvic floor PT and to access psychosexual therapy.

    I believe one of the main causes of my vaginismus is that in my intimate relationships prior to marriage I constantly told myself “no” to sexual pleasure, but then when the wedding night came along I needed to tell myself “yes”. It was really hard to make this sudden switch. Although I still believe sex is intended for marriage, I believe faith communities can handle this message in a more positive way.

    I hope through this forum I can learn more about people’s journey with vaginismus, tips for treatment, and overall peer support. I think it would be helpful to hear from people who are a part, or used to be a part, of a faith community and their suggestions on how children/youth can be raised in a way that sees sex in a positive light and will hopefully prevent some woman from having vaginismus in the future.

    Thank you for reading my story.

    #36216
    recessivegenequeen
    Participant

    Hi Jane91 – thanks for sharing your story! I think what you’ve experienced is so common among people with vaginismus who struggle with sex and desire being demonized by communities they trust like their church and faith. I was raised in a more openminded home but my mother still talked about sex in a way that made me scared of it which is probably part of why I dealt with vaginismus for so long. I think we as a culture have a long way to go in terms of normalizing these messages and teaching young people to make these choices in an informed way that doesn’t demonize totally healthy and natural feelings.

    I’m not a parent myself, but Maze has made an amazing resource guide for how to talk to children and teens at any age about sex, which I think could help faith communities start these conversations. You can check it out here:

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