During eight years it hurt. Physically and emotionally. Beyond my understanding and anyone else’s. To the point of doubting my own self, my sexuality, my body, my desires, my confidence, my anatomy, my functionality, my relationships.
It hurt every single time, for eight years – probably more.
My vagina was too narrow; the pain ever-present in my life.
I never knew anything different. I never asked. We didn’t used to talk among friends about sex, intimacy or naughty adolescent experiences. No, we didn’t talk about it. What a massive mistake. Now I know.
I was raised catholic in a sub-developed Latin American country. However, my family and social circumstances were far from sub-developed – I can fortunately say so. And yet, I understand now how all this dogma haunted me, non-stop, making me feel dirty and a sinner, no matter my social circle or level. I felt constantly scared in my thoughts. I don’t blame religion for this problem, but I understand how it has a major impact on people’s lives. I understand because it did with mine.
I was used to feeling guilty and not worth of my own body. Not being able to ever understand how important this matter really is in every human’s life. Until life showed me better at the kind age of 32.
I remember my first sexual encounters – who doesn’t? Shy and naive. But what I remember the most is fear. Fear of the terribly threatening menace of an unwanted pregnancy, along with the life-ruining concept of this event at a young age. I’m definitely grateful now for the teachings on the importance of not getting pregnant while young, but the fear behind all of it seems so unfair, so exaggerated…
Why am I writing this now?
During university time I was lucky to find a wonderful man into a beautiful relationship. The kind of relationship that feels loving (and it was), the kind that is filled with acceptance from your beloved ones, making you wonder if this person will be your partner for life. It felt magical and socially acceptable. I let myself go along with this wonderful ride.
And yet, despite the friendship-like love, the laughter, the good times, I was never able to fully enjoy sex. Not even while being utterly excited and conscious about this new adventure. Things that I had timidly heard among other people’s conversations, in between lines, sounds and words: the rush, the desire, the passion, the happiness and excitement, the crazy anxiety filled with lust and love. All things I never came to fully experience. I heard of all these things, but I was never able to have an open conversation with others about them.
Above all, fear, to the point it killed desire.
Reading or watching sexual content somewhere on magazines or the web felt so wrong. Even when sapping channels on a friday night and finding by mistake an erotic scene. The whole room turned into a complete bubble of discomfort even if I was watching TV all alone. I felt curious, of course I did. But I also felt guilty and frightened.
Many might think – “damn, girl, you were so naive!”
Yes, I was. My fear wasn’t something I asked for or something that was planted in me on purpose. But there it was and it was real. It paralysed me for as long as I’ve known about sex.
After that first time, booking nervously into a hotel room with my partner-in-crime, all I was concerned about was being seen and what that would mean. About the terrible terrible girl I’d be and the scary consequences of my unacceptable behavior. I feared constantly during the whole time.
We made it inside and the experience was far from awesome or full of pleasure. Instead, it became a therapy session on something I couldn’t really understand.
I was afraid. He wasn’t.
I couldn’t do it. And I cried, hopelessly and confused.
I’ve always been grateful for that person being understanding and respectful about my feelings. What if he hadn’t been? Well, I’m not a fatalist, but things can go wrong. Back then, my thoughts were dominated by worst-case scenarios, some of them extreme. The possibility of having being raped in some unremembered past offered itself as an explanation of my fear, an idea that stood for a long while within me, making me doubtful and confused, wondering and wandering through the paths of my memories. I can happily say now that this was never the case, but…more fear, of what I didn’t know, what I might have blanked out.
The facts banished my fears.
After several years of gynecological check-ups, I learned that my vagina was narrow, more than the average. A regular check-up and the usual cytology test used to be the most painful experience every time, even before arriving to the doctor’s office. Not even the tiniest vaginal speculum would fit me, to the point of surprise on my own doctor’s face as she checked me up every time.
Dr: “Your vagina is quite narrow but your hips are fine. Whenever you get pregnant, your delivery should go well” – she said.
Me: “Wait, what? I’m 24 and not even close to thinking of having babies but well, thanks. I guess. But, what about the pain?”
Dr: “That’s how your body is, it might stretch with time and intercourse. Nothing else to do but to live with it.”
My mind couldn’t take it. Was I just told I would have to live in pain forever? Is that was sexuality should be like? Having a baby as an act on its own was far more important and present in this person’s beliefs than actually having a healthy and functioning reproductive system and emotional well-being?
But I never asked more. And I never shared this with anyone, until now.
I was 24 years old and just one year away of finishing med-school. But this topic goes beyond an academic education. This is something that weaves deep in between the fibers of your skin, body and mind. Deeper than the love for your people or your own self. Deeper into a dark and almost unreachable layer, into a place where it feels like you can’t see or touch this thing but you know it’s there. Making it all harder to understand, probably more so at a young age.
I wonder now about a few things:
- What are the flaws in our system?
- Is this an occidental thing? A Latin American thing?
- Is this related to other religious dogmas and not just the one I was raised with?
- Are girls/women in other countries the same as inhibited and shy about talking sex with their friends? Asia? Africa? Developed countries such as the UK or USA?
- Was it just me and my little social group? (I doubt it.)
- Was it my personality? Maybe, but not that much – I want to believe.
- Are other families actually talking about sex with their children? Naturally?
- Where other girls on my same social circle talking about this?
But time kept passing by and those questions were never really cleared up in my head. A relationship came, along with sexual activity and caring for the other person – but I remained apprehensive, every time, fearing every possible touch, even a kiss, because in my mind a kiss would automatically translate into sex.
Within time I realised how I needed to do something more. I knew this wasn’t really normal, but I had no idea what to do about it. I didn’t know much more than the certainty of how this was a troubling, recurring problem for us both. It was an emotional cycle which came regularly every 2-3 months, when it was about time to have sex – or whatever activity it was, at least for the sake of actually having some because that’s what you do when you’re with someone,
I grasped the bed sheets after looking for the best position where pain was slightly tolerable. I then closed my eyes and took a deep breath, mastering my mind into a few seconds of zen as the pain went through my body, as waves and while my thoughts were rambling along quiet peaceful places where I could find a spot for relaxation. This way my vagina would relax too and open up, or so I thought. Maybe, just maybe, the pain would diminish by doing this. It never did.
Sex became the painful routine of having to be a girlfriend.
I was never forced to do anything, but I kept trying, for the sake of love and what was supposed to be normal. After all, my narrow vagina was never going to become any wider.
Until it actually did.
I dropped my former gynecologist and went for a second opinion. This time turned out to be an understanding, talkative and open-minded one. He was the first person in years of constant and deep struggle who mentioned the possibility of going through a small surgery in order to repair this narrowness and make the pain go away.
These words were heaven to me. I cried in anxiety, fear and happiness. Was this even possible? Was this real? (It turns out that he performs this surgery at least four to six times per month. I was far – so far – from being alone.)
He was wise and understanding enough to suggest some advice and a few last attempts before putting my genitals to the knife. By this time, I went to live abroad, which made it difficult to consider the surgery on my short trips back home. I needed at least a month-time to go through surgery and recovery under his care.
I learned through the years ahead how this was not normal AT ALL and how it was slowly and silently affecting my relationship, almost in a suicidal way as every month and year passed by. But suddenly there was some light at the end of the tunnel. I kept my hope in the distance.
In December 2012, critical times came again on my emotional cycle. And this time I just made the decision without a blink. No second thoughts. Just like that. My partner expressed his guilt. But I needed to do this, for myself in the very first place, I explained to him, and for the sake of my peace of mind, sexual health and my entire future. Then for our relationship which felt crumbling down slowly for long time. It was just a few days before new years when the crisis exploded again, and I decided to share this with my mum, then with my doctor. This had to be done and I wanted it now.
Three years had passed. Seven in total. I knew by then that this was my only option.
One month ahead I would fly back home, 8000 kms away and have this surgery once and for all. Luckily for me, the doctor made an exception on his tight agenda with such short notice and agreed to do the surgery. He understood the urgency of the situation.
January 22nd, 2013 – 6:00 pm – San Jose, Costa Rica
I’m lying on my mum’s bed, all sleepy and with a heavy body almost unable to move, just in a clumsy way. The pain, oh the pain! Wait…this is a different kind of pain.
I’ve spent the last three hours sleeping after I went into surgery. The last thing I remember was lying at the doctor’s surgical bed, dressing a white thin robe with no cloth underneath, with my legs up and open resting on the footrests, with my genitals properly sterilised and watching him bring the injection that would put me to sleep for the next two hours.
I have never gone through any surgery before. I’ve seen countless surgeries during my years of medical studies and practice. Open-heart surgeries, kidney surgeries, broken hips and oncologic ones too. I have accompanied so many patients into that cold green room before they went anaesthetised into a blurry dream. But I have never been on that table spot myself. Until this day.
It took me three more months to recover while doing physiotherapy, as recommended by my doctor. Interestingly, I had no choice but to begin this new weirdly scary and fun ride into the sexual world. My first step? Buying a specific kind of dildo in order to go through the physiotherapy process at home. First time dildo-buyer ever! Was that a fun and nerve-wracking experience. (More on it next time).
April 2013 arrived (three months after surgery) and with it some tears of pure joy.
The surgery proved to be successful! Just before finding out, my fear was huge and my denial even more. If the pain was still there, I would have to take the whole thing as one more step in the process and possibly the last one. Yes, fear haunted me this time too, but in such a different way.
The next step had to be given. And so I did.
I discovered my real and true sexuality at age 32.
After ten years of endless and constant sexual pain, two years of psychotherapy and physical rehabilitation programs, and after a life of deep frustration, all which clearly touched not just my own life but my partner’s life during all those years.
A life of discovery came within and I was never the same again.
It all happened within years but after this crucial moment of understanding, my mind changed, my thoughts changed. My whole world changed, inside and out. The way I felt towards many things in society changed as well. Into a better version of myself, slowly and deeply. Into a better understanding. Into a better kind of communication, inward and outward. Into some enlightened conclusions of what we are taught, mistakenly or not.
“Facts of life”? So often, they’re just the way we are raised, the education we are given and the social patterns we develop in. So often, they’re just that. But I don’t want to think that this can’t be changed or that this is the only cause for all the sexual miscommunication there is.
I want to think (and I know) that this is a more serious and real problem out there in the world, more than we could ever imagine. I know better now after endless research, readings, open conversations and more, after this personal experience. All about sex and sexuality and about the obvious but hidden doubts we all have within ourselves, not just as we grow up but as we get old as well.
This is serious.
This affects people’s lives.
This affects relationships, trust and pleasure.
But most of all, it affects self-confidence in the first place.
And without self-confidence, without the ability to face your fears and see them for the destructive lies that they really are…
All you can do is hurt.
Epilogue – 2019
Since my surgery, I can joyfully say that my life has changed for good and in unimagined positive ways. I have to thank all the people involved in the process: my surgeon for being quite professional and open-minded about this; my therapists for sharing the journey through their expertise during all those years, my friends for being open to share their most intimate stories when I most needed them, for being a light; my former partner for the patience, love and understanding efforts during our time together; and my family, for being extremely supportive after learning about this issue during my surgical process and beyond. My life improved drastically, not only regarding sexuality but all aspects surrounding it. I became my best version ever, and I’m working every day on keeping it like that.
(Footnote: This is an original piece I wrote and shared on my medical website 5 years ago. I feel the need to share here too as the topic is utterly important yet still not addressed by most. As a reality in at least 6 out of 10 women, we need to get this conversation started, and the awareness shared.)