A few months after that one visit to the doctor, I decided to give sex another go. At this point, we were averaging probably not even a handful of times a year, though I preferred not to count.
I tried so hard not to think about it, tried not to psych myself out, tried to get into it – within mere minutes it was painful. So much discomfort. But this time I tried to pinpoint exactly where it was and decided to do some research. I came up with the following:
- It was some sort of horrible disease, probably related to cancer (thanks WebMD!), or
- It was vulvodynia – have chronic vulvar pain with no known cause1 which could be consant or inconsitent, general or localized.
Neither helped, and neither offered what I wanted: an instant solution – a pill, a cream, a food I should avoid, a hypnosis session…I was so desperate to just make it go away; anything that required longer than ‘right now’ seemed futile.
Resigned, shortly before our wedding, I went and got a referral to a gynaecologist. She had her own two theories:
- It could be a side-effect from the birth control I was using, which could lower my testosterone and as “both estrogen and testosterone receptors in the vagina contribute to lubrication, it is understandable that low testosterone not only makes things drier, but also more painful, a condition known as hormonally mediated vestibulodynia”2 However, this was unlikely as it was usually a consistent pain, and would be present when putting in/taking out my Nuva ring or the Diva Cup or even a finger, which it wasn’t.
- It’s a psychological issue. Not that it’s necessarily “all in my head,” but that psychological (mental/emotional), not just psychiatric (medical), help might be necessary.
But I was willing to try anything, so I stopped using my Nuva ring immediately and got the fancy shmancy cream she prescribed that could help heal the little spot of irritation down there. But I knew deep inside that the cream wouldn’t help – I didn’t trust it to help, so I wasn’t willing to try to see if it did – which promptly brought me back to the psychological issue.
So I went to see a sex therapist. I tried to be all facts but talking about how I feel like a fraud, that I’m embarrassed and ashamed and disappointed in myself, always brings up all the emotions.
[Sidebar: It was a relief to tell someone who understands, someone who had not only clinical knowledge but also emotional empathy and psychological wisdom to help with. I had only told one friend about this beforehand and while the reception was of a caring variety, it was shallow and quickly forgotten. It made me resent saying anything. So this was nice.]
There were, once more, two options:
- A thorough exam conducted by specialists in pain, followed by participation in a program that helped me deal with it.
- Rebuilding the foundations of intimacy.
The therapist emphasized that it wasn’t “all in my head” but rather that following some sort of trauma it’s normal for a psychological connection to form between sex and pain. As an example, your toe wouldn’t just hurt if you thought about it, but if you stubbed it and it hurt really bad, you might then become averse to even touching it out of the expectation of pain (which might then actually reproduce the pain).
Since there’s so many other variables involved in sex for women (and I had since stopped wanting sex with him almost regardless of the pain), the plan would be to work on rebuilding those foundations – spending time together, reintroducing touch, etc. – and from there hopefully eliminate that connection to pain.
This made sense to me as the route we should take, especially since my gynaecologist had already done that very thorough exam on me (and even if I wanted to do the program, it’d be a long wait to get in).
Except, thanks to a perfect storm of completely unrelated events that followed, I never went back.