“I want to have sex with you, for sale but I need to tell you something first.”
Welcome to the story of my love-life.
From the age of fifteen I’ve suffered from a condition that isn’t widely acknowledged – both because of a lack of medical understanding and the shame that overbears it.
I have a condition called vulvodynia – in layman’s terms, prostate pelvic nerve pain.
Having only recently learnt how to say it, doctor let alone spell it, allow me to give you a brief introduction to the condition that affects an estimated 18% of women.
There are two types of vulvodynia: unprovoked and pressure-
Focussed in an extremely concentrated area, my nerves ‘over-work’, meaning physical contact – from tampons to sex – can be painful for me. My pain bears a very close resemblance to the sensation of burning; sharp and quick or unforgivingly enduring. The most debilitating aspect of the condition is the colossal affect it has on your sex life, and although I’ve come to terms with the likelihood I will carry this diagnosis my whole life, at 24 and single it certainly doesn’t make things easy.
I want to have sex with you, but I need to tell you something first.
Okay… What is it?
It’s nothing to worry about – but I have this thing. I was diagnosed with it years ago. Uhhh, I don’t really know how to word it… Ummm. So… Basically, sex can hurt me.
If I could live stream my life I would; imagine having to discuss the intricacies of your vagina to a man who hasn’t even seen your vagina yet. Just imagine telling this story to a Tinder match on your second date (sorry mum). Imagine watching their face contort as they attempt hide their naturally dazed state. And then, imagine having to go through that again, and again, and again. The awkwardness is atmospheric, but it would make for great TV.
Out of humiliation, I used to push my body until I was in searing pain, having sex whilst silently crying into a pillow because I thought I’d be judged if I asked to stop. It wasn’t until I met my first ‘real’ boyfriend that I realised the discomfort I felt wasn’t normal (thank you, even though you were a bit of an arsehole). I felt so isolated that I hid over a year of hospital appointments and visiting specialists from my own mum. I’ve been fobbed off with misinformed therapists, misguided hypnotherapy, ineffective acupuncture, ointments and potions, eight tablets a day, anti-depressants and more. But due to the lack of information surrounding the condition, my medical journey has proved to be futile.
Vulvodynia didn’t simply affect my nerves. It affected my whole person. At points, I felt altogether insignificant and even now it’s hard to shake this niggling feeling of female inferiority. As much as I desperately desire to, I can’t fulfill a man’s fantasies. I can’t ‘go all night’ or spend weekends between the sheets.
Like so many women before me, I’ve put myself in the most vulnerable of positions time and time again; nervously laughing as I attempt to explain why sex isn’t just sex with me. Inevitably, my story invokes pity.
Erghhh. That word. Pity.
It makes me want to slap you. It makes me want to push you into oncoming traffic. It makes me want to scream in your face. Why are you wasting your pity on my vagina, or anyone else’s for that matter? This label I have isn’t defining and it certainly isn’t debilitating.
In the most ironic of ways, vulvodynia has bettered me. Yes, it’s caused me pain – and perhaps it has also caused break-ups – but it also gave me perspective. Okay, sex is really fucking important, but being in pain and having to stop doesn’t make you inferior. I can say no, and I can regain a little power.
It also happens to be the perfect excuse when you just want a date to end.
As turbulent as my relationship with sex is, I’ve come a long way since the day I left the hospital in my school uniform, burdening my then brand-new diagnosis. The pain has not lessened, my diagnosis has not changed, but I have matured and learnt to listen to my body.
Despite affecting almost a fifth of the population, vulvodynia is brashly swept under the carpet. After all, it’s easier to overlook pain than risk embarrassment.
I don’t want readers to feel sorry for me or any other women in my situation when they read this. And to the women in the same situation as me, I don’t wish to quash your faith in a cure – our journeys are entirely unique. Unfortunately there’s no quick-fix happy ending for me, but regardless of my problems, I will not allow this tiny imbalance in my body to dictate my life – and nor should you. Lust will forever outweigh pain, and no worthy person will ever judge you for something out of your control.