Come as you are

My achy breaky vagina

Editorial note: The following article contains sensitive information. The author’s name has been changed to protect her anonymity.

About a year ago, sex started to hurt. There’s a small spot just inside my vagina about the size of a pencil eraser that has been giving me hell for far too long. I can barely remember what normal sex feels like.

I dismissed it at first, but it started to hurt so badly that I had to tell my boyfriend to stop. While the pain was inconsistent and dulled after a few days, it seriously affected my sex drive.

I didn’t want to have sex. I felt like I was broken, and my boyfriend felt down about it too. He felt like he was hurting me.

The first thing I considered was a bacterial infection. I’d had one of those before, and sex with a sick vagina felt like I was rubbing a blister. That time, I went to my gynecologist and she prescribed me an antibiotic and I felt better within a week.

When I went to the gyno for this particular bout of painful sex, I ended up seeing the nurse practitioner. She swabbed my vagina for bacteria and yeast, and sent me home.

The next day, I got a call from one of the nurses at the office. She told me all my cultures were negative.

I was confused, but decided I had injured myself and hadn’t let the wound heal. I abstained from sex for over a week, while my boyfriend and I took separate vacations to different ends of the country.

The pain didn’t go away. It still hasn’t.

I called my doctor’s office again, wanting to make an appointment with my actual doctor. They set up an appointment with the nurse practitioner again.

Again, she shrugged her shoulders with an apologetic frown and told me she wished she knew what was wrong with me.

I made an appointment, hoping to see my doctor, and she’d notice something the nurse practitioner hadn’t. The day before the appointment, a nurse called and said my doctor wanted to cancel. Instead, she wanted me to get an ultrasound to rule out pelvic congestion.

Naturally, I Googled it and discovered it meant varicose veins in the lower abdomen.

Pelvic congestion often affects women who have given birth to multiple children and causes chronic, constant dull pain. I am in my early 20s, have never been pregnant and feel sharp, burning pain when something pokes at a very specific part of the inside of my vagina.

Despite my skepticism, I made the appointment. I went to the office. I let them put their lube-slathered transducer inside me. I felt like I was being probed by aliens. And as I expected, my pelvis looked pretty normal.

I felt triumphant until the nurse read a note from my doctor. It said if results came back normal, I was to see a specialist for pelvic pain. I couldn’t believe my doctor was communicating with me via nurse practitioner from another doctor’s office. I felt dejected and worthless.

I cried. I cried for my wasted time. I cried for my boyfriend. I cried for my diminished confidence. I cried for my medical bills. I cried because I was still in pain.

I saw the specialist and she was at a loss, too.

She shrugged and threw the word “vulvodynia” at me: Chronic vulvar pain without a specific cause. Millions of women suffer from it, but many do recover.

My pain was inside my vagina, not in my vulva.

I went to my mom’s gynecologist the other day. He’s an old guy, which initially skeeved me out, but my mom talked him up so much that I decided I’d give him a shot.

I put my feet in the stirrups and tried to direct the doctor toward the part that hurt. “Does it hurt here? How about here? No? Here?”

After finding the area of pain and checking for anything weird or cancerous, he told me I could sit up. He told me about dyspareunia –– pain during intercourse — and vaginismus — involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles. He assured me that I had no diseases, no tumors, no weird lumps or bumps. I was healthy, but I needed to relax.

He told me to track my pain to look for a pattern. He told me to use lube, take it slow and make time for foreplay. He told me to drink a glass of wine before sex. I cracked a smile, but he said he was serious.

When he walked out of the room, I wanted to cry again. But I wasn’t sad. This was the first time a medical professional hadn’t made me feel like I was lying or the pain I was feeling wasn’t real. I felt hope for the first time in almost a year. This doctor wanted to help me and he was going to.

Even though my pain hasn’t gone away, and I’m not expecting it to any time soon, there are a few takeaways here. Firstly, sex isn’t supposed to hurt unless you want it to. Use lube, and see a doctor if you’re experiencing any abnormal pain. It could be an infection.

Second, if your doctor sucks, find a new one.

Lastly, if you’re experiencing causeless pain during sex, I feel you. It’s frustrating and demoralizing — and worst of all, it hurts. But you’re not alone.

For now, I’m going to have to go easy on myself and revel in the fact that my doctor prescribed me foreplay and wine. I’ll take it.

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