I’m going to share a very personal experience with you all – because that’s what I do, but also because there’s a chance that my story could help someone else in a similar situation.
Sex has been painful for me since I ever started having it, meaning it’s been well over a decade of this problem. In the early years, being unexperienced, I thought, well, I guess this is just what it feels like. And then later on: I just must not be doing it right. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t having it much – but I had realized that the pain was consistent.
As years passed and I had open discussions about sex with my friends, I discovered that this was not the norm. I was frustrated by this and talked to my OBGYN at my annual physical. She took a look and said, “Well, you’re a little swollen but that’s about it. Maybe try taking Ibuprofen 30 minutes before you have sex.” I was so disappointed that this was her only suggestion. I was going to have to plan intimate time and take pain killers in advance?! Um, no.
I spoke with different gynecologists. I desperately joked with friends. I Googled the shit out my symptoms. I received other exams. I was advised to use lubrication. (That was helpful, but it certainly didn’t fix the problem. P.S. – coconut oil!)
Despite all of this, I didn’t hate sex. I just knew I had to be prepared for the discomfort of intercourse when the moment presented itself. Over time, I started to dread it more and more. I desperately wanted to be one of those women who loves sex, but my brain had subconsciously convinced me not to as a defense mechanism. (Side note: when people talk about “having sex all night,” are they being serious? Does that actually happen?? Mind blowing.)
After meeting my husband and being intimate with him, I realized there was a whole new level to sex when it’s with your soul mate. It was better, but there was still pain. I love my husband and didn’t want my problem to interfere with our physical and emotional intimacy, so I made it work. After years and years of this, I’d convinced myself that it was in my head and this was the way it was going to go for the rest of my life. That was until recently, when one of my clients made a suggestion to me that will change my life.
She told me about her experience going to Physical Therapy for Women in Wilmington after having her son. She explained how they work with your pelvic muscles and that the therapy really helped her. Our situations were not exactly the same, but it was worth a shot.
I asked my PCP for a referral at my next appointment and she gave it readily. At my first appointment with PTW, I was so apprehensive. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I began very openly explaining my history and specific symptoms to the therapist, and within minutes, she was confident that painful sex was being caused by spasmodic pelvic floor muscles. What’s even more incredible is that this condition likely stems from a tailbone injury I’d suffered when I was seven years old. Seven.
She examined me and confirmed her suspicion. I just lay there on the table weeping silently – I was crying tears of relief that this problem wasn’t in my head and there was a way to fix it; however, I was also crying tears of mourning for the many years that had passed with me suffering, and for the other women who have this same ailment and don’t know.
I’m early on in my therapy but they tell me, “Don’t worry – you WILL enjoy sex.” It’s absolutely astounding to me that it’s even a possibility, and I am so grateful to have connected with them.
Ladies, please – if you have any kind of pain during intercourse, know that it’s not “normal” or “just the way it is.” There is a SOLUTION out there for you, even if no doctor has ever recommended this type of treatment. I do not want any woman to spend years thinking that she has to accept this as her reality.
UPDATE: March 25, 2020
So, it’s been quite some time since I wrote the original post last August. I thought it would be appropriate to update the sitch.
I went through physical therapy for several months. They were very optimistic about my progress and with how much my muscles were relaxing back to a normal resting state. My therapy included normal stretches, internal massage and stretching with the therapists, and laser therapy.
When I was given the okay to have sex again, I was trying not to get my hopes up, but was looking forward to feeling a positive change. Unfortunately, the pain level was almost the same as before I started the therapy. Womp, womp.
After discussing this with one of my therapists at the following appointment, she decided to test me for vulvodynia again (even though we had eliminated this condition at my first appointment). Well, this time, I reacted to the test. Like, OUCH. My therapist told me that she felt I did actually have vulvodynia (caused by nerve pain, not muscles), and that I didn’t react to the test during my first appointment because my muscle pain was so severe I didn’t even notice the nerves. This was devastating news to me. The only “cure” for vulvodynia is surgery.
She told me that the success rate for a vestibulectomy is quite promising. I would need to travel to Duke/Chapel Hill for this procedure.
After I grieved this news, I came to terms with what my next steps would have to be. I have yet to schedule the procedure because frankly, I am terrified, and I also afraid of how much it will cost, as well as being out of work while I recover, but I plan to do so next year. In the meantime, lidocaine ointments and creams have been quite helpful.
If you want to discuss your own experience or have questions about mine, please don’t hesitate to reach out. <3