When sex is bad: My experience with vaginismus

We are lucky to live in a society where sex is no longer a taboo. Whether you’re celibate or a sexaholic, everyone talks about sex and has their own opinions on it. Most people talk about the great things about sex - fun, intimacy and the big O. The verdict is in: sex is great. Right?

Well, what if it isn’t great? What if it is actually the opposite, and is in fact painful and humiliating?

Many years after losing my virginity I learnt what vaginismus is, and I believe it is one taboo still surrounding a topic  becoming more and more taboo-free.

The NHS describes vaginismus as "recurrent or persistent involuntary tightening of muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted". This basically means that when the muscles tighten, sex hurts - and in some cases sex is impossible.

I discovered I was suffering from vaginismus when I was 19. Some women suffer with it from the very beginning of their sexual experiences, and for others it develops later on in life. For many there is a cause behind vaginismus such as a traumatic experience, but for some women there is no reason. I personally prefer not to ask why it’s there, but to ask “What am I going to do about it?”

When I had sex, I often felt humiliated and had no one to talk to about it. Everyone always raves about how great sex is, and guys often feel hurt if the woman isn’t enjoying sex (which is an entirely different article right there!) With a focus on the positives, no one really talks about the negatives surrounding sex and that, sometimes, sex doesn’t live up to our standards and expectations.

After a few years of putting up with painful sex, I went to the gynaecologist and was treated for vaginismus. There are a variety treatments out there, which is lucky, because it means more women can be treated successfully.

When I told the gynecologist that I had no one to talk to about it, she told me that a huge number of girls see her about this problem and feel isolated in the same ways I have. This completely shocked me.

At the time, I thought I was the only person in the world who wasn’t enjoying sex and was somehow different from my peers. Finding out that other women suffered from it made me open up about it a little more to my friends, because, who knows, they could have been suffering from it too.

Fortunately, I now have no issues when it comes to sex (hurrah!) but I know that there may be others out there who do, and for this reason, the taboo needs to be broken. I’m writing this very personal article in the hope that people can start discussing what isn’t great about sex, particularly if they are suffering from a recurring problem.

If you're suffering, know that you're not alone, and there are ways to overcome any problems that you're experiencing. But first, we need to start talking about when sex is bad.

Written by Imogen.