Written by Anonymous
Graphic by Paris Robson
This piece was originally published in ‘Pleasure and Danger’, Bossy’s 2020 print edition.
CW: Medical procedures.
I wanted to lose my virginity at 16.
I thought it would give me a mature aura and the sexual validation I required to become a young woman, but I was awkward. Braces and unironic side ponytails in Year 8 level of awkward. I had next to zero male interaction until the end of Year 12, panicking daily about the impending doom that was being a virgin at 18. Did you know that the average age to lose your ‘virginity’ in Australia is 17.4 years old? I do, because as a nerd, I had to check how weird I was – statistically.
Losing my virginity was going to be challenging – yes, the lacking social skills, but also because I knew something was wrong. Since the age of 13, I had tried tirelessly to use tampons, going through packet after packet, fainting and nearly convulsing at the pain and difficulty.
After one particularly arduous battle, I consulted Dr. Google, as any hypochondriac would. An article called “Weird Sex Problem of the Day” led me to something called an imperforate hymen andI kept reading and researching. This sounded like me.
I worked up the courage to tell my mum that I needed to see a gynecologist, urgently, because I needed surgery. She confusedly laughed in my face, but after some persuasion, she obliged and booked my appointment. On a warm summer morning, in a small clinical room, Dr. Yap helped me – a little, scared, virgin girl – into the stirrups. She checked to see if I had the self-diagnosed rare birth defect, affecting approximately 0.1% of women.
I was right.
I had a semi-imperforate hymen; a membrane almost completely covering the opening of the vagina that was far thicker than normal. This meant I had my period, but nothing could enter my vagina. Dr. Yap booked my surgery. I needed a hymenotomy.
I was 18 when a scalpel popped my cherry.
Not super romantic, and certainly not the Dan Humphrey and Serena van der Woodsen situation I had hoped for, but the real struggle came next. The surgery fixed the physical irregularity, but the area was still in a state of trauma. I had primary vaginismus and vulvodynia, a painful and involuntary spasming of the vagina muscles, which made sex, tampons, and even tight pants impossible.
It’s hard to notice how many times a day society reminds you of sex’s importance until someone says you might never be able to have it.
I commenced ‘vagina physio’, a practice of pelvic floor training, and intense studying of vagina diagrams and literature. I had to ask my mum to buy $100 plastic penises (referred to as dilators) in various sizes to use as ‘trainers’ twice a week. I was prescribed anti-depressant cream – for my vagina. I cried during sex scenes in movies. I saw a sex therapist. I listened to my friends’ sex stories and pretended not to be jealous. I was in my first year of college, crippled by the pain of my ‘defective’ vagina.
After months of failed sex attempts, the boy I liked lost interest. I was told by a specialist that relationships and kids might not be on the cards for me. I was convinced vaginismus would ruin my entire life. I became depressed. The simple validation I had craved as a teenager now seemed comical in the face of a life without sex.
Then one night, after the help of six plastic penises, countless dear friends, three gynecologists, two vagina physios, and two therapists… I had sex.
After nearly three years committed to this act, finally succeeding was meant to be the happiest day of my life. But sex did not authenticate me as I thought it would. My perception of sex had been warped into a clinical sense of achievement. My doctors and physios were proud, and I threw out my plastic penises and my anti-depressant cream. My friends rejoiced! I was normal now.
The physical pain disappeared, but the threat of vaginismus-induced-solitude made me anxious to prove myself. Every failure to have sex felt the weight of hundreds of intrusive medical appointments. I had no conception of pleasure, only the absence of pain.
My self- (and quarantine-) imposed sex drought has brought me clarity. I thought my ability to have sex directly correlated with my value to society. I felt that to be sexless was to be worthless.
Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD) is ignored in high school sex education curriculums, despite research suggesting that some form of it will affect most women at some point in their lives. The World Health Organisation defines FSD as the various ways in which a woman is unable to participate in a sexual relationship as she wishes. More than sexual difficulty, FSD is the frustrating and distressing inability to engage in the sexual activity you desire, which may include anything from arousal or physical contact to orgasm. FSD refers to a range of disorders such as sexual aversion disorders, sexual arousal or desire disorders, orgasmic disorders, and pain disorders.
Lily in Sex Education and Etsy in Unorthodox are such important, current representations that have started to improve social awareness of FSD. However, women continue to endure in the shadows, embarrassed by the social and physical pain which sexual dysfunction brings. It is alienating to compare yourself to society’s provocative image of female sexuality, when pleasurable, fulfilling sex can feel so far away.
It is now up to us all to educate, engage, and normalize sexual dysfunction so more women can seek help without fear of ostracism. This way, we can all experience the consensual sex and pleasure that we deserve.
If you are reading this and you think female sexual dysfunction may be affecting your life, you are not alone. I urge you to seek help from Canberra Sexual Health and Family Planning Clinic or a trusted GP who will be able to give you more information and relevant referrals. In these potentially sensitive and vulnerable circumstances, be sure to trust your judgement and practice self-advocacy with your health.