Vaginismus was the confusing part of my life I tried to sweep under the rug ever since I was 18. At that age, I tried penetrative sex with my first boyfriend, but it was like hitting a brick wall.
During another couple of attempts, I did my best to relax my muscles and some penetration was possible, but just a little bit of him being inside me felt like a constant stabbing sensation. It felt like a searing hot knife inside my vagina I desperately wanted out, yet I also wanted to satisfy my partner.
For longer than I should have, I grit my teeth and bore the pain with silent tears streaming down my eyes hoping it was going to get better next time.
At my first appointment with my family doctor on the topic, I couldn’t get through a pelvic exam and I was simply told I was too young for penetrative sex. I was told my body must not be ready yet and I should just wait (cue eye roll.)
Unsatisfied with this conclusion, I decided to do some research online, and there I came across the term vaginismus.
After my family doctor added more medical recommendations, including drinking a glass of wine and just relaxing (even though I was under legal drinking age), I made my way to a gynecologist who did a brief physical exam, but the word vaginismus wasn’t mentioned either.
Only later did I see a sex therapist for a couple of sessions. Although these short sessions did not help me overcome my pain, she was the first to mention the word “vaginismus” and recommended I try dilators. I felt relieved that at least someone else agreed with the fact that my pain was not in my head.
She gave me a two-pager of dilating instructions. I later discovered those instructions only scratched the surface of what the dilating process is all about.)
Oddly enough, my parents were the ones to set me up with a set of dilators. Shortly after I told them about my sex challenges, they came home one day with a box of plastic dilators in a grey bag with a pink heart on it.
And so, my journey officially began.
Unfortunately, the dilators lay hidden away in my closet for many months at a time, since I lacked the support in how to use them effectively. To this day, I’m baffled by the limited instructions and guidance I received from the medical professionals I encountered.
I guess I could have seen vaginismus coming with a particular red flag earlier in my life that hinted something was off: using tampons. Or at least, trying to. Many perfectly good tampons went straight to the garbage with my unsuccessful attempts. They were impossible to use. I felt the same sense of hitting a wall, or really intense, sharp pain.
At many points during my 6-year journey to a pain-free and intimate life, I was trying to stay positive; I was also feeling incredibly alone. I felt like an outsider with no one who seemed to understand. Even though I had a supportive family, friends, and partners, unfortunately, loving people can't relate to us fully; they just haven’t experienced the excruciating pain, both physical and emotional.
I essentially convinced myself that ‘meeting expectations’ in the sex department was just never going to be something I could do.
So I stuck with what I knew which may have been part of the root cause in the first place. I focused on school and work and kept reaching for higher and higher achievements. You see, I lived my life in a very logical, left-brained, structured way.
I was a trained perfectionist which went hand in hand with becoming a high performer, a 'go-getter', and an 'alpha woman'. Following the well-trodden, safe path my sister took, I too became a designated Chartered Professional Accountant. It was wonderful in many ways but equally, soul-sucking.
As I climbed the corporate ladder and hid my sexual secret, I avoided making self-care a priority. If I indulged in sexual pleasure for a little while, I experienced a deep sense of shame and embarrassment, and I was just reminded that my body was betraying me. On top of that, my inner voice said, "You should be doing something productive right now". Taking a break meant I was falling behind.
Today, I’m relieved to say that vaginismus is in my past.
My life took a 180-degree turn sexually and in so many other ways. Overall, my journey was a lot more of an emotional one rather than a physical one. It was not only about dilating. It was really about reconnecting with myself: my body, emotions, and sexuality.
It was about starting to feel pleasure again (without penetrative sex), being able to use a tampon, have penetrative sex that was pain-free, and later have penis in vagina (PIV) sex that was mind-blowingly pleasurable. It was also about having a sex drive to begin with too, you know? I remember I had lost mine.
I credit my vaginismus success to an emotional journey of understanding my triggers, reasons for feeling anxious about intimacy and sex, my perfectionist tendencies, and my desire to be in control.
I had to overcome the shame that exists around painful sex in our society. I needed to start living from more of a place of peace and surrender, a place from which pleasure can be celebrated.
All of that involved retraining the emotional body and the mental body alongside the physical body.
I think that a holistic approach is what’s often missing for people.
I also credit my progress to a dilating practice, after a lot of trial and error, I finally learned how to make it effective. I used dilators to train my mind and body to welcome penetration without rushing the process and causing myself pain.
This was super important. If pain is part of the process, it only strengthens your nervous system’s association that penetration means pain and things get worse from there.
It’s worth unpacking the nervous system’s current wiring of the ideas around penetration and perhaps intimacy overall and finding safety in the idea of pleasure. This can be done not just through talk therapy but with the subconscious mind and nervous system. You can work with the body through touch to make friends with the parts of ourselves that desire to be heard and made to feel safe.
I overcame vaginismus at my own pace from the comfort—and most importantly, sense of safety—of my own home. And now, I’ve left the corporate life behind to help you do the same. I now work to help others enjoy sex free of shame, suppression, and physical pain.
I help people create amazing intimate relationships with themselves rooted in safety, self-acceptance, love, compassion, and passion. You deserve to experience a love life that you deeply desire.
You also deserve to put vaginismus in your past for good.
artwork: georgia o'keeffe
Katrin believes healing vaginismus is a journey to self-love above all else and a road to travel by bravely stepping into your authentic self—the one that has been there all along, waiting to come out and play. She lives just outside of Toronto, Canada and supports clients all around the world.
To learn more about Katrin with Love and her work, visit her website and follow her on Instagram @pain.free.and.intimate.
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