Fragmentary, Post 5: Shame
Shame First Broke My Will—But Kindness, Strength, & Time Sealed Those Cracks
by Anonymous, *Trigger warning: sex, painful sex
The first time I had sex I was 18. It was with my boyfriend at the time, who I thought was respectful, patient and understanding. The first time was awkward and nervous, as one would expect. But it was also incredibly painful. As a cis woman, I was often told that sex would be painful the first time, so I didn’t think much of it.
It was when it continued to be excruciating EVERY TIME that I started to get concerned.
After putting up with it enough times, I finally went to the doctor. The only suggestions they had were to make sure I didn't’ have any STDs. Since it was both my partner’s and my first time having sex, I knew I didn't have any. Sure enough, the tests were negative. So now what? I tried different lubricants, different condoms, but nothing seemed to help. My doctor told me to use lidocaine to numb myself. That was my best solution at the time.
It was a huge strain on my sex life. I never wanted to have sex because I knew it was just going to be painful. My boyfriend wasn’t very happy, and it built resentment, so I often just did what I could to make him happy. Unfortunately, the relationship ended before I sought treatment.
Although I was single, I had had enough and didn’t want to accept that I would just have painful sex with no answers. I did my own research and thought I found a disorder that fit with my symptoms called vaginismus, so I presented it to my doctor. She didn’t know much about it or any related disorder, so she referred me to a physical therapist.
I saw the physical therapist and she diagnosed me with pelvic floor dysfunction and dyspareunia. Pelvic floor dysfunction is where the muscles that make up your pelvis are not acting as they should—for me, that meant they were tighter than they should be at resting tone. Dyspareunia translates to painful intercourse. I worked with the physical therapist for a few sessions and got exercises to do on my own. She told me that if I continued doing my therapy on my own, my symptoms would get much better.
I continued the therapy for a while on my own, but with school picking up, I slowly stopped doing the exercises completely.
Years passed. I finished school and started my life in the adult world.
I found myself feeling extremely anxious about dating and I couldn’t figure out why. It look me a little while to realize what the feeling was—shame. I had crippling shame stemming from this diagnosis I had. Would I ever have painless sex again? Would I ever want to have sex again? How would I TELL someone about this? Who would WANT ME? These questions haunted me.
I felt worthless, useless, and broken. I kept telling myself, I’m broken; I’m dysfunctional; who would want to date me knowing these things? I knew in the back of my mind that there would be people out there who WOULD want me, but these dark thoughts conquered over those voices for years.
I tried going on dates and talking to people, but I wouldn't get past date #3 without those thoughts coming back and saying to me, “You have to tell them. They won’t want to be with you. You’re better off just being single.” I listened to them. I chose being alone and safe over the chance of being hurt.
Then I met someone who made me challenge those thoughts. We had great chemistry and I could tell that it could become something. Instead of letting those thoughts take over and falling into my shame, I told the thoughts, “No!” I decided I was going to do something about this. I did research and found a doctor who specialized in my diagnosis, and I made an appointment to go see her.
What she told me was hopeful, she told me that she didn’t think I had the diagnosis that I had been given. She told me that she had a lot of hope for me and that she was going to get me the help that I needed. She referred me to a physical therapist and I started seeing her shortly after. My physical therapist didn’t give me a diagnosis but she told me that my muscles were behaving abnormally. She gave me exercises that were catered towards my needs and met with me weekly to figure out the next best step.
Over a few months, I was showing a lot of progress. My muscles were responding really well and she had a lot of hope for me. As our sessions came to an end, she knew I still had fear and shame, and worked with me to challenge those thoughts once again.
The dark thoughts still lingered, but I knew that my body was stronger and had adapted to the therapy I had been working on. The hope that the healthcare professionals gave me and the progress that I had seen gave me the confidence to face my shame and have that conversation with the person I was becoming intimate with.
When I told him, he was understanding and patient. He didn’t make a big deal out of it. When I was ready to try having sex, he was gentle, kind, and patient. I can happily say that I no longer have painful intercourse and that sex is no longer a scary, negative thing for me.
With the compassion and patience of my care team and my partner, I conquered my shame and put those dark, crippling thoughts finally to bed.