My first pap smear ended in tears, just like I knew it would. It was bad enough that my body had built brick wall blocking its entrance, but the doctor’s attempts to get past it were excruciating.
My body has felt cursed for as long as I can remember. The day I got my first pap smear, I felt especially detached from it. It’s hard to feel dignified and connected when your feet are placed in those offensive stirrups and your ass is uncomfortably close to hanging off the end of the table.
How many times had I mentioned my condition to the doctor? Three, maybe four or more. And yet, I’d waited in the waiting room and then the exam room for nearly two hours before my exam actually took place, my nerves and anxiety growing the entire time. In spite of my request to take things slowly for my first pap smear, the doctor expressed a need to work quickly because the office was about to close. She ignored my tears and my uncontrolled impulse to close my knees. While she told me exactly what she was doing, I could barely hear anything.
Since I was young, I’ve lived with a condition called primary vaginismus. Essentially, I have a very tense pelvic floor that causes my body to tighten uncontrollably. This can make things like sexual intercourse and using tampons incredibly painful and difficult.
Unfortunately, even many professionals are still learning about this condition. At my appointment, I had to explain what the condition was to the nurse taking notes. And there are also a lot of gynecologists who aren’t aware of the pain their patients may be going through. Perhaps they don’t think the pain really exists. Or maybe they don’t care.
Vaginismus has many potential causes. Sexual abuse, assault, shame, and anxiety can all play a role. I told my gynecologist that I had been the victim of a forced gynecological exam in childhood and that my body had given me anxiety ever since. I felt completely unheard.
According to the NHS, treatment for vaginismus focuses on two components: managing feelings about penetration and performing exercises to help the body get used to penetration. These exercises can include physical exercises and stretches that benefit your pelvic floor and core muscles, but they can also involve…