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“From the outside, I seem like any other regular Singaporean woman in her early-30s. I love to shop and eat out, and I enjoy partying with my friends and colleagues on weekends. But there’s one thing that sets me apart from most 30-something-year-old women I know – I cannot have sex because it hurts.

Recently, I was diagnosed with a condition called vaginismus, which makes it virtually impossible for me to have penetrative sex. I’ve only had vaginal sex once, with my first boyfriend when I was in my mid-20s.

That experience hurt so much that I couldn’t bring myself to go through it again. I spent the next couple of years avoiding sex completely, but, when I found myself in two serious relationships, when I was 28 and later when I was 30, vaginal sex was out of the question because my body just wouldn’t cooperate.”

 

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A pain unlike any other

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“I was never a prude and I never imagined that I would be unable to have sex. As a young adult I had sexual urges and masturbated every now and again to satisfy those yearnings.

When I met and fell in love with Michael* at the age of 25, I was a virgin, so I had no idea what vaginal penetration felt like. Michael was well endowed but I didn’t think that would be an issue – after all, if a vagina can stretch enough to accommodate a baby’s head, then what more a big penis? But when Michael entered me, the pain was so excruciatingly painful that I almost blacked out and actually saw stars for several seconds. When I looked down, I saw a substantial amount of blood on the sheets and I screamed.

I pushed Michael off of me and started to cry. All I could think to myself was, ‘This is sex?’ The experience was far from pleasurable.

“The trauma and shock stayed with me for the next few days. After I got over the bleeding episode and the pain around my vaginal opening subsided, I figured I could try having sex with Michael again. But, when he penetrated me, my body seized up and the pain returned.

“This went on for another few weeks. Every time we attempted to have penetrative sex, it seemed that my vagina didn’t want to accommodate his penis. Disheartened, I told Michael that maybe we weren’t ready to have sex.

 

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This, of course, affected our relationship. It’s not like we didn’t desire each other – we engaged in other forms of sexual play, like mutual masturbation and oral sex, but it just wasn’t the same and it always felt like something was missing. Sadly, barely four months into our relationship, Michael told me that he couldn’t see me anymore. He told me that sex was important to him and he felt that I was lacking in experience and incapable of meeting his sexual needs.”

 

“No sex, please, I have vaginismus”

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“I was really upset when my relationship with Michael ended. Emotionally I shut down and tried not to date anyone in case they expected me to have sex with them. For the next three years I made the choice to be celibate.

“Of course, during those years of abstinence, I had a few guys who were interested in me. But I was so afraid to have sex with them that I avoided getting involved with them at all. I was afraid that the sex would be even more painful the next time around, and I was afraid that I’d disappoint them in bed and be dumped for it.

“My friends thought I was crazy. ‘You’re single and free and can sleep with whomever you please’, they told me. But all I wanted to say was, ‘No, I cannot have sex’. While I was celibate, I felt absolutely awful about myself. I didn’t even know there was a name for my condition; I just thought that I was frigid or some kind of freak. Was I the only one for whom sex was such an ordeal?”  

 

Hard to find a man who understands

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“When I was 28 I met Jonathan*. We were really into each other and had a lot in common, and when I was around him, I felt sexually aroused.

 

“It was only a matter of time before Jonathan and I decided to sleep together. For some reason I didn’t think that I’d have any issues having penetrative sex with him, but I was wrong! He tried to enter me but he says that he felt like he was ‘hitting a brick wall’. We took a break and tried again a couple of times later, but still, nothing happened. It’s like the muscles around my vagina refused to budge. I was so frustrated that I burst into tears.

 

“Unfortunately, Jonathan, like Michael, didn’t stick around, either. Once he realised that this was a recurring problem, he decided that he wanted nothing more to do with me. I was devastated but told him that I understood.

 

“Two years later I began dating an old classmate, Joshua*, and the same thing happened. The couple of times we attempted to have sex my vaginal muscles seized up. The good thing about Joshua was that he was patient with me but even then, I found it hard to sustain a relationship with him because in the back of my mind, I had this belief that I was a bad girlfriend who was hopeless in bed. I felt that he deserved better.”

 

Fear of the future

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“A chat with my doctor about getting a pap smear resulted in my being diagnosed with vaginismus. Every woman who has vagismus experiences the condition differently, but in my case, on top of not being able to have penetrative sex, I’m too afraid to even get a pap smear, which I know is important to help detect serious medical issues like cervical cancer.  

 

“My doctor referred me to a counsellor whom she says can help me get to the root of my sexual fear and anxiety. But the thing is that I’m too ashamed to open up to anybody about it. I’m also afraid about what the counsellor may say – what if she tells me that I have serious emotional issues or I find out that I’m abnormal in some way?

 

“Because of my problem, I feel turned off by sex now. I do still have sexual urges but I find myself suppressing them, and then I feel horrible for not being able to have sex the way other people do. I also don’t feel worthy of a real relationship – what’s the point when all I do is disappoint the guys I date?

“I hope that this problem goes away soon, although I know it’s not likely to resolve on its own. Only one close friend knows what I’ve been through; she’s told me many times to get professional help but I’m not ready for that yet. Maybe the next man I have sex with will understand what I’m going through, and maybe, with his love and support, I will find the courage to get the counselling I need.”

 

*Names have been changed

 

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