“It all started with an innocuous question from Simply Her then-features writer Vanessa Tai. She had asked me: ‘What’s your greatest achievement?’, to which I replied: ‘My three children.’
‘But most women would say the same thing,’ she pointed out, thinking that I never wanted kids.
But that’s the sad truth: I thought I would never be able to have children. For years, I suffered from vaginismus and couldn’t even have sex with my husband.
My Unlikely Life Partner
I met Kamal during our secondyear graphic design course at art school. He was a top student, but he was also unkempt, had long hair, smelled weird and smoked – not my idea of a dream partner. But I was drawn to his wisdom and charm. Through a friend, I learnt that he had a crush on me, and we started dating a year after we met.
Our First Time
My parents didn’t like us dating; my father even threatened to disown me. But I was crazily in love with Kamal and we decided to make love for the first time. It was, ironically, the only time we managed to have penetrative sex – sort of. I screamed so badly in pain that our session came to an abrupt end. There was blood on the sheets and I was sore for a few days. My mother had always said: ‘No sex before marriage’, and I believe that my guilty feelings contributed to my vaginismus.
I was afraid Kamal wouldn’t take me seriously after that incident, but instead, he treated me more delicately and was more protective of me. He was distressed to see me so frightened.
During subsequent encounters, there was never actual penetration but I managed to please him in other ways.
Man And Wife – Almost
After four years of dating, my family eventually grew very fond of Kamal, and we got married in 1997.
Kamal and I were a passionate couple. We did almost everything in bed, but when we tried to have intercourse, my body would freeze; my muscles would tense up and my knees would clamp tightly together. I would sweat, shiver and shake, and my heart would palpitate. I would cry and be close to fainting while pushing my husband away.
When my husband saw how traumatised I was, he would say: ‘Let’s just have fun.’ I even suggested he knock me unconscious so that he could have his way with me, but he refused to; he was very sensitive. I thought I was abnormal. Wasn’t sex something that would happen naturally? Worst of all, I didn’t know where to go for help.
Looking back, I believe I was subconsciously affected by a few factors. There was my strict upbringing and I was also ignorant about sex. When I was in Primary Six, I read about a horrifying rapeand- murder case in the papers; that must have left me with a traumatic impression of sex.
Nobody guessed our problem. My friends didn’t know and when our families asked the inevitable question: ‘When are you having kids?’, I’d reply: ‘We’re not trying very hard.’
Signs Of Trouble
Two years into our marriage, we were living separate lives. We argued constantly about our sex life: He said I wasn’t relaxed enough while I felt he wasn’t being sensitive to my feelings.
One day, Kamal bought me a book on women’s health and told me: ‘It has something to do with your condition,’ but I threw it aside. When he said the problem lay with me, I got angry. Although I knew in my heart that what he said was true, I didn’t want to admit it. Instead, I turned it back on him, saying it wouldn’t be a problem if he was more gentle. Eventually, Kamal stopped pressing me for sex.
Around this time, I started having blood clots and I went to see a gynaecologist. As the doctor tried to insert something into my vagina, my body reacted in the same way as it did during intercourse. After much effort, he managed to get the pap smear done – it hurt even more than the first time Kamal and I tried to make love. Thankfully, the results were normal, but I was hurting for two days afterwards.
My mother and husband, who were on the other side of the curtain, heard it all. Kamal quietly told her: ‘Now you know why you don’t have grandkids.’
My mother later tried to advise me, telling me to relax and that intercourse is ‘also for your husband’. I felt incapable and stupid. If only the gynaecologist had given us a pamphlet or helped me with my condition.
The Turning Point
In 2003, when Singapore was hit by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) virus, we were going through a difficult time in our life. The design business started by Kamal, a friend and me slowed down and by early 2005, I left the firm to paint from home.
One day, Kamal and I were at a funfair watching kids playing when I noticed tears in his eyes. When I asked if he was okay, he sniffed and said: ‘I think we will never have kids.’ It was then that I realised how much he had done for me. He had put up with years of not having sex, but not once did he walk out on me.
I told him I wanted to have children, and started reading up on how we could work towards this. Besides changing our lifestyles, we still had one big problem: We couldn’t have penetrative sex.
Kamal then came up with an unusual method – I felt offended at first, but changed my mind after reading that pregnancies have happened this way. We would wait till I was ovulating, then he’d ejaculate outside my body and use the tip of his finger to quickly insert the semen into my vagina.
Amazingly, it worked. Five days after I missed my period, my pregnancy test showed a faint plus sign.
How Did You Get Pregnant?
No one knew our secret… until a few weeks before I was due to give birth. When my gynaecologist tried to insert her finger into my vagina to check my cervix, she was surprised by my body’s reaction. ‘How did you manage to get pregnant?’ she asked. We couldn’t reply.
She was worried about the delivery, adding: ‘You’ll suffocate the baby if you cannot relax.’
Also read: 10 things that can lower your sex drive
She told my husband not to blame me as this was involuntary, and she explained to him that I can feel sexy and want to be touched, but the rest was psychological. She finally put a name to the problem that had plagued us for years: Vaginismus.
I was in labour for over 24 hours. Every time the doctor needed to check my cervix, she would put me on gas. My cervix failed to dilate fully seven hours after my water burst, and I delivered my first child, a boy, by emergency Cesarean.
My doctor advised us that if we wanted to have more kids, we needed to try to have sex more often and to relax more. She also advised me to learn to let go.
Somehow, being a mother made me braver. Also, I was in my 30s and started becoming more interested in sex and wanted to enjoy it. I bought sexy lingerie, and Kamal and I roleplayed, visited sex shops and spent more time together as a couple. I also started exploring myself; something I never did in the past because it felt sinful.
About three months after our first child was born, we decided to try to have sex again. It took six months of sheer perseverance and patience, but one night, it worked. We were so excited and it didn’t hurt. We could finally enjoy each other properly. Our second and third children were conceived naturally and delivered through Caesarean.
Putting Things Into Perspective
Looking back, I have felt stupid and incapable, and cried over my condition – though not as much as when our second son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
I couldn’t have got over my vaginismus without my husband’s love – he was open-minded and accommodating. We have certainly come far. Now, when we openly discuss other people we find attractive, I can even joke: ‘Better watch out now that I enjoy sex.’ Jokes aside, I remember that despite the problems, he stayed true to me.
No one wants to admit they have vaginismus because they feel embarrassed, or that people will laugh at them. But we are sharing our story and agreeing to be photographed because we don’t want couples with a similar condition to go though life thinking: ‘Leave it be.’
I now realise that I’m not alone; when friends say things like ‘pap smears are painful, aren’t they?’ or that they didn’t have sex very often because it hurt, I would share my story with them. So far, about 10 friends have shared their secret with me. I’ve also found books on vaginismus which I’ve passed to friends, who have since gone on to have kids.”
This story was originally published in the September 2011 issue of Simply Her.