dealing with pain and dysfunction


Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Relationships category.

Consent and Vulvodynia

Of the handful of times I’ve had penetrative sex, I’d say the majority were nonconsentual.  I’d now like to qualify this to point out that the vast majority of times I’ve had penetrative sex were with my first boyfriend.  I don’t want to feel like I’m required to protect the feelings of previous sexual partners or prevent someone from feeling uncomfortable about this subject matter.  Because really, you should feel uncomfortable.  I feel uncomfortable.

Naturally, I’m using the more feminist approach to consent, often called “enthusiastic consent” or “yes means yes” (as recently popularized by the 2008 anthology, Yes Means Yes:  Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape).  In the enthusastic consent model, it is assumed that the “neutral state” of sexual partners is nonconsent, and sexual activity should only go forward if both partners are clearly and enthusiastically consenting.  This is opposed to our society’s current model, in which partners are always assumed to be in a state of consent, and sexual activity will go forward until a forceful “no” is heard.  More simply, enthusiastic consent means that consent is not the absence of “no” but the presence of “yes.”

I’d like to discuss my experiences with consent while suffering from vulvodynia and vaginismus.

There have been many times when I had sex because I thought I had to.  Because I hadn’t been diagnosed and thought that saying no would mean I was admitting that the pain was real and that there was something wrong with me.  Because I thought this time maybe it wouldn’t hurt–but when it did, I thought I wasn’t allowed to say no since we had already started.  Because saying no would make me a bad girlfriend.

In our current model of consent, there’s nothing wrong with this.  I didn’t say no, so that makes it okay.  Move along, nothing to see here.  But I was definitely not an enthusiastic participant in these encounters.  Most of the time I would cry.  I was good at hiding it, though, so he wouldn’t notice and feel badly about himself.  Every time I would dig my nails into the palms of my hands until I drew blood, just so I’d have a different pain to focus on.  Every time I would go to the bathroom afterwards I would sit on the toilet to pee and it would just be the most excruciating, searing pain.  I had to do it though, or else I’d have a couple weeks of agony with a UTI.  I’d sit there slumped over, my face at my ankles, and cry and cry and cry.  How could I be so weak?  Why couldn’t I just force out the necessary NO that was required to stop this from happening?

For me, pelvic pain has added a terrible layer of complication to how I think about consent.  How can I be an enthusiastic participant in anything that is hurtful?*  Besides that, my own fear of repercussions from saying no muddle things further.  It can’t be rape if I hide what pain I’m in, if I pretend like I’m okay, if I act like I’m into it, am I right?  Who knows.

The encounters that are most confusing to me are the ones that I instigated.  Where I’d talk them into it, they wouldn’t want to hurt me but I’d insist.  The times that I was enthusiastic, but for the wrong reasons.  What does it mean when I’m the one coercing, I’m the one forcing and rationalizing.  I’ve had doctors tell me that I was making up my pain in my head or that deserved pelvic pain, and I believed them.  On the outside I’d get real indignant about it, but really, I thought they were right.  If I was making it up, I could force myself out of it.  If I deserved it, well, why not have sex?  It’d make me a “real” girlfriend and I’d get what I deserved while I was crying in the bathroom.

I guess I had a lot of different reasons for instigating, now that I think about it.  The fear of hurting me led to a lot of rejection.  The fear of being hurt led to far more, of course.  Sometimes I’d get so furious and angry about having to constantly reject someone I loved or about being rejected by someone I loved.  So I’d force myself to have sex, I’d think that maybe this time it’d be different and if it wasn’t, once again, I deserved it.  Sometimes I’d get so distraught over my disappearing sex drive that I’d instigate in order to prove that I was Clearly Okay and obviously I Still Love You, or else why would I do this?  Typing this up now makes me feel delusional.  Sometimes I’d get so far in denial that I’d think I had magically overcome vulvodynia and this time was it and sex was going to be delightful and so I’d instigate, and once again end up crying in the bathroom.

And what I’ve been up to recently, though I kind of hate myself for it, is just how I’m proving to myself that I’m normal.  Well, normal-ish, at least.  I’ve spent so long feeling completely and utterly fucked up and broken that I’m just trying to make myself believe that I can be just like everyone else.  I guess it’s that and a combination of being crushingly lonely, but even people with totally functional vaginas can be lonely.  I feel like it might be a different kind of lonely though, the kind that we have.  A lonely that is worried about being lonely forever.  There’s a woman in an online support group I’m in who’s worried she might never get married, might never have kids.  It breaks my heart over and over again.  That kind of lonely.

There are millions of reasons why people have sex.  It’s just the more that I think about it, the more I hate my reasons.  I don’t know if that means that I should stop or go to therapy or have sex with someone I’m in love with or just take some sleeping pills and shut the fuck up already.  I don’t know.

Though I believe in enthusiastic consent on a general level, I’m not yet to the point of feeling that I, myself, am deserving of it.  I need to fix this part.  I wrote this earlier and I don’t know what I meant by it.  I think it’s something like this:  I really want to believe in enthusastic consent, I really do.  I like the notion of it, it makes sense, it’s egalitarian, it starts to dismantle the rape culture in which we all live.  But in recounting my experiences and my reasons for having sex, I’m drawing a box around myself that positions my consent as different.  That’s the part I’m uncomfortable with.  How can I do that?  Why would I feel that my enthusiasm isn’t as important?  I just can’t make myself believe that some of the awful reasons why I’ve had sex fit into a new definition of consent.  So, what?  Have I raped myself, then?  That doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.  None of this does.  Once again, I’m going to end up coming back to this.

I’m going to end up adding to or editing this post over time, but I feel the need to get out what I can immediately.

*Use of “hurtful” is an attempt to differentiate from “painful” as pain can be both consentual and welcome

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In which I find new and innovative ways to humiliate myself

Firstly, I’ve managed to (kind of) work out the issues that I thought were going to keep me from writing here.  Therefore, I have an awful story to share.  This builds upon an older entry which is now much more relevant to my life.  I guess I’m single?  Or something?  I know it’s a good idea to be by myself for awhile but I’m kind of working through it—and not necessarily in the best or healthiest ways.

So, I had to have the pelvic pain talk.  Well, that’s not true, I did it accidentally.  Either way, it was horrifically embarrassing (mostly because I answered the wrong question—it didn’t have have to come up [keep reading to see why this is a pun!]).

Dude*:  So we’re both on the same page concerning the seriousness of this encounter, right?

given the circumstances, i assume this is a question about ‘we both know where this is going, are you okay with that?’** and answer accordingly.

Me:  Well, I should probably tell you that I have a pain condition that might make things difficult.  If I’m in pain it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be doing this or that I’m not into it, it’s not your fault.  We’ll see where it–

dude looks kind of taken aback

Dude:  No no no, I meant like… there isn’t really any meaning behind this, right?

Me:  Right, of course not.

*is dead of embarrassment*


In an amazing turn of events, however, I was not the dysfunctional one!  Even though this was a totally casual, just for fun situation, I feel infinitely better knowing that he can’t get it up when he’s stressed out.  Because now I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that at least one guy has to understand what it’s like when your body doesn’t cooperate with your mind.  So (luckily?) we were both insanely embarrassed, called a raincheck, and tried to sleep.

Maybe before that, though, the pelvic pain thing was mentioned again.  I don’t have much of a grasp on timeline here, but… it wasn’t in the morning, so it had to have been before sleep.  I’m practically a detective, y’all.  He was apologizing and explaining, and I said, “Oh, don’t worry, I’m probably more embarrassed for having launched into the pelvic pain lecture at the worst possible moment, blah blah blah.”  And rather than making a big deal or demanding an explanation or causing a scene, all I got was a calm, “yeah, I didn’t really know what you were talking about.”  So all in all, slightly awful but nothing as nightmarish as I had imagined.  Regardless, thinking of how I must have sounded is enough to make me physically cringe and turn a little red.  Whatever, if nothing fun happens with this guy I’ll just think of it as taking one for the team in the name of consciousness-raising!

*he’s got an asshole tag now, see below

**this is extra lulz*** in light of this

***and also by lulz i mean what in the actual fuck


In Which I Defend My (Nonexistant) Honor

Attention  privileged, puritanical, assholes:  just because I am a godless heathen does not mean that I fuck everything that moves or am guilty of “sexual sins.”  Kindly piss off.

Once again, something about my outward appearance/attitude/loud feminism/lack of religion/something has convinced someone that I’m a total whorebag.

AS A MATTER OF FACT, that almost couldn’t be farther from the truth.  And I can’t say a damn thing about it, because pelvic pain is pretty silencing, and no one wants to hear about it.  So as usual, I channel my rage to the anonymous internet.

First off, how, exactly, is someone with vulvodynia and vaginismus going to find all these partners with whom to be promiscuous?  While I’ve never had a one-night stand or anything resembling one, I think it might go something like this:


[at a party or some other social gathering]

Dude/Chick:  Yo, let’s talk about something like school or music or travel.

Me:  Okay, blah blah blah.

Dude/Chick:  Want another beer?

Me:  Oh, actually I don’t drink.  [I just hold this cup so my hands have something to do and I’m not the only person here without one.]

Dude/Chick:  Yeah, why’s that?    -or- Bye.

Me:  Um, family history, would you like more detail?

Dude/Chick:  That’s cool.   -or- o_O  Bye.

[Somehow miraculously progresses through my social anxiety/general awkwardness to some kind of hookup situation]

Me:  So there are a few things you’re going to need to know before we begin… [vulvodynia, vaginismus, vulvar vestibulitis, no quick movements please, you may scare it]

Dude/Chick:  O_O  BYE.

So as you may understand, I’m a bit confused as to how I am committing these egregious sexual sins that someone else’s god is so upset about.  Is it the part where I CAN’T HAVE SEX?

I think what the real problem here is as follows:  some asshole is uncomfortable with sexuality and is mad that I haven’t joined him in the ranks of obedient followers, ignoring sexual impulse and condemning others while probably still making time to furitively masturbate in the shower, crying and repenting afterward.  You can go on and on about how “everyone’s guilty,” but no one’s gonna convince me that a life of shame is the right path.  Even if I can’t have sex (by hymen fetishist standards, at least), I’m still going to have a damn good time and not feel ashamed about it.  Just, umm… probably not with someone I’ve just met.  And you know what?  Even if I did fuck anything that moves, your ridiculous concept of “sin” is useless to me and has no place in my life.  So, hey.  Fuck off, buddy.