I've been umming and ahhing over whether to post this for a while. Mainly because it's rather personal and ever so slightly cringey. Partly because I'm not entirely sure how many people there are out there who have had a similar experience and to whom this may be relevant. But I'm biting the bullet and pressing publish, just in case somebody out there is in the same position as I have been for the past few years.

So here goes.


Recently, I was told by a gynaecologist that the pain I feel during sex is due to my nerves sending the "wrong signal" when I try and attempt anything intimate. It's been a long time since I first felt that burning, stinging, scratching sensation during sex and I definitely waited far too long to pursue this rather embarrassing problem. Today, I want to write a little about my experience just in case anybody reading this can relate to it in any way at all - and just in case it persuades someone to go and seek advice. It's actually a really common condition but one that quite often slips under the radar. We need to be honest with ourselves - we wouldn't think twice about telling a friend about symptoms of a head cold but we're just not talking about what's going on downstairs enough!

There are many reasons for feeling discomfort and pain during sex. Sexually transmitted infections, thrush, vaginismus, cancer even. The list of possible causes can be incredibly daunting at first Google. A lot of the time, it can just be due to not being "ready" - not enough foreplay or lubricant for example. Some hormonal contraceptive methods can lead to dryness. But if you've tried lube and extra foreplay and different contraception, it can be quite scary to take the next steps towards finding out what's really going on.

I first visited my doctor to discuss the problem when I was 18. I had been having problems for a good year or so, to the point that sex with my then-partner was virtually non-existent. My partner was incredibly understanding and kind about it but I wasn't feeling quite so calm about what was happening. Every time we tried to have sex, it felt as though I was being scratched inside. It stung, it burned and it was most definitely not fun.

My initial suspicion was a psychological cause; we'd recently lost a good friend and I'd noticed the pain amplifying since that awful news was broken to us. Meanwhile, the doctors ran tests for STIs and other illnesses. I had an incredibly uncomfortable ultrasound, feeling far too young for the gynaecological and maternity wards I found myself waiting on. My results all came back fine. Eventually, a pelvic examination (during which I burst into tears and clamped my knees shut) led to a young doctor gently suggesting that I attend psychosexual counselling. Due to my reaction, he was worried that I had experienced some kind of trauma or abuse. (I think really I was just fed up and scared and obviously the examination was painful, but there you go!)

The waiting list for counselling was, of course, incredibly long. By the time I attended my first appointment, my relationship had dissolved (through no fault of my partner), I had spent some time single and had even gotten together with Michele. Things had momentarily improved. When I finally received my appointment, I told the counsellor that everything was now fine - perhaps the change had broken the spell that grief had had on me. We briefly discussed the loss of my friend but she concluded otherwise that everything seemed to be on the mend. She sent me on my way, happy to see that the problem was already resolved. Unfortunately, the pain began to creep back in.

Random photo of a bed.. I mean really, how do you illustrate a post like this?!
Michele and I have now been together for 5 years, during which time the pain has ebbed and flowed sporadically. From numerous internet searches, I alighted on the possibility of vaginismus, a condition where the vagina tightens involuntarily, causing painful sex. I (and here I cringe ever so much at admitting this) bought a vibrator online and started trying to accustom myself to relaxing when something was inside me. Most people buy these things for fun - I would honestly have been quite happy never to see one again. It essentially felt like giving myself a pelvic examination night after night, coupled with the burning and stinging sensation that I so often felt. Not. Sexy. At all.

But things seemed to be getting better. After a week of this "training" I noticed that sex was far less painful and could even be quite enjoyable again. It was, annoyingly, short-lived - after a period spent apart, the pain came back with a vengeful force. This time the stinging was far more intense than I'd experienced before and I accepted that finally, after all those years, it was time to go back to the doctors and ask for help again.

I had a couple more examinations, a few more swabs. Everything came back clear, again. The next option that we discussed was my sensitive skin - there was evidence of tearing and scar tissue so perhaps a skin condition was causing the pain and stinging. But the creams they prescribed didn't work and I was eventually referred to a gynaecologist.

Which is essentially where this story ends. Last week, I was examined by a team and they concluded, based on my past test results and examinations, that I have a nerve signalling issue. The letter I received stated that it's something called "vulvodynia". I'm going to be referred to a pelvic pain specialist and will be prescribed a set of dilators (fun!) - the only way to combat this is to desensitise the nerves by stimulating them, apparently.

So far, everyone I've told this to has said that they're jealous - I basically have masturbation on prescription. I kiiind of wish they'd stop saying that because what I'm actually going to be doing is stimulating the nerves that are causing the pain, with an aim to desensitise them over time. Essentially - it'll be a bit like giving myself a self-imposed gyno appointment each day. Woo hoo!

On the other hand, at least I know what's happening now. It's not a fatal disease. There is a potential management tool. It's not a fun one in the slightest and I'm feeling a bit ncjakfhwie about it all to be honest. In the days after receiving the diagnosis, I pretty much burst into tears at any sexual reference, be it in literature, film, TV, social... and that's quite hard to escape eh? Sex is such a basic thing and even though I'd been struggling with it for years, hearing that diagnosis made me feel as though any hope of a normal sex life was being taken away. But now I'm getting past the shock of finally discovering what it is that's been hurting me so much. I at least have a route towards getting back in control of my own (sex) life. And that is invaluable.

I guess I just want to say - if you're experiencing pain during sex and it's not going away, please don't wait as long as I did. Whatever it is, there's a solution. It may not be ideal. I'm certainly not happy right now. But moving forward is infinitely better than doing nothing and letting your confidence crumble away before you.

Some useful links for those who may have a similar problem and want to find out more: