Writing by Caitlyn Grant // Photograph by Karolina Jackowska // Edited by Sarah Rowe
It was a fine winter day, the only warmth radiating from a blackened wood fire situated in the corner of what was one of the bleakest sheds I’ve ever seen, otherwise known as the “man cave”. To set the scene further, cigarette butts littered the cement floor whilst “The Hobbit” played unwatched in the background. Sweet Jesus.
“So.. you wanna?” As a 15-year-old, eager to impress, it seemed there was only one answer. The cheap latex condom had remained inconspicuous until this point, discreetly placed under an ashtray on the coffee table. Beanie on, everything waist-down off. It was happening, the romantic first-time that every girl dreams of. On a torn leather couch. With the Hobbits. Again, may I add, sweet fucking Jesus.
Then we’re off. Ouch, ouch, fucking ouch. Everyone’s first time hurts, my pubescent brain chanted. But this was fucking unbearable. So there I went, leaving the pit of passion to find a haven in the inbuilt outhouse on the side of the shed; all class, baby. I cried. I bled. I texted my best friend. And that was possibly the beginning of it all.
Now, regardless of every other ridiculous choice I made when I was 15, this one had me fucked up, both literally and figuratively. Lingering for four months after was every damn symptom of a urinary tract infection under the sun, except, of course, the infection itself. One doctor, two specialists and 16 weeks of unknown discomfort and pain, only prolonged by the lack of knowledge surrounding dyspareunia and fellow band members, vaginismus and vulvodynia.
How many studies have been done regarding women and dyspareunia? PubMed show 393, including 10 on vaginismus and 43 on vulvodynia. How many on erectile dysfunction? 1954. Can. You. Fucking. Believe. That?
One in five women report having experienced painful sex*. That’s 20%, so in scientific terms, sort of a shit load. That 20% could include your best friend, your sister, even that old lady down the street (yeah, she probably gets jiggy with it.) This is so damn common – please know that you are not alone, my friend.
You may ask, how the hell do we find a way to fix this? Let’s chat. Let’s have a chinwag and a bevvie and a talk about vaginas; long or short, good or bad, itchy or gooey. The physical pain is hard enough to deal with by yourself, let alone the mental battle of feeling that your body isn’t functioning in accordance with its design.
So let’s kill this taboo, because I’ve spent the last six years of my life in pain: isolated, feeling like this condition was specific to me and therefore not seeking help.
There are so many avenues to go down so call your doctor and make that appointment. If that doctor doesn’t make you feel heard and understood, go to another. It may feel like a draining process now, but it won’t last forever. Remember, you’re not alone and sex shouldn’t have to hurt.