Netflix—the land of super cringe-worthy teen-based TV shows. When Sex Education first came out in 2019, I almost didn’t watch it. Let’s face it, I’m in my mid-20s and watching teenagers have sex feels pervy af! However, I’m glad I bit the bullet and decided to give it a shot (after all if I can survive the terrible acting of Pretty Little Liars for seven seasons, I can sit through anything right?).
I found the show incredibly inclusive compared to anything that was available when I was a teenager. Back then, pop culture had a very unrealistic representation of what sex is, what it should look like and what it should feel like. Think Gossip Girl, The OC, and Skins—these are what was on offer to me as a teen curious about sex. They laid out a very unrealistic and glamourized version of what happens during sex which is inherently damaging to the audience. Portraying sex in this manner makes teens feel less than their peers if their sexual experiences follow a different narrative.
Netflix introducing Sex Education came not a moment too soon! I desperately wish a show like this had been available to me as a teenager—it would have seriously altered my relationship with sex and my own body.
You see, I have this thing… it’s called vaginismus (well actually, that’s the outdated term—it’s now called Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder). You may recognise the term from Sex Education’s phallus-obsessed Lily who has the same condition. She was very lucky to have a friend like Otis who knew of the condition. When I was in high school, I suffered in silence, completely sure I was broken beyond repair and would never have sex without searing pain, vaginal bleeding, and many, many tears.
Lily’s character in Sex Education is the only reference pop culture has ever made to my condition and I was in tears of happiness to see it represented on such a popular show. However, after the second season had aired and we saw a bit more of a developed storyline around Lily and her treatment using dilators, I was hoping to see some discussion around the topic. I have been disappointed in this regard; it seems the general public has just glossed right over this condition. I choose to believe that this is due to a lack of education, or perhaps the privilege of those who can have penetrative sex without any problems. Some examples of the public not recognising vaginismus-representation in the show can be seen here and here.
So, to combat the general public not paying attention to the issue of vaginismus, I am going to share with you all my journey. Vaginismus can be caused by many things—everyone has a different experience with it, from the cause right down to treatment options. For me, the cause was linked to sexual trauma, as well as fear around the act of penetration. This is a reason I advocate so hard for people to understand that virginity is a social construct—sex should not hurt the first time if you are adequately aroused. Pain during sex is not normal.
Now, this started when I was 16-years-old. I did not seek treatment for five years because it’s difficult to process that you’ve been through sexual trauma, but also because of the shame, embarrassment and stigma associated with sexual disorders. In those five years, I effectively worsened my trauma by trying to have sex with a multitude of different people (which also resulted in an STI—learn from my mistakes and have safe sex). Each new attempt made me relive my trauma. I chalked my sexual pain problems down to needing to connect on an emotional level and not just a physical one with a sexual partner. My current partner and I waited three months before I was comfortable enough to attempt penetrative sex and wow oh wow, it did not go well. I was wracked with cramps all through my abdomen, so much pain I couldn’t even move. It was at this point I admitted there was something very wrong with me and sought help.
I was put into therapy to try and process my trauma and explore my fear of intimacy (which was so deep-set I didn’t even know I was afraid). I was sent to a (very expensive) specialist whose area of expertise was vaginal physio, and, in our sessions, she tried to stop my muscles from being in spasm. It was a very long and painful process but with the right mix of breathing techniques, therapy, medication, and a vaginal probe that I have to use every other day for 30 minutes to loosen my muscles and break down my hypersensitivity, I’m seeing improvement. It’s been three and a half years since I started this journey and I am able to have penetrative sex (almost) like someone who doesn’t have this disorder most of the time.
If you have vaginismus or another sexual pain disorder, please seek help. It can take a while to find someone to take you seriously (ugh, sexism in the medical industry is so real). You deserve to enjoy sex. You deserve to be comfortable having sex and talking about sex. Don’t let the double standard of women not being allowed to enjoy sex ruin your sex life.
Some tips from me are to try and find a position you feel safe in—if you feel safe your body will be more relaxed and your muscles won’t spasm as hard. Sensual massages can also really help relieve tension and prepare your body. Basically, all the little things help! The most important thing of all though is do not put pressure on yourself to always orgasm or to always bring your partner to orgasm. It’s unrealistic and you’ll end up sex-shaming yourself. All that matters is that everything was consensual and everyone involved had fun!
As Lily in Sex Education said, she thinks that she puts too much pressure on herself and her sexual performance and that contributes to the condition. So, seek help, try and relax, be honest with your partner/s, and take it one step at a time. There is no “right way” to have sex—whatever makes you feel safe and empowered is what’s right for you.
Featured Image: Netflix