Thursday, June 2, 2011

Misconceptions

I've been realizing (through the emails I've been getting and the comments to this blog) that there seem to be some misconceptions regarding sexual issues in general and vaginismus in particular. So I'm going to address some of those.

1. Just Relax- Why don't I "just relax" and have sex with my husband? This "just relaxing" taking the form either of taking pills, drinking alcohol or just placing myself in an intimate setting with delicious-smelling candles that makes me feel relaxed. Let me illustrate the answer with a mashal. Let's say someone stabbed you and you were bleeding. Would you say to your body "Just don't bleed?" It's not in your control. Your body is physically deciding to do something that you can't stop. You can try to fix it, of course, by putting a bandage on the cut, but just saying or even thinking really hard "Stop bleeding" doesn't help. And it gets even worse, of course, if you're a hemophiliac. So in my case, even though my mind is thinking really hard, "Just relax," my body doesn't want to. My body is scared and pain-avoidant and anxious and I'm going to have to train it not to see penetration as something scary. That's why I'm going to actually have to go through a process to train my body to relax.

2. Why don't you use lubricants?- Firstly, my husband and I DO use lubricants. We use KY Jelly and olive oil. Aside from this, my husband is great at foreplay and he has no problem getting me wet. I can be wet and wanting him and very lubricated but that doesn't mean we can have sex. Lubricants have nothing to do with having sex when it comes to an issue like vaginismus. Vaginismus, you see, is the vaginal muscles spasming and closing against the penis. When the penis tries to penetrate, it literally can't. I spasm really really tightly so that I kind of close myself off to him. He's lucky if he can even get two fingers inside of me, let alone a penis.

3. Religion causes sexual dysfunction. - Religion doesn't cause sexual dysfunction. Possibly growing up in a really strict house where sex is seen as a shameful thing and getting little to no education about sex at all can cause sexual dysfunction, but that doesn't have to be related to religion. My religious education was really open and broad and considered sex a great and wonderful thing but I'm still in this position. The reason women like me have vaginismus is still undetermined. What's clear, though, is that we see penetration as something that is painful and we are afraid of the pain and get very nervous, anxious and afraid which is why our bodies in a protective mechanism shut down and don't allow the penetration to take place. What we need to do is embrace that anxiety and figure out a way to work through it or past it, usually with the help of a sex therapist.

Talli Rosenbaum said something really interesting about vaginismus to me, in fact:
    My approach is as follows: Women with vaginismus, like yourself, are confronted with a basic conflict between the cognitive and the emotional. Your cognitive side gives you a thousand reasons why you want to have intercourse. In fact you do really want to, are motivated to, can’t understand why you shouldn’t be able to. Yet, the emotional side experiences anxiety. This is the side you feel is your enemy. You don’t want that anxiety, that reaction. You want it to go away. My mindfulness based approach is not about choosing the cognitive over the emotional (not to mention, by the way, the physical…because the pain is real) It is about stopping to fight the anxiety that you try to repress until the moment of intercourse when it becomes so overwhelming that you are actually shaking. No matter what people tell you, it is not true that if you want it badly enough, you can do it. “Just Relax” are the two most useless things one can say to a women experiencing what you are going through.
If you want some example of non-Jewish women suffering from sexual dysfunction, you can watch the Tyra Banks Show episode on 'Sexless Marriages' or MTV special "I Can't Have Sex." I do not advise following the advice or actions of the participants on these shows without consulting your sex therapist; I'm posting it up solely so that you can see that plenty of women who aren't neccessarily religious have this issue.

12 comments:

Abandoning Eden said...

does it necessarily have to be anxiety about pain? Could it be anxiety about pregnancy/children perhaps?

Have you been doing talk therapy at all? (not couples therapy...)

Sad Jewish Girl said...

I love children with all my heart. I look forward to being a mother in the proper time. In fact, it will be incredibly special to me to be a mother after everything it is going to take to get there. My anxiety is strongly strongly based in pain. I have always feared pain-inducing situations of any kind and have experienced anxiety in the past over medical procedures that might cause pain etc. I worried a lot before our marriage that I wasn't going to get the sex part right and that it would be very painful. The fear, concern over pain and the anxiety kind of created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anonymous said...

I think sometimes these issues are caused by attitudes which stem from religion

http://www.calmkallahs.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=3411

http://www.womentc.com/content.php?keyword=Media&ArticleID=138

And sometimes, people are just anxious or afraid of pain

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W18Csxmj7xQ

And then there's rape victims, people with very thick hymens and other physical obstacles, and a host of other issues/causes. One cannot generalize, because the causes and issues are different for everyone. The shame, isolation and suffering is equally present by all.

Abandoning Eden said...

I love children too, and I definitely want to have some a few years from now, but the thought of getting pregnant at this moment in my life makes me never want to have sex again. :) I just personally don't feel ready for that kind of responsibility yet, even though I'm about 5 years older than you (me and my husband briefly tried to get pregnant a couple of years ago and when I thought I was pregnant and got a negative pregnancy test I was SO relieved, so after that we decided to put the kid thing on hold for a few more years). Which is why I suggested that. I know you live in a culture that puts a high premium on having children and I think you mentioned earlier that after a year of marriage people in your community start wondering if you are pregnant...so there is high community pressure to get pregnant/say you want kids right now. Anyways, just saying you can want something (kids) and still be afraid of the responsibility involved and/or pregnancy (which personally terrifies me more than the raising of kids does). And your problems might not be from one source alone.

As for the fear of pain ...seriously, I would suggest some type of talk therapy if you are not already doing that, and I especially recommend the type of therapy called "cognitive therapy", that is specifically aimed at "retraining" your brain to react differently in situations you have reacted badly to in the past. I have a generalized anxiety disorder that I have struggled with most of my life, and went through a bad period where I was having panic attacks about once a week (once I had one at a bus stop and ended up fainting, that was fun)-it also got to be kinda a self fulfilling prophecy situation or like this weird brain loop I couldn't get out of, so after like a year and a half of that I went to a cognitive therapist for a few months to specifically work on that, and now it's been like 5 or 6 years since my last panic attack. It hasn't gotten rid of all my symptoms, but not having that one severe symptom is a huge relief. Plus it can't hurt to have an outsider to talk to about your frustrations and problems. Blogging does kind of the same thing, but a trained professional will be able to give you more help than the internet.

Commenter Abbi said...

strongly "like" AE's comment.

Tova said...

SJG, your blog keeps bringing me to tears because the things you say are exactly the things I try to explain to others.

Telling a woman to "just relax" when her body will not let her is cruel.

Telling a woman to "get drunk" when it has no positive effect (and the woman also has no desire to drink) is cruel.

...As far as my comments about religion and sexual dysfunction (which you may have read on another blog), I didn't mean to say that all religion causes sexual dysfunction. I *do* think, however, that religious upbringings that are sexually repressive may cause sexual problems or contribute to them.

What's interesting is that both of us have fairly open-minded, Modern Orthodox backgrounds, and yet we also have this problem. My chareidi friends - some of whom truly were repressed sexually - have gotten married, begun successful sex lives and given birth to children.

I look at their situations and I say, "Why do I have this problem and they don't? I was never taught that sex was dirty, evil, painful or shameful. Some of them were. So why are they having intercourse and I'm not?"

While I have no desire to birth or raise children, I often think I'm a failure as a woman because of this inability to engage in that one act that society considers "sex". (For the record, I don't define the term the way most people do.)

It doesn't make any sense...at this juncture, anyway. I'm just going to let you know that I wish I were as brave as you were in confronting the issue by seeing a physician. I have yet to recover from my last traumatic doctor's visit.

My fiance has been wonderfully warm, supportive and gentle - he has even told me that he doesn't care if the problem never gets "fixed"; he will stay with me until the end.

But men, I feel, have a hard time making statements about this issue. They, after all, can have intercourse. Who are they to say that we're not missing out on anything?

Anyway, I'm sorry for going on for so long. Please write back and give me your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

You are so brave to share your story! I laud your knowing when to put modesty aside, and also when to seek professional help. I hope lots of people read it because I think there are many women who go through exactly what you are describing but don't know how to label it, and feel ashamed and abnormal as a result.
One thing that your blog shows is that you and your husband do have a healthy sexual and intimate life, even without intercourse. Keep that in mind! When intercourse comes I'm sure it will be an added pleasure.

I've heard Batsheva Marcus (Center for Female Sexuality in NY) discuss this issue at length and she was very insistent that dialators are the key. She says that you need to retrain the body to be able to accept the physical "intrusion" which it's clamping against. As you describe about bedikot, it's also hard for you to put your finger inside, so it's not just the sex that's an issue.
May you have many more loving encounters, and wonderful sexual (vaginal or not) experiences.

Anonymous said...

I respect your decision to try the dilators, but I have to confess I'm very intrigued by the hymenectomy. Specifically, on the assumption that something within your mind is making you tense, I wonder if going through all the pomp and circumstance of having something cut would be enough to fool your mind into believing the anticipated trauma was also removed.

I'm sure I'm not the first to think of it -- I wonder if they've done studies? And I wonder, if you 'fool' the body into a recovery, is it then easier for the body to randomly decide to be tense again?

Re: the law against having sex with someone who's intoxicated -- I freaking love Judaism. Out in the secular world, they are just starting to make people aware that sex with a drunk person can be rape . . . but Judaism has been telling it all along. But on that note -- does no one have sex on Purim?

Thirdly: I think you should consider putting a paypal link for donations in a post somewhere. I know that I would happily contribute towards the cost of dilators/appointments, and I'm betting others would as well.

--Meira V.

Boxed Whine said...

I am so with Meira on this one. And I am also interested in her theory.

Anonymous said...

This might be out of left field, but perhaps some sort of self-hypnosis could help you relax your muscles? I don't see that as being forbidden by Jewish law...

Anonymous said...

ohmygosh, I can relate to all that you have said on your blog!! especially this post. I talk to my best friends about this issue of mine and they're always saying that I'm just not relaxed enough or I'm not with someone I trust (I'm in my early 30s, didn't try to have sex until about 2 years ago). I thought the latter might be true, but then I saw a show (I think it was called Extreme Sex or something. i have seen MTV's I Can't Have Sex as well) and, just like you, this woman (Muslim, I believe) had married a man she really loved and had the same issues I do. I think my conservative religious upbringing had to do with my disorder, but, yeah, anyone that was raised not talking about sex could get this.

Thank you for talking about this!

Anonymous said...

SJG, I am a frum jewish girl in a yet to be consummated marriage for over a year now. Thank you for putting out this blog and sharing your story. I guess it kind of helps to know you're not alone.