I've been seeing a therapist. It happens to be a man, but that wasn't deliberate on my part- that was just the person who was recommended to me. This particular guy specializes at CBT- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Basically, the idea behind CBT is that it's a triangle. You have your thoughts, your feelings and your behaviors. If you break into the triangle at any point and change one of those, you can help change the rest of the triangle as well.
What I hadn't realized is that aside from the physical issue of having vestibulodynia, and thus pain upon penetrative sex, my thoughts and feelings were also causing problems for me in the sexual realm and beyond. Here's an example of a conversation that I had with my therapist that helped open my eyes.
Me: So basically, I hate sex, and I feel really guilty about it because I know it's supposed to be this amazing thing that everybody loves.
Doctor: Okay, but you're not really in the same situation as other people. In your experience, sex has been painful. So why would you like it?
Me: I dunno, but still I feel bad. And also, I feel like my poor husband doesn't get to be intimate with me because I don't want to be reminded of sex, and I mean, it's not fair to him, is it?
Doctor: Well, is there anything that you enjoy about sex?
I paused. I had to think about this question for a while.
Me: Well, I don't think I've really let myself enjoy it. I mean, not the penetrative part, which I obviously don't enjoy, but the other parts.
Anyway, I went home and realized that part of what was going on is that I had this idea in my head that I always had to be giving to my husband. I had to be the one making it possible for him to come, and that was my focus in our intimate encounters, which put a lot of pressure on me and made me feel like I only existed for his pleasure. (And yeah, I put this whole burden on myself, mentally- he was on the opposite side of the story, really just wanting me to feel good and I really wasn't letting him.)
(I actually think part of this idea is that I misappropriated some Jewish concepts of selflessness and giving and made them into this thing to sort of punish myself with. I know that the ideal relationship is supposed to be about giving to others, so I made that into my standard, and when I couldn't live up to the standard, was avoidant and felt pretty guilty.)
So I changed my tune. I decided, I'm going to be a little selfish in the bedroom. I'm going to allow myself to focus on myself. And guess what, I suddenly discovered I liked intimacy, as long as it was non-penetrative. In fact, it was fun. So I went back to my doc and discussed it.
Me: So I figured out how to improve our sex life- basically I decided to be selfish in the bedroom. To let my husband give to me, as well.
Doctor: So let me get this right- for your husband to give to you is selfish. Does this mean you think that pleasure for you in general is selfish?
Me: Yeah, well, pleasure where no one else is getting something out of it.
Doctor: Has it occurred to you that maybe it makes your husband feel good to give to you in that way?
I was uncomfortable and shook my head. But I've been thinking about it more. Clearly, my attitude about pleasure and giving is a bit messed up. I am going to have to work on fixing it, but in the meantime, everything is going a lot better with me, my husband, our intimate encounters and our lives. Therapy is really helping me. The best part about CBT in particular is that my doctor gives me homework assignments so that I can really see if I feel like I am growing and progressing and realize I'm not just stuck where I used to be.