2 PM I’m five hours into an eight-hour flight home and plowing through work. But I keep drifting into daydreams. I haven’t seen my boyfriend, Brian, in weeks and it’s starting to get to me. I try to concentrate on my reading but can’t stop thinking about his head between my legs instead.
9:30 PM Finally home and naked with Brian. He kisses my neck; I nibble his ear. We’re gaining momentum quickly: he rubs my clit until I feel like I’m going to explode. After a brief rest, he goes down on me once, then again. We roll around a bit before I start to give him a blowjob, but he interrupts me with a hand wandering between my thighs. Finally, I finish him off, and we lie back breathing hard.
11:45 PM Lying in a sex daze, I consider the evening’s activities. I was diagnosed with vaginismus, a form of pelvic floor disorder where the muscles around the vagina are in constant spasm, a few months ago. For some women, vaginismus is caused by emotional or sexual trauma; for others, it’s due to muscular problems. My doctor attributes mine to a combination of anxiety, congenital hip issues, and flat feet. What it means is that penetrative sex is off the table for me—at least for now.
I tried a few times when I was younger but always had to give up; it just hurt too much. I held onto a lot of shame about not being able to experience what’s often referred to as “normal” sex for a long time. Even though the people I’ve been with weren’t too put out by the lack of penetration, I still felt somehow less loveable. I cried when the doctor told me that she was proud I had come in and asked for help—that many women with vaginismus just shut down and decide sex is something they don’t deserve.
I held onto a lot of shame about not being able to experience what’s often referred to as “normal” sex for a long time.
Getting diagnosed helped me think of sex less as one specific action and more as a category of ways humans can experience pleasure and closeness. As my perspective changed, that shame evaporated, and I began to see my sex life as just as vibrant and varied as anyone else’s. My partners and I really focus on each other’s pleasure because there’s no preset end goal in mind. At almost 31, I’ve never faked an orgasm.
12:30 AM Brian always gets hungry after sex. We still have some forgotten donuts he brought me as an airport surprise. Naked, we eat them now and wash them down with a glass of milk.
9 AM I’m lucky to set my own schedule, and I reserved this morning for us to take it slow. Brian tells me about a strange dream. We drink coffee and eat the rest of the donuts.
10:30 AM Who am I kidding? I knew this was going to turn into more sex. We briefly consider taking out the handcuffs but settle on something more relaxed. He goes down on me again until I come, then edges me back close to orgasm again with his fingers. “I can hold you here as long as I want,” he breathes into my ear. It’s a long time before he lets me go.
12:15 PM As part of my take-home treatment, I use a set of progressively larger dilators—they look like a Russian doll had a child with a big pink dildo—to stretch my spasming muscles. A few times a week, I lube up and do special relaxation exercises to help me ease the dilator in. With the combination of weekly treatment, I’ve slowly graduated to larger sizes.
My physical therapist, Miranda, encouraged me to let Brian “drive” the dilator occasionally, and today I’m game. The process takes a lot of trust: he knows he has to stop as soon as I say so, at intervals, so I can relax as I’ve practiced. He kisses me sweetly, then more intensely, trying to make it more than a clinical exercise. For me, there’s only discomfort here, although I think there’s a certain appeal for him. Soon, the dilator is all the way inside me.
1 PM I send an email pushing a scheduled call until 2:30. I’m busy.
Who am I kidding? I knew this was going to turn into more sex.
1:15 PM I tell Brian I’m ready to try penetration again. This is only the second time, but I’ve made progress since our first attempt. He goes down on me for a few minutes, then enters me in slow, gradual movements. I last longer this time before the pain is so intense that we have to stop.
Afterward, I get a little teary and overwhelmed. Miranda says this reaction is due to the connection between nerves in the pelvis and fight-or-flight response. Brian holds me close. “I’m glad I get to do this with you,” he says to my protestations and apologies. For all my newfound pleasure at an expanded definition of sex, I still carry that shame around. “This is what it means to be with you,” he tells me, “and that’s what I want.”
2:00 PM He’s still pretty hard, and I don’t want to leave him hanging. Back to the trenches.
2:30 PM Brian heads to work. Thank God this interview is over the phone. The woman I’m talking to never has to know what I was up to until five minutes before I called.
7:30 PM A quiet night: dinner with roommates, unpacking, writing.
7:45 AM An e-mail arrives from an editor asking me to cover a big story. Hooray, money and work!
10 AM Pelvic Rehab appointment. Awareness of pelvic floor disorder is increasing, but I know that many women go undiagnosed or don’t have access to this kind of treatment, and I feel enormously grateful that I do. Miranda is in her office, which looks like a doctor’s but with a long, low exam table. I know the drill by now: I give her a progress report, then there’s specialized massage, and lastly we do penetration training.
I tell her about my move from level 3 to level 4 dilator—a few centimeters longer and girthier—and about Brian penetrating me yesterday. It’s still strange to talk about my sex life to a stranger, but it’s gotten easier. It helps that Miranda is always so encouraging and warm, even about what feels to me like the smallest progress. She never treats this as something to be ashamed of, which helps me do the same.
I strip from the waist down for my massage. Miranda is looking for “trigger points” in my thighs and hips, where my muscles have cinched up and are pulling on my pelvic floor. When she presses on them, making them release, it feels like pushing on a bad bruise; as a distraction, we chat about our holiday plans. This oddly clinical intimacy means that when she dons gloves and puts a finger inside me it feels almost normal. She looks for trigger points there, too, massaging some of the nerves that go haywire and cause pain at penetration. Then suddenly it’s time to go.
1 PM I’m home working on a 3 PM deadline. I spend the afternoon calling city politicians and chatting with a state senator. Brian calls; he’s coming over later.
RELATED: “I’m Giving Non-Monogamy A Try”