Originally published on Medium.com:
As a someone who is queer, polyamorous, kinky, and suffers from vulvodynia, I function in two distinct social circles. Most of the important people in my life, be it my friends, partners or lovers, identify as sex-positive and share with me at least one of those first three labels. My other world is in the support groups for people with vulvodynia and similar conditions that I am a member of. Those groups are the only places where I feel the vulvodynia aspect of my daily and sex life is fully understood — the people there are not just empathetic and well-meaning, they are also going through many of the same struggles that I am going through. But when entering this “vulvodynia world”, I always have to leave the other parts of my identity by the door. In there I am assumed to be straight, monogamous, and vanilla. For instance, the message that PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex is the best and perhaps only real sex is loud and clear. Beside the fact that it is obviously a pretty dangerous belief to hold if you can’t have painless PIV sex, it also erases people who don’t always have sex with a penis involved (well, at least not a real one *wink wink*). This is just one example — everything I see on those groups is written from a perspective so foreign to me, that I sometimes wonder if I have enough in common with these people to warrant me even being in them.
Both those circles mean a lot to me and I draw a lot of strength from them. They’ve helped (and continue to help) me cope with all the trauma, fear, insecurities, and emotional pain — because vulvodynia is just that kind of special package deal. Nevertheless, my slightly unusual combo of “traits” sometimes makes me feel a bit alone in my experience in both circles. I wanted to write this piece to talk about some of the challenges and struggles I face as someone who spends a lot of time in the sex-positive community, enters numerous sexual situations and at the same time suffers from vulvodynia.
Navigating sex-positive and often quite sexual circles as a person suffering from vulvodynia can be… a strange and often trying experience. On one hand, one has the comfort of being surrounded by open-minded people, who are unlikely to be judgemental or to treat talking about vulvodynia as taboo or inherently sexual. That in itself is very refreshing —I’m disappointed by how many people have sexualised me or my issue or assumed I’m talking about it to get attention (well I guess I am but on a global rather than a personal level) simply because it has something to do with vulvas and vaginas. On the other hand, being immersed in spaces that often talk about genitals, sex, and sex toys can get a bit overwhelming or even triggering at times. And it isn’t really anyone’s fault (barring situations when it is, obviously). Like many people with this condition, I still struggle with coming to terms with this loss and sometimes I feel like the grief I feel will never end. Like mate, I would give anything to not feel this pain and to try out that awesome dildo shaped like a tentacle (???) but you know — it is what it is.
Having vulvodynia also means that, try as I might, I just can’t identify with some of the ideas or slogans popular within the sex-positive movement — even if I support them and the rationale behind them in general. A good example of this are the efforts to de-stigmatise and celebrate vaginas and how amazing they can be. While I wholeheartedly support the idea because I am sick of all the ways in which society shames them (their appearance, smell, or perfectly normal things most people who have them experience — such as periods), I personally have a very bad “relationship” with mine. I became more aware of this dissonance only recently, thanks to what started as a lighthearted conversation with a close friend. She shared with me her idea for a superheroine who would use her pussy as a weapon in the fight for a world that embraces our genitals. Talking about it helped me realise that while on a general level I thought that was an interesting and amusing idea, on a personal level I noticed something inside me started to protest.
Vaginas may be great in general but mine is a source of physical and emotional misery for me. And while my reasons are very different, I feel I can relate to the feelings of dysphoria that some non-cis people feel towards their vaginas. If it were possible and if our world were not rampant with violent transphobia, I would swap mine for a penis without a second thought. No, not even a vulvodynia-free vagina — our internal plumming has so many issues that I’d rather not risk the chance of dyspareunia or chronic pain ever again. My vagina is the only part of my body that I am unhappy with and I can’t see it changing unless the pain goes away — hating my vagina is not caused by me internalising the toxic messages I get about it from society — it’s caused by very real pain that I experience every day. The last thing I want to do is try and force myself to love it or pretend that it’s my superpower and source of strength when really it’s my Kryptonite.
When my vulvodynia showed up (which you can read more about here), I was pretty inexperienced and only just exploring sex with other people. Ever since my early teens I was kind of a sex nerd. Living in a conservative, Catholic country with virtually no sex-ed, I turned to the internet. I was a voracious reader and I feel very lucky to have been born in a time where I was able to discover a lot about my sexuality independently and so early on. I was also fairly reserved and uninterested in sex with other people — I was a big fan of masturbation and orgasms but didn’t really feel ready to share that with anyone until I turned 18 or so. That was when I had my first, very positive experience of sex with another person. It was fantastic and the only vulvodynia-free sex I’ve ever had up to date…..