Body Image Issues, Brutal Family Pressures And Suppressed Trauma: Rachel’s Vaginismus Story

Trigger warning: Mention of rape.

It’s been two years since the word, ‘vaginismus‘ was thrown at me.

Two years of agony, two years of sadness, two years of depression, two years of self loathing, two years of physical pain, two years of self-neglect, two years of complete and utter loneliness. 

I was in bed when it happened – I had felt that pain many times before, but this time it was different. It was the worst I’d ever felt it. It was like a knife had just stabbed me.

I tried to get up but all of the sudden I felt a horrible sharp stinging pain down there. I lifted the covers off of me to find myself laying in blood.

I was confused for a moment, had I just come on my period? Was it supposed to look like that? It had never looked that bloody before. I tried to get up again but the pain was agonizing. I honestly felt like I had torn myself or a piece of my flesh had just been pulled off of me.

I lay there for a few minutes trying to control my breathing and kept trying to think about what to do next. I wanted to just ignore it and hope that it would just go away itself eventually. But the health care professional in me kept saying, this isn’t right, it shouldn’t hurt you like this, something is wrong.

My parents weren’t home so I decided to power through as much as I could and got myself dressed and down the stairs and waited for the ambulance to arrive. 

I could tell by the look on peoples faces as I arrived at the hospital that something was wrong

They’d whisper around me when the paramedics were asked about my situation.

After a few minutes I was wheeled into this room where I was asked to wait for the doctor to arrive. The nurse had a very strange tone to her voice and looked at me sympathetically, which confused me further. They hadn’t even started doing any tests yet, so why was everyone looking so nervous?

A man entered a few minutes later and introduced himself as the consultant and then looked through my notes, then back at me, then gently asked if I was pregnant or have had any sort of sexually transmitted infections or diseases of any kind? I said no, really confused. He then asked if he could take a look at my “injuries”.

I got really sweaty and nervous at this point, but tried to relax enough to let him take a look.

He picked up on my nerves and asked if I’d rather a female doctor do this and my words kind of surprised him. I said, I don’t think it’ll take difference either way will it I’m still gonna be this nervous wreck. But in the end, he asked another one of his colleagues to come examine me instead.

I was still very nervous and when the time came for her to do the pelvic exam, I screamed so loud and nearly kicked the woman as I began crying. She stopped what she was doing and allowed me some time to compose myself. And then she asked me the question. 

“Rachel, have you been raped or sexually assaulted in the past few hours?”

I stared at her really shocked and confused. “What? No! No no I’m not acting like this because I’ve been assaulted. I’m just nervous or scared I don’t know – it always hurts that’s why.” 

“What always hurts?” She asked. 

“You know that. When things are inserted into me, they always feel like knives.” I said 

“Rachel, you’re showing signs of sexual assault. It’s clear that you’ve had some sort of vaginal trauma in the past few hours, I don’t need to do a full pelvic exam to see that.” 

“That doesn’t make any sense I haven’t even had sex let alone been raped.” I was really really embarrassed to tell her what I had really been doing. She was Indian and I was scared she’d judge me. 

“It’s ok if you don’t want to talk about it or report it. It’s entirely your choice, but I would recommend that you make sure you get a rape kit done in order to avoid catching any diseases.” 

“Look I was using a vibrator ok. That’s what was inserted into me, I was alone today and masturbating. I put a vibrator in me that’s what caused it.”

She looked very confused and said, “That’s impossible, a vibrator wouldn’t cause damage like that.” I told her I wasn’t lying about it and that’s really what had happened. She asked me to describe the pain one more time. 

“I don’t know I can’t explain it. All I know is, if a knife was inserted there, well I know how it would feel because that’s how it’s always feels. But then actually, most times it’s just like a weird wall or something. Almost as if nothing will go through because there’s something blocking it if that makes sense.”

She stopped to think for a moment and was visibly confused, but looked as though she was starting to believe me, and asked if it was alright for another doctor to come consult with her on this? I said yes. The doctor came back after a few minutes along with the same man from before and another lady. 

They began asking me a series of questions…

And after realizing I had PCOS as well, asked how I’d been managing it and whether my cyst had been a problem lately. I told them I hadn’t really gotten my cyst checked out in a while, but felt as though my PCOS had actually been alright that past year and I felt as though I’d been managing things pretty well.

I was still advised to get some emergency tests done on that very day in order to rule out any diseases or terminal illnesses of any kind.

I got really nervous again and said I don’t know if I’ll be able to do the pelvic exam but they reassured me and said they’d put me under in order to do the examination. 

I spent an entire day at the hospital that day and had a lot of tests done. And then, I was asked to wait. 

The woman who had originally tried to do my pelvic exam walked in and she actually looked pleased, which made me feel slightly relieved. She said that fortunately there were no signs at all of any sort of cancer or diseases in me, which was the good news.

I sighed in relief too, but then I asked why I felt so much pain if nothing was wrong with me? This is where her face dropped a little.

She said that after hearing me talk about my symptoms and looking through my tests, it seems as though I may be experiencing something called, “vaginismus.”

I had never heard of that word before so asked her what it meant and listened as she explained the symptoms of it to me and why and how it happens. She told me that there are countless reasons as to why this may happen to some women and that it’s hard to point out exactly what the root cause is, because it’s still not entirely understood.

Some of the reasons she mentioned included, sexual abuse, painful intercourse in the past, or some major emotional trauma that an individual might have experienced. She said she’d observed my behaviour the first time she tried to do a pelvic exam on me and how much I’d freaked out and asked if I’d ever been raped in the past because that’s one of the main causes for vaginismus.

I told her I had never had anything like that happen to me, but she was right, I’m always scared. I’ve always been scared. My body has never known how to just relax. She then told me that there are ways to cure this condition and began listing out things I could do. 

The first and most common thing I was told was to start using dilators.

Dilators are these sort of dildo shaped things that come in different sizes that you insert into your vagina to help it expand and helps your muscles get used to the feeling of penetration with time.

You start small and move up a size the more comfortable you get. I still wasn’t given proper advice on how to use them at this point, however. I asked her how it would even be possible for me to use them if I’m always this stressed out and has she somehow forgotten what had just happened to me earlier that day.

Was this vagi-thing really supposed to hurt to the point where I bled and couldn’t walk?!

She told me that every single body is different and everyone is going to react to it in different ways.

Yes mine had definitely been very extreme and she herself had never met anyone whose vaginismus had caused that many issues before, but I had to keep in mind that what happens to me won’t necessarily happen to someone else and vice versa. I then asked if it would ever even be possible for me to use these dilators then if there’s a possibility of me reacting that way again.

I’m going to try not to make this woman sound ignorant here, but seriously all she said in the end was…

“Well you want to cure it in order to have penetrative sex and have children in the future don’t you? So just try to find a way to relax your body and start EXERCISING with the dilators. And listen a little bit of pain is normal for everyone, you can’t escape that. I’m sure you’ll be fine once you have a glass, or even a bottle of wine darling.” 

Ugh. I sat there feeling very numb for a while and I still remember that feeling of complete and utter emptiness that swept through me.

I stopped listening at this point and decided to just leave.

Now what I should have done after leaving that ignorant woman’s office, was to go away and do a lot of research on this condition and how I can overcome it without the shitty advice I’d just been given.

Instead, I went the opposite direction and began falling towards the scariest and most dangerous type of depression I’ve ever experienced in my life.

I’d say I was probably stuck in the denial and anger stages of my grief for the longest time. I stopped looking after myself. This is when my PCOS began getting worse. I started to neglect everything I used to do to manage the physical aspects of it, which made all my other symptoms become much worse as well, especially my depression.

I had bought the dilators but never had the courage to sit down and use them. Had I know then what I know about them now, I might have actually enjoyed myself a little bit with them. But I just got scared every time I’d look at them, so I just stashed them somewhere in my room. 

I was referred to go see a sex therapist and a physiotherapist in order to help treat the condition. But I became really stubborn and wouldn’t co-operate with them. Instead of focusing on the healing, I got obsessed with the why of it all. 

I began doing all the wrong types of research on vaginismus. I was desperate to figure out why and how this had happened. What had I done to cause this to my body? After months and months of obsession, I finally came to a horrible realization. The doctor said, “deep emotional trauma.”

I’ve had body image issues with myself for as long as I could remember. I’ve never exactly liked myself and had spent over a decade physically torturing myself, in order to get rid of any hair I had on me. I would refuse to even show my skin to anyone at one point if there was even a speck of hair on it. I’ve always been so resentful, so critical of myself.

Had I really hated my body so much, that I had somehow subconsciously caused my vagina to shut itself off to anything from entering?

It sounds like such a strange sentence to say out loud, but it was something that had become an obsession of mine at that point. I was falling deeper and deeper into this thought. It’s almost as if I couldn’t allow myself to think about anything else but this on a daily basis.

My brain would constantly go to this place where it would think, ‘the people in your life and society, have ruined your mind and body, internally and externally with their backwards and toxic views/comments on femininity.’

I was starting to become a very bitter person to be around for everyone.

I would easily get snappy and angry with my family and friends.

I hated anything to do with my ethnicity, I became ashamed of being a Pakistani.

I was ashamed that I’d grown up in a society where people thought it was alright to talk so openly and cruelly about a persons body, colour and personality in such a negative and disrespectful manner.

Everywhere I would look I would just see the shallowness and narrow mindedness of them. 

Around April 2019, my parents kept pestering me to go to one of our desi churches with them  and I caved just to shut them up on this one particular day. As usual we went to a relatives house for some tea after the service and my Aunty and cousins were really starting to get on my nerves, due to some of the comments that were being made. They were aware that I was in a relationship at this point and kept asking why it wasn’t moving forward. The more I tried to brush it off, the more they’d annoy me. To the point where I snapped. I remember the words that left my mouth very clearly even till this day. 

“Is this all you people think about? Marriage, kids, marriage, kids, you’re fat, you’re skinny, hawww haiii look how black your skin has become!

All you do is criticize every little thing. I mean you have the audacity to point out a girls flaws and really make her feel like shit about it from her weight, to her body hair, to her career and educational choices in life, even going as far as slut shaming her by picking on the clothes she wears and making her lose any value she may have for herself.

At which point the girl starts developing such intense psychological issues, that may even prevent things such as marriage and kids.

But no, you won’t understand that now will you, because your job is to just sit there and bible bash the rest of us by listing out all our sins, while ignoring your own and basically ruin our lives.

Funny thing is, people like all of you are the root cause for some of the most insane problems we have and then it’s funnily enough YOU who will have the audacity to point those problem out at the same time!” 

I then walked out of their house and waited for my parents in the car.

We were very quiet on the drive home. I waited for my parents to have a go at me, but they didn’t. I was still fuming. I then said to them, “Do not ever force me to go to any of these places, or interact with any of this people against my will ever again if you wish to continue to have me in your life.”

They said nothing. They just sat there quietly looking sad. I cut ties with so many of my cousins, even friends after that.

It just got worse from there.

There were only a handful of people in my life I even liked to speak to and I tried my best to make sure these people were never aware of how miserable I was inside, or what I was going through physically.

July 2019. This is when it all went downhill. I was constantly ill due to neglecting my PCOS and I was always sad. I decided to end my relationship with my boyfriend at this point because I realized I couldn’t be with someone whilst feeling the way I had been feeling that entire year.

I thought maybe it would help ease the horrible burden I was always feeling and make me feel a little relieved. But it did the complete opposite. I remember waking up that day and feeling like nothing was worth the amount of pain and agony I was feeling. It’s hard to explain, but it was a very different and intense type of loneliness I felt when I woke up that morning. That was when I made the decision.

I didn’t see the point of anything anymore. I felt like I was never going to get better and felt so physically and mentally BURNT.

I started writing four letters without realizing I was doing so. 1 to my parents, the other 2 to a cousin and a friend of mine and the last to my very recently ex-boyfriend. These were the people I’d hurt the most with my actions and words that year and I felt so guilty for the way I’d treated them. I didn’t feel like I could end things without telling them how deeply sorry I was.

I then decided to plan a trip away from home in order to do it. I didn’t feel like I could do it in my home with my parents there. I lied to them, saying I was going to stay with a friend for a few days. I packed up and said my goodbyes to my parents and was ready to leave.

And then I got a phone call. I still till this
day consider that phone call to be the
biggest blessing of my life.

It was a colleague of mine from work and she was begging me to come work a night shift on that night.

I kept saying I couldn’t but she kept begging and pleading, saying that there was a very young female patient who was brought in due to very dire circumstances, but she couldn’t speak a word of English, only Urdu and the hospital couldn’t find anyone who could translate at such short notice on that night. I didn’t want to go in, but this colleague of mine had always been so kind and lovely to me. I didn’t want to let her down when she’s always had my back for everything. So I reluctantly agreed to go in.

I won’t go into too much detail on this patients medical reasons for being there. But she was there dealing with a heart disease and sever organ deterioration. I didn’t even need to be told what was causing all her issues, I already knew from the moment I saw her.

I tried to talk to her, but the poor girl could barely manage to get out any words, all she’d do is cry from the pain. After finally managing to calm her down, I spoke with her a little and found out she’d been disowned by her husband and his family for all her health issues and due to her being unable to get pregnant.

She wanted to call her parents and tell them everything she’d been through the past few years and how awfully her in laws had treated her. But she was terrified of shaming them and didn’t know how to even start a conversation with them about what her body was going through and what had been done to her.

She constantly said she felt like a huge burden on her husband and her parents and wishes her body would just FIX itself.

I sat there trying to figure out how to feel and thought I’d feel sorry for her. But in that moment, the only thing I felt was pissed off. Did I look that oppressed to everyone whenever I spoke about my issues? This wasn’t her fault. She didn’t do this to herself and she should never have had to feel ashamed or afraid to talk about this to anyone, let alone her own flesh and blood. Her sole purpose on this Earth wasn’t to be someone’s sex doll who reproduces babies for them and he shouldn’t have been given the right to just get away so lightly with everything he’d been doing to her all these years.

I could feel myself getting angrier and angrier at the thought of not just this girl, but girls everywhere feeling this way.

This sense of shame and fear and oppression drilled into us. Had I seriously spent that entire year feeling sorry for myself and feeling like a constant burden on people for something that was literally DONE to me?!

Was I seriously about to go end my life earlier that day because of someone else’s immaturity and lack of understanding and respect for the human body?!

And just like that, it came back to me. The memory of that painfully awful day.

The day that I had somehow forgotten about for some reason. I sat there crying for a while and began to have a panic attack. The patient called the nurse and my colleagues came rushing in to try to help calm me down. It took a few minutes for the attack to pass, but I started to feel nauseous after, so my manager said I had to go home and even offered to drive me.

I lay on my sofa and cried for a long time.

I probably woke my mum up because she came down after a while and looked visibly worried about the state I was in. She kept asking what was wrong and started crying herself because of how much I was starting to scare her. I nearly lied to her and said I was just feeling unwell, but then decided I didn’t want to lie anymore.

I felt so exhausted of going through this by myself, I never wanted to go back to that dark place ever again and I knew I needed help if I wanted to get out of it this time.

So I asked her to sit down and I told her everything. I mean everything. She’s always known about my issues with PCOS, but she was unaware of what had been happening due to it these past few years. So I told her everything that I’d been going through with vaginismus that past year.

I told her about how much I was struggling to deal with my body, I told her how angry peoples comments made me, I told her about every single guy I’d been with and all the problems I had with them.

I told her about each and every single heartbreak I’ve ever had when men have mistreated me due to this. And then I told her about HIM.

I told her I’d forgotten about what he had done for some reason, I always knew it had happened, but for some reason I think I kept justifying what he had done for years and somehow just buried it somewhere in my mind.

I only just remembered it that night and properly realized what had really happened that day. I also realized that I had never even told anyone in my life it had ever happened because I felt so ashamed at myself for it.

I thought, perhaps if I didn’t acknowledge it then it won’t be true, as though it had never happened. But only now had I realised I shouldn’t feel that way anymore.

I didn’t do anything wrong, he did.

I refused to be ashamed of myself ever again and told my mum I was done hiding my problems from the world or seeming oppressed by them. These are real issues happening to real women all over and we feel like we can’t talk about it without fear and embarrassment. I didn’t want to be that way anymore and wanted to normalize taking about sexually related issues without any shame or stigma behind it.

As far as I was concerned I had done nothing wrong and I was officially done hiding my problems and my conditions and that was that. But most importantly, I was done being afraid of men and of our society. I’d given them way too much power and control over my mind and body and it was time to take that back now.

I continued crying to my mum and begged her to help me.

I was exhausted of all my emotions, more than that, I was tired of going through them alone and always feeling like a burden and being ashamed of myself.

I desperately needed and wanted help. I finished talking and waited.

Waited for her anger, waited for her disappointment, waited for her lectures on everything.

Instead, she started having tears running down her face and put her arms around me and all I got back was so much love and compassion from her.

It was the first time in the longest time that I had finally felt a slight sense of peace in my heart.

– Rachel