Today’s article is a guest post about women’s sexual health, but also about life and sex and relationships. The author is writing under an alias out of consideration for family members. I’m choosing to share her story because many women suffer from various physical problems that feel laden with shame and lack of knowledge.
What Your Grandmother Never Told You about Your Vagina, and What the Internet Wants to Shame You For
By April Tudor
When I was in junior high, my mother and I visited my Grandmother in the hospital. My mother only told me that it had to do with “woman things”. Later, I overheard her talking to my aunt about how my grandmother thought her insides were falling out. She’d thought she was dying. Everyone was relieved, but I still had no clue what was going on.
I do now.
Every marriage goes through its ups and downs regarding intimacy. In my case, I had no desire after the birth of either of my children. My body was all about breast feeding and cuddling. And by the time desire did return, I’d rebuffed my husband so many times that his self-esteem had been crushed.
So we lived in a “sexless marriage”. By the time I left the marriage, we hadn’t had sex in a year and a half, and then, it had been a year since the previous attempt . I tried everything to get his attention. Most of the things I tried, my husband found either embarrassing, awkward or a turn off. It wasn’t until the kids were in their teens that I dared to ask him if the problem was that I was too ‘loose”.
He said, “Maybe.”
He reminded me that there were “other things” we could do to please each other, but neither of us ever took the initiative to do those “other things”.
When I relayed all this (in tears) to my GYN, she told me that according to the laws here, since I had presented it as my husband’s complaint, she couldn’t do surgery. The idea behind the restriction is to stop women from being pressured to undergo surgery to please their partners. I think that’s a good thing. It just wasn’t a good thing for me in that moment.
The doctor noted that my episiotomy had never been repaired. (Who goes around comparing these things? I had no idea!) She asked if I enjoyed intercourse. I didn’t have any way of knowing, really. I had, once upon a time. I laughed at the thought of having an affair so that I could find out, and in that way, save my marriage. Then I cried.
At this point, both my grandmother and my mother had passed on. I had no older female friends to talk to, even the doctor was in her 30s and had no personal experience to share. I felt alone. And ashamed.
I was given a biofeedback machine: you insert a sensor in your vagina and do Kegels to make numbers go up on the little monitor. 20 minutes a night, every night for 6 months. It didn’t help.
In the meantime I figured maybe overall fitness mattered. I began running and lost 20 pounds. I felt attractive again, more so at 45 then I had at 30.
One morning as I was getting in the shower, my husband came in the bathroom to get something he’d forgotten. I was naked, and he averted his eyes. It seemed as though he was as embarrassed as my teenage son would have been. That was the moment I knew the marriage was over.
I moved out and settled in my own little place. I imagined a future as a kind of Bohemian crone – having moved beyond the realm of sexuality. It was one thing to meet with continual rejections, and other thing to choose celibacy. I would dabble in candles and chocolates, and learn to be content that I wasn’t missing out.
Easier said than done: I began searching the internet. The term “designer vagina” kept coming up, but this wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to trim my labia, or fix things to meet some kind of ideal. I put the thought away.
It was around that time I began passing gas very unexpectedly. When I spoke to my general practitioner, she asked how my bowel movements were. I explained (awkwardly) that they were difficult. I had to sometimes use my fingers to push from my vaginal wall. To be honest, I figured everyone had to do that occasionally. I”m a person who has very few boundaries when it comes to conversation, but I can’t imagine a scenario where discussion that little detail of hygiene would have come up.
It does surprise me that, with all the internet searching I did, neither that nor the unheralded farting (and I am talking farts, not queefing) had been mentioned. Everything I read was about “loose vaginas”, often covertly shaming older women for still having a sex drive.
The GP diagnosed vaginal prolapse and scheduled me for surgery. During the six months in which I had to wait, I changed my mind a dozen times. More googling: I found discussion boards with horror stories of women who had terrible problems healing. Regrets and warnings. Only just before the surgery did I realise that women who experienced no serious problems, probably had no impetus to go to the discussion boards. No one wants to talk about this (and certainly not in public). All the internet stories may not be representative of the norm.
A couple of months before the surgery date I met someone and fell in lust – then in love. I was terrified, but I was honest about everything. The man who is now my husband said he wouldn’t mind waiting, but that he knew everything would be fine if we didn’t. We didn’t. And it was fine.
However, I decided to go through with the surgery anyway. It was a painful healing process for me, mainly because of the botched episiotomy that needed to be repaired. But everything healed beautifully.
I wish I had known all that I know now when I was 35. Or 40. Would it have saved my marriage to the very kind man who is the father to my children? Whom I still care for and admire? I don’t think so. In our case, communication was the problem, and the sexless marriage a symptom.
I don’t have a “designer vagina”. I have a healthy vagina, a healthy digestive tract. And I do enjoy intercourse more than I did before the surgery.
I still fart. But, now, I have a little warning sensation – like I did when I was younger.