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I was 16 years old and had never been to a gynecologist*

I was 16 years old and had never been to a gynecologist. My mom told me that when I turned 18, I needed to go. I was terrified, but I wanted to go because my periods were so heavy. I knew birth control pills would help but I was scared because I thought the exam would be very painful.

Mom took me to women’s center for my first gynecological exam. There was no consultation with the doctor before the exam, I just was told to get undressed, put the gown on and lay down on the examining table. I saw a small picture of Tom Cruise on the ceiling – I was in shock! Did they expect me to enjoy the exam?

The doctor finally came in and I thought “oh good, it’s a woman”. Women should understand the nervousness of a first time patient. Boy, was I wrong. She very quickly explained what she was going to do. As she began to insert the speculum, I felt extreme pain and asked her to stop. She made a very rude noise and told me she would have to find a child’s speculum. When she returned, she told me grow up and relax. That did not work to help me relax! She was unable to perform the exam. I left the office completely distraught. What was wrong with me? She never told me.

After that, my mother asked my pediatrician to recommend a different doctor. I went to see this doctor, and the same experience occurred. She could not perform the exam yet again. She did not explain what was wrong.

By this time I was about 19 years old and in college. I decided to go to the campus gynecologist, figuring they may have had girls coming in for their first exams and would know what to do. The doctor was very nice and she finally told me what she thought was wrong. She had me read a section from her medical dictionary about vaginismus. I had never heard the term before, but the description fit me to a tee. Finally I knew why the exams were painful. She also told me to order, through the mail, a set of “dilators”. I was supposed to practice with the set and return to see her in a few months.

I received the dilator set in the mail. Upon opening it I saw a plastic bag with large rubber, cone-shaped, objects. There was absolutely no way I would consider using these things. They scared the heck out of me. I never used a tampon, did not know about my own body. I was not about to start trying with these strange-looking things. The box went into the closet, not to be seen for 5 years.

When I was 22, I had a terrible experience with a man that forced me to go to the gynecologist for a full exam. My experience with the man left me in shock for a few days in which time the exam occurred, but I don’t remember any of it. After the exam, my doctor advised me to seek therapy for my problems, but she had no one to recommend. This was the time I decided I absolutely had to seek help.

When I turned 24, my mom found an article in the newspaper about a woman who had the same problems as me. Luckily, her doctors were right around the corner from my parents’ house and I called the next day to arrange for an appointment. At first I was nervous, but after a few weeks I felt extremely comfortable with the 2 therapists, enough to start body work. After a few more sessions I told them about the dilator set I had received in the mail. They asked me to bring it in. I brought the set to our next session and they were as surprised as me that a doctor had recommended the use of it because there was no way the dilators would work for a patient with vaginismus without the help of therapy. Upon inspection of the set, the therapists found a KY applicator that I didn’t even know was in there…

Now I am glad that I kept the search for help and I am extremely grateful to my mom for finding the doctors that would finally be able to help me. I have been in therapy for about 5 or 6 months and I have been able to have a complete gynecological exam without pain or fear! I have come along way from the 16-year old girl terrified of everything having to do with her own body. I am very educated about all the relevant parts of my body and I feel like I could handle anything!*

– M.L.

* Results may vary from person to person

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