For nearly 10 years, I couldn’t have sex. And for nearly 10 years, I kept this secret to myself. Embarrassed and ashamed, I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. Although I’d been able to have a normal sex life when I was younger, this all changed when I stayed in a relationship in which my partner and I weren’t “physically compatible”. By the time I left this relationship, I’d already developed secondary vaginismus (although I didn’t know at the time that’s what it was).
I tried to talk to different doctors about my inability to have sex; they told me to read books and seemed uncomfortable talking about it: they had no answers. So I learned to live with whatever was wrong with me and tried not to think about it… I gave up hope of ever leading a “normal” life and buried myself in work, my master’s degree, and martial arts, avoiding serious relationships. I was so tired of always having to act like everything was ok but I guess I thought that if I could pretend, it might make up for how I felt inside. I envied friends who were getting married and having kids.
At 30, I moved to a large new city and renewed my efforts to find out what was wrong with me. Despite initially being brushed aside by my GP, I managed to get an appointment with a leading Canadian gynecologist and returned home that evening with mixed emotions: relieved that at last I’d been diagnosed (with “vaginismus“), yet incredibly disheartened because I’d been told treatment had only mixed success – and there didn’t seem to be an outright cure. (In fact, it seemed hard to get a straight answer about my “condition” and that night, I saw more confusing and depressing messages as I searched for answers on the Internet). My gynecologist prescribed dilators, antidepressants, and even an “epi” balloon applicator designed primarily to stretch vagina muscles for baby delivery (!) These dilators were such a nuisance to use that I would use them for a week or so then stop. I was also traveling a lot at the time and was terrified that the dilators would show up on the x-ray at security.
It was around this time that I fortunately met and began dating the man I’d later marry. I’d started using the dilators and they seemed to be working somewhat – at least I could insert a finger into my vagina! After 5 months of dating, I finally felt ready to have sex – or what Dr. Ditza later called “pseudo-intercourse” (i.e. thrusting was out of the question). When we got engaged a few months later, I was really happy but also worried. Gradually, over time, the pain had come back and I was finding ways to avoid sex. My partner secretly felt that perhaps I didn’t want to be with him – nothing could have been further from the truth! I just could not get up the courage to tell him I had vaginismus. I felt like a complete failure. I never felt or tried to be sexy: what would be the point? As our wedding approached things only got worse – intercourse had become unbearably painful and infrequent. During a terrible fight, I sobbed and told him I had vaginismus. To my surprise, he was mainly relieved that I wasn’t taking the antidepressants he’d seen for psychological problems! Trying to get things back on track, I revisited my gynecologist who increased my antidepressant dosage and told me to keep using the dilators. This didn’t help.
We got married the following year as planned. Needless to say, what is supposed to be the “honeymoon” year of a new couple’s lives was instead a time of tears, anger, and desperation for us both. My husband felt so hurt – and understandably frustrated – but I was bottling up and selfishly ignoring the effect no sex was having on our marriage. A couple of months after our wedding, we were referred to and among the first patients at a leading Canadian women’s clinic. Several visits turned out to be humiliating and unpleasant. We visited several specialists, from psychiatrists to dermatologists. While we tried to remain hopeful that a solution was around the corner, during my final visit I was told that along with vaginismus, I also had vestibulitis (vulva sensitivity is tested using a Q-tip), an incurable condition of the vulva that made intercourse painful. This news was devastating to us. I felt my life and our marriage crumbling and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. The sex therapist we were seeing at the time just involved a lot of talking (and a new recommendation for dilators) and only seemed to make matters worse.
…But an angel was watching over us. Just before our first appointment at the Canadian clinic, my husband found the Women’s Therapy Center’s website (we’d decided to go to the Canadian clinic anyway because it was free and local). He had refused to believe we could not solve this problem and scoured many sites that seemed to offer help for vaginismus. We were both extremely impressed with the information on the WTC site and read the sincere testimonials that rang so unbelievably true. Still, we wondered: how could two women in Long Island, NY help us when no one else could? They were our last hope – we decided to call. I remember the day Dr. Ross returned my message – I had to sneak into a meeting room at work for some privacy and even then I was terrified someone would hear the conversation! When I did talk to her, she professionally answered my questions – and left the decision entirely to us. She was also confident that I had vaginismus, after just a few short questions. My husband and I weighed the downside (six-month wait and cost) and potential upside (being able to have sex) and it was an easy choice: six months was nothing compared to 10 years!
In the months leading up to our appointment, I read their book, Private Pain, and watched their video. Hearing other women describe their own “private pain” in stories and experiences similar to mine gave me hope and made me realize I was not alone. Six months later, my husband and I left our jobs and puppy for the 14-hour drive to New York, praying we were finally on the right track. I was so nervous on the drive and that first day at the clinic; secretly I thought that whatever success Drs. Ditza and Ross had had with others, it wouldn’t work for me, that I was a hopeless case. But they told us we had to open our minds to have faith that this could work for us. They made us feel comfortable and relaxed – and laugh!! (In fact, all four of us laughed a lot over the next two weeks – they were quite a funny team!) Their “human” approach and focus on me as a person was quite a change from any doctor’s appointment I’d ever had. And what a relief it was for both me and my husband to be able to describe our experiences – and see Dr. Ditza and Dr. Ross nodding in recognition: they actually knew what we were talking about!
After chatting for a short while on Day 1 (also my birthday), my husband and I knew we’d made the right decision. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to talk to these two women, to talk openly about vaginismus and its impact on me as a whole person – not just sexually, but emotionally and even in my friendships, work, and life. And, most importantly, its effect on our marriage. They gave us hope – something I’d lacked for a very long time. We heard a wonderful new message from them: THERE WAS A CURE! Convinced that I did not have vestibulitis, on my second day of treatment Dr. Ditza performed the exact same Q-tip test, and sure enough: NO pain. I did NOT have vestibulitis! Then and there, I realized the role of stress in past doctor’s visits and the power of this mind-body connection I’d read about in Private Pain.
When the time came to leave, we realized we’d miss D & R, and Long Island, especially its beautiful beaches, laid-back “island” attitude, and awesome kosher pickles:) I look back on those two weeks as the hardest I’ve ever worked, and as courageous and free. The life I have today was made possible by two dedicated, motivating, completely understanding – and yes, tough women: Ross Tabisel and Ditza Katz. And of course, my husband without whom I’m sure I would never have found or made it to the WTC.
It’s been over a year since we went to the WTC, and I’m happy to say my husband and I are a happy couple enjoying all the fun married couples should enjoy! We have a lot of catching up to do! (And, we promised our dog we’d never leave him for 2 weeks again!)
Ditza and Ross,
The words can’t say thank you enough. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts… You are our angels*.
* Results may vary from person to person