My journey toward the Women’s Therapy Center began long before I knew they existed or that I was going in that direction.
I am a single, 63-year-old woman, who has not been sexually active in ten years. A little over a year ago, for the first time, my gynecologist was unable to perform a routine exam. Her attempt to insert the speculum was excruciating. When it was clear that there would be no exam, I got dressed and the appointment continued, as a consultation, in her office. My vagina had become dry and lost all elasticity. The doctor suggested that I use Premarin every other day for two weeks and then as needed. I was to come back in a month.
When I returned for my second visit, there was enough improvement for my doctor to partially examine me but only with extreme discomfort. She recommended that I get a trans-abdominal sonogram to make certain that everything was OK. I asked her how I should proceed in order to restore health to my vagina and be able to enjoy intercourse again. She said that the only thing I could do was to continue using Premarin and if I knew I was going to have intercourse, apply a dose of Premarin that day. She talked about the dysfunctional sex lives of older men and told me that there are a lot of good men out there who will be understanding. She recommended that I not have a young boyfriend.
I used Premarin for a while and stopped.
Then, the unexpected happened: I reconnected with a man I knew a long time ago and, very quickly, woke up to the possibility of sharing my life with someone. With who was less important than the fact that I was no longer willing to accept life without sex, as a given. That was my reminder that I wanted to reclaim my vagina. I called an old friend who is an alternative health practitioner and asked her what she knew about restoring vaginal elasticity. She had recently been at Planned Parenthood where she overheard a nurse practitioner talking about “vaginismus.” We didn’t even know how to spell it but it sounded very much like my condition. The nurse told her that dilator kits and guides are available online with which you can work to gradually begin to stretch and retrain the muscles of the vaginal floor.
Through my research, I understood that I had Secondary Vaginismus, a condition when a woman, who previously had intercourse, can no longer do so. Primary Vaginismus is a condition where a woman has never been able to have intercourse. Searching for a dilator kit, I came across the website for the Women’s Therapy Center (WTC). I was intrigued by their mind-body focus and by the fact that they specialized in this one area. I sent an email inquiring about their work with post-menopausal women and asked whether or not they recommended starting out with a kit. I received a response the same day answering all of my questions and telling me that some women try self-treatment first and others come directly to them for care. I appreciated Dr. Katz’s honesty and that there was no attempt at a hard sell.
I ordered a kit, read the book, did my exercises, and made considerable progress. There were 5 dilators, of increasing size in the kit, and my progress was steady until the transition from the 4th to the 5th dilator. When I realized that I had gone as far as I could go on my own, I called the Women’s Therapy Center to make an appointment and had my first conversation with Dr. Ditza Katz. What a pleasure!
My initial consultation was with Ditza Katz, Ross Tabisel, and Lauren Stietzle, who have been my partners for the last five weeks. Today was the last of my 5 subsequent visits and I was deeply saddened to say goodbye. I told my friends all week that I was graduating today and made light of it, but there was nothing light in saying goodbye to these three fantastic women. I know that I will speak to and see them again but I completed our weekly visits and now move on to a carefully laid out maintenance program.
In total, I spent less than 3 months on this journey, combining self-treatment and my work with the Women’s Therapy Center. In that time, I took myself from having a vagina that was so dry that I couldn’t use an applicator to having a fully functioning, healthy vagina. That means that I can easily have a routine gynecological exam and I can engage in intercourse, should I choose to do so.
At the time, it was scary being told by my gynecologist that, as a post-menopausal woman, my sex life was over. Now, it enrages me. It was the first time that a doctor’s ignorance nearly altered the course of my life. I am a vibrant person, with lots of energy and lots to live. As a woman who has previously had intercourse, my condition was Secondary Vaginismus.
I had no intention of returning to my gynecologist, who gave me the incorrect information. Dr. Ditza suggested that I rethink my course of action and give some thought to making an appointment for a routine exam and after completing it, educating my doctor about how it happened that I was able to have a normal, pain-free exam: educate her about Vaginismus. I know that my gynecological exam will be pain-free because part of my last visit to the Women’s Therapy Center included a run-through of a gynecological exam, speculum, and all. That is just one example of the unique and valuable experience at the WTC. Every detail is thought out. Everything possible is done to ensure that a woman is prepared and comfortable.
At one of my appointments, I arrived feeling a bit down. After we reviewed my homework and took the next exercise step, Dr. Katz and I spent the next 45 minutes talking about what was going on in my life. She said, “Sometimes the vagina cannot be challenged. “Sometimes we need to spend time with the mind to get it in alignment with the body.” I was in a room where there hung a large poster with the following quote: “We make sad vaginas happy.” That is the best way to sum it up. The women at the WTC are very matter of fact about the widespread, but little talked about, conditions of Primary Vaginismus and Secondary Vaginismus. Although there is much drama going on in the lives of the people they work with, they are committed to taking the drama out of a very manageable condition. They are dedicated to teaching women about our bodies, how we work, and that Vaginismus can easily be cured with a very simple program.
I left my last session feeling strong, confident, and very lucky to have found Ditza Katz, Ross Tabisel, and Lauren Stietzle*.
CE (May 2014)
* Results may vary from person to person