My new gynecologist changed my life. Despite my conditioned fear of doctors, she has relieved me of the occasional vaginal pain that I’ve had for years — quickly, and without the need for surgery, therapy, or anything invasive or expensive. Why is this story worth telling? Because every time I researched painful vaginal intercourse online, all I found were recommendations to consult doctors about surgical options or therapy involving graduated dilators. Nowhere did I find the simple solution that my gynecologist recommended. That’s what I want to share with anyone else experiencing pre-menopausal vaginal pain not associated with any type of sexual abuse or trauma. I’m hoping to spare other vagina-bearers some frustration, time, money, and energy.
First, the backstory.
I was warned as a teenager that vaginal intercourse is supposed to hurt the first few times for people with vaginas — No, it’s not, and people need to stop normalizing that. Hymen is not supposed to rip! — and that the pain gradually wanes if you keep having it.
Unfortunately for me, the pain didn’t wane the first few times I tried it, and it wasn’t the only activity that hurt.
Inserting more than one finger into my vagina tended to hurt a lot, too, despite two fingers taking up far less space than an average-sized penis.
Also, long before I discovered Softcups and was forced to sporadically use tampons for my periods (usually only when swimming was involved), inserting the tampons with plastic applicators didn’t hurt, but pulling them back out of my vagina after hours of absorption did. It felt like the lining of my vagina was being scraped the whole way down, and there was always a sharp pinch before the engorged tampon fully exited my body.
I knew my experiences with each of the above activities were different from those of my vagina-bearing friends, but I didn’t know why.
My guess, and the guesses of a few of my recent lovers, was that I had an extremely small, tight vagina that, out of fear, clamped shut when we attempted penetration. It didn’t seem all that far fetched of a hypothesis, considering that my maternal grandmother had a vaginal surgery soon after her marriage to my grandfather to make vaginal intercourse more comfortable for her. Exactly what that surgery entailed or was intended to “correct,” I don’t know, and I likely never will because she is no longer alive. Also, I inherited a number of strikingly small body parts from my mother (particularly my waist, ribcage, and face), so I assumed an itty bitty vagina was another congenital gift.
The internet hasn’t been much help, either, for me or for my concerned lovers over the past few years.
Everywhere I looked, the recommendations centered around surgery to remove hymen, or gauging vaginas with graduated dildos to teach bodies not to panic upon penis-sized penetration. Neither option sounded pleasant.
I know my hymen is not a typical shape (she sticks out of me, a little), but I desperately didn’t want to lose her to surgery because she is delightfully sensitive and routinely contributes to satisfying orgasms when tickled. She’s picky, and I respect that.
My mother tried to talk me into therapy multiple times, but that felt as forced as surgery, since this wasn’t a problem that impacted my life much, and I was content continuing to live with it.
I also caved and bought a set of surprisingly expensive dilators, used them once, and quickly lost interest. Luckily, their wide-based shape will make them great for anal play, so the money wasn’t wasted.
One of my exes hypothesized that part of my vaginal pain stemmed from my first visit to a gynecologist. That was back in December of 2014, and I only consented to the Pap smear because I wanted the doctor to prescribe birth control pills for me.
The entirety of my “annual” exam was fine — I like being naked, so wearing a thin, open-front flannel gown was oddly comforting — up until the Pap smear, which hurt like hell.
I had informed the doctor that I had never attempted vaginal intercourse before then, in hopes that she would be especially gentle during the Pap smear. She wasn’t.
Her bedside manner was severely lacking, and when she shoved the speculum into my vagina, my body felt like it was being torn in half.
I was furious that she’d used a ton of lubricant on her finger for one part of the exam, yet failed to put any on the enormous speculum that she rammed inside me. I didn’t scream, but I was sobbing and wailing from the pain, and squeezing the blood out of my then-boyfriend’s hand.
The Pap smear was so painful and anxiety-provoking that I avoided my gynecologist’s office for two years.
I had been cautioned that a Pap smear would be “uncomfortable” and that I “might feel a bit of pressure,” but mine was far more sharp and aggressive. My vagina felt like it had been skewered with a jagged, wooden fencepost.
I knew something was wrong, but the doctor seemed totally unphased, even condescending. I was left to assume that the pain I experienced was due to me not having had vaginal intercourse before, and was normal. (It wasn’t.)
That night, my then-boyfriend and I proceeded to attempt vaginal intercourse for the first time, which was a short-lived disaster and left me as traumatized and tearful as I had been at the gynecologist’s office.
He was convinced that we’d rushed the act, and that if we had waited a couple of days for me to recover from the gynecologist visit, it would have been successful. He felt that, by not waiting, we had doomed our chances of my body cooperating because I had forced myself to try something I didn’t really want to do.
I began to worry if he was right that I might have inadvertently trained my body to react fearfully to vaginal sensations.
I wondered how much of my vaginal tension was mental and how much was physical, grappling with the two. Cis-women are told our entire lives that putting things in vaginas is shameful and leads to deserved pain, yet we are expected to perfunctorily shove a multitude of things in them — penises, fingers, tampons, medical instruments, etc. — without hesitation or lubrication. It didn’t seem unlikely to me that these contrasting expectations could cause mental dissonance, which could then lead to physical shutdown.
Flash forward to this past February, when I returned to the same gynecology office but requested a different physician.
I had noted in my appointment request that I had a small vagina prone to pain, and to please assign me someone who would be sensitive to my concerns and experiences. This time, they did.
This doctor’s bedside manner was comforting and personable. It also involved a lot more explanation of what she was doing, how, and why, than I had with the previous doctor. I was not surprised to learn that she has a handful of loyal patients who will only schedule their Pap smears to be administered specifically by her. I additionally appreciated that she used the Sliquid lubricant that I brought with me in lieu of whatever mass stock of lubricant (likely a petroleum jelly) her office supplied.*
She explained that lubricating a speculum makes obtaining a sample of cervical cells for the Pap test more difficult and less successful.
In case I ever doubted that the modern medical community secretly hates people with vaginas, behold. It baffles me that physicians insist on using a tool that requires a somewhat-damp-but-not-at-all-slippery-because-it’s-not-sexually-aroused vagina to be stretched without lubricant. If specula were ever deemed necessary for prostate or penile exams, a better tool would have been invented long ago. But, I digress.
She then described how she could tell that I had attempted vaginal intercourse the night before because there was a portion of skin on my vulva that had “skid marks” from where a penis had stretched it. That intrigued me.
She also clarified that although my vagina is small, it’s a common size that should not prohibit vaginal intercourse. That was a relief to hear.
Most importantly, she explained that the reason I experience vaginal pain is because of an extremely sensitive, dry, and tight area of skin at the base of my vagina.
That blew my mind. I had never considered that my pain could be caused by something so simple as dry skin. Considering the skin on my arms and legs is somewhat reptilian in texture, it now makes a lot of sense that part of my vagina could be unusually dry, too.
Then came the dreaded Pap smear. It still hurt like hell, but I cried less loudly and felt more safe about what the doctor was doing to me this time around. Afterward, she gave me a sample of an over-the-counter vaginal moisturizer called Luvena that she recommends to menopausal patients, which I used for about a week.
Much to my delight, my mother has recently embraced some of the same vehemence that I have about the lack of regulation of ingredients — and utilization of poisons — in vaginal moisturizers in this country (and every other personal care product, like shampoo, body wash, lotions, makeup, etc.). When I shared with her the name of the product that the doctor recommended, she scoured the internet in horror for alternate vaginal moisturizers with healthier and body-safe ingredients.
What she found has been revolutionary for my body. Meet Sliquid Satin.
My new routine is simple, quick, and painless. At night, I put two drops of Sliquid Satin on my middle- and ring-fingertips, then massage the liquid into the base of my vagina, gently stretching the patch of super sensitive skin for a few seconds.
I noticed results in just a couple of days after beginning nightly applications.
I have gone from having a practically-impenetrable-to-anything-thicker-than-a-finger vagina to now having — and enjoying — vaginal intercourse regularly most weekends. Everything Sliquid makes is body-safe and super ingredient-conscious, so it doesn’t surprise me that my body has taken a strong liking to it.
I experienced similar results between Sliquid Satin and Luvena, in terms of my vagina being able to stretch more without pain. The most prominent differences were that Luvena created a slight burning sensation immediately after application and left more of the product in my underwear than in my vagina. It wasn’t uncomfortable, just peculiar.
Sliquid Satin, which stays exactly where I apply it and doesn’t create any sensation at all, is also far more affordable with much healthier ingredients than Luvena. Additionally, Sliquid Satin doubles as a sexual lubricant. Win-win!
However, this post was not intended just to rave about my love of Sliquid, nor to share a grandiose revelation about vaginal intercourse changing my life (it can be a lot of fun, but there remain many other great ways to express sexual intimacy; it is simply another tool in my sexual toolbox now). No, my joy stems from my relief that my pain/tension was physical rather than mental, and that it was easy to address.
This post was inspired by my frustration with online recommendations for drastic measures, assuming that my issue was the result of vaginal trauma or a congenital problem that required surgical intervention.
Why did none of the resources I found suggest that my vagina might just have been dry, and to try a moisturizer first to rule out this basic concern before recommending severe “solutions”?
Although my problem appears to be far more common among menopausal cis-women, whose vaginal dryness is triggered by the natural fluctuation in hormone levels from menopause, I can’t be the only young adult with a dry vagina. Non-menopausal people clearly aren’t talking about this, so I want to start that conversation.
*NOTE: Petroleum jelly doesn’t belong in vaginas, people! And nothing by KY, Astroglide, or any of the other big-name lube companies is good for your vaginas, by the current formulations. For more information on good and bad lubes, I highly recommend this guide (and her site, in general): http://dangerouslilly.com/lube-guide/