‘FANNY FEAR’ AKA VAGINISMUS

BODY IMAGE, HEALTH, MENTAL HEALTH

Sarah and I had met barely an hour before, when we found ourselves talking about her ‘Fanny Fear’ – as she spoke I wondered how common it was? And why had I never heard of it.  The NHS website explains that the condition is misunderstood; sometimes vaginismus is mistaken for a physical problem with your vagina, which can lead to needless surgery. Very few cases of vaginismus require surgery. Here Sarah shares her experience.

  • My friends and I nicknamed it ‘Fanny Fear’, probably because it was too cringey saying the word vagina out loud when I was a kid. Way too Biology GCSE.

  • It all began when I hit puberty, when girls are supposed to get more interested on what’s going on down there, if you get me…

  • The awkward situations started when snogging sessions with boys at teenage house parties progressed to become a bit more full-on..

  • I knew I wasn’t up for any tussles that went below waist-level.

  • I never encountered any insistent difficult moments thank God – most blokes seemed to shrug it off in a “whatever floats your boat” fashion but I knew it went beyond simply not feeling ready for it.

  • It made me feel a queasy, uneasy, unhappy.

  • The thought of touching myself anywhere intimately made me clamp my legs shut faster than you could say vibrator.

  • I couldn’t see a connection to physical pleasure of any sort and my own fanny – it was an entirely alien concept.

  • I suppose I assumed it was fairly common problem with girls and I’d discover other females with similar feelings to me.

  • But to this day I’ve only ever met one friend who both understood and also experiences exactly the same issue.

  • With puberty also comes periods of course.

  • My first trip abroad with my best mate to Turkey sans adults always brings back many hilarious memories…

  • Being mistaken for Spice Girls, our worryingly insane levels of immaturity and naivety and..not being able to swim..

  • I found myself hovering over our bathroom loo willing myself to put a tampon in but it was like Fort Knox – you ‘aint going in there sonny!

  • So whilst best pal lapped up the waves in the sea, I was stuck ashore in the heat with my chunky sanitary towel (and so begins the story of every holiday of my life).

  • I casually mentioned it to a GP once in my teens and he called it vaginismus..

  • The dictionary definition for that is “involuntary contraction of vaginal muscles and automatic fear of penetration” .

  • I don’t recall him suggesting anything to deal with it.

  • Maybe he thought I’d outgrow it and I’m pretty sure I was dealing with a pretty old school male GP.

  • Funnily enough my worst memory is of a female GP having to take a swab once when I couldn’t shake off an annoying bout of thrush.

  • I was fighting the urge to shut my knees together as always and she threw me a frustrated glance and said “you’re going to have to relax if you want me to do this”.

  • I wanted to list the reasons why I wasn’t casually lying legs akimbo on her surgery bed.

  • I wanted to tell her where I’d like to stick her swab.

  • But for some reason I didn’t speak up – perhaps a mix of embarrassment not to be ‘conforming’ to my sex and freely at one with my own vagina.

  • I very nearly wrote a letter of complaint afterwards – but chose to leave it be.

  • Like most things I don’t want to deal with, I simply learnt to ignore it unless I had to face it at some unexpected situation.

  • I know what you might be thinking now…

  • Sex.

  • Can I? Have I? How?

  • Well I can confirm that my two kids weren’t conceived by some higher being.

  • Oddly my particular dose of fanny fear seems to skip sex for some reason – the fact sex happens in a moment where I’m romantically entangled with someone I love (or fancied, pre-marriage!) seems to be exempt from my lock-down mode.

  • And..to elaborate – unlike teenage hand-fumbling – with sex there’s no chance of being awkwardly scraped or poked about at squirmy odd angles.

  • Losing my virginity was thankfully with a long-term boyfriend so the trust situation of our familiarity with one another probably lessened the fear of my first intimate encounter.

  • For most of my adult life I’ve learnt to skilfully dodge any uncompromising moments.

  • I endure the joy of having to change a sanitary towel a gazillion times a day.

  • I even manage smear tests (and it drives me CRAZY when people dodge them..if I can face them, what’s your excuse not to?).

  • They’re pretty damn unpleasant but I have to calm myself to a level where I know panicking will just make it worse – a huge deep breath and a lot of pre-smear babbling about how much I hate them usually helps.

  • My biggest challenge in life has of course been childbirth.

  • It was always a running joke with mates how I would ever actually have a baby.

  • I knew I wanted kids and I decided that overthinking the inevitable wouldn’t get me very far.

  • So when I got pregnant in 2012 the joy of seeing that red line on the test was 100% real.

  • Until my bump began to grow and the reality of the baby’s exit route became more and more ominous.

  • I’d mentioned my fanny fear in passing to my midwife who luckily took me seriously and referred me to the hospital to discuss my worries face-to-face.

  • The consultation was essentially a pocket-sized counselling session with no proper resolve – I told her I didn’t want a vaginal birth but no I had never been raped or suffered any traumatic vaginal experiences to entitle me to an elected c-section.

  • I didn’t fight it. I know NHS resources are precious and I think part of me hoped that female superpowers would overcome all woes during the midst of labour (although post-partum fanny injuries are off-the-scale horrifying for me to hear about).

  • Casper was two weeks late and when they gave me the option for a sweep I cried – here we go, I thought…the first of the horrors I’m going to face.

  • I took a walk around the local park with my husband in a useless attempt to clear my head and rethink the sweep but knew there was no chance I’d give in. Baby could stay in there another two weeks as far as I was concerned.

  • I was booked into be induced on the Sunday evening but my contractions started the Saturday evening.

  • By Sunday morning they’d stopped and the hospital told me I still needed to come in that evening for induction.

  • When I arrived at the hospital I was clearly a state and had worked myself up into a panic.

  • I asked them not to examine me and still to this day we don’t know what happened but the nurses gave us 10 minutes then threw me a lifeline and said we could stay in a private room that night together and see if my contractions started again by themselves.

  • It worked – they did.

  • That night the contractions came on super-fast until the sun came up when once again they came to an abrupt halt.

  • There was no dodging a cervical examination this time and I conceded only with the provision I could use gas and air before they came anywhere near me.

  • That stuff was my hero – not like it is for most women in labour as ironically I didn’t have to use it through any actual contractions – but as often transpires first-time around, childbirth was going to be longwinded and arduous.

  • My contractions never did start again so I was forced into induction as time-was-a-ticking at 15 days late (so they told me). I managed having my waters being broken (twice) and heart monitors being attached to baby’s head in my cervix without kicking anyone in the head – all thanks to my happy gas sending me do-laly enough not to notice what they were doing in my fanny region.

  • I’ll always remember a moment of sheer fear as I heard the woman next door screaming in labour and me, nowhere near that point, telling my husband in tears I just couldn’t do that. It wasn’t as simple as the obvious pain of producing a baby’s head from my vagina – just the horror of the physical feeling of my vagina being corrupted by multiple hands / surgical instruments / possible TEARING…

  • I don’t want to say it was a get-out route as hearing alarms shrill and seeing the panic in midwives faces as they tell you your baby’s heart rate is in trouble is no happy picnic but at the end of the very long road – my labour ended up with an emergency c-section.

  • THANK F**K

  • If I believed in a spiritual ‘other’ then I like to think I was in someone’s good books that day (emotionally scarring as it was to come so close to not delivering our first-born safely).

  • A c-section meant I escaped the same anxiety throughout my second pregnancy with Edie.

  • They tried to talk me into a vaginal birth and I admit I struggled with this feeling I hadn’t birthed ‘properly’ until I experienced so-called ‘natural’ labour but electing for a planned section was the best option for my sanity.

  • Childbirth fears now in the past I know there could be all manner of unpleasant situations as I grow old that may have me running for the hills again.

  • But for now I live calmly with my ‘quirk’ – and if I can have my very own gas & air supply on demand for all eventualities, I’ll hopefully make it through the rest of my years emotionally unscathed.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Amelia March 21, 2020 at 8:06 am

    Thank you for this! I too have vaginismus and thankfully for me, the first GP I went to about it was a female who had just come back from a women’s health conference where vaginismus was on the bill! She guided me to lots of self help books and practical guides (if you know, you know). I too have had children (3) and all vaginally but I still clamp up sometimes during sex and still mention it to the nurse doing my smear that I may clamp up. It’s surprising the amount of healthcare professionals that’s haven’t heard of it!

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