By Lorna Meehan
My Hypnotherapist explained it to me like this:
When your body says ‘no’ and you ignore it (and don’t beat yourself up about that, life confuses you sometimes), it starts making decisions for you, to protect you from that which it perceives to be threatening. It is hard wired for survival. It’s doing its job and you’re up against a good few million years of evolutionary instinct when you try to challenge that. The problems arise because sometimes it has to make decisions that it can’t fully communicate to your brain because your body doesn’t do ‘time’ or ‘why?’, it can only tell you how it feels ‘now’ and react accordingly. If your body is feeling traumatised, regardless of what your brain might perceive trauma to be, it feels that trauma ‘now’. And it can be in that ‘now’ for a really long time.
I didn’t realise I’d had Vaginismus since I was eighteen until I was thirty eight. I knew it wasn’t normal that I couldn’t use tampons, insert fingers, that there was literally no room in what I’d been taught (wrongly) was essentially: a hole. I didn’t know how and who to talk to about this because of a single underlying factor that kept this condition firmly in place: shame. So I just shut it down, repressed it, because I didn’t have words for what ‘it’ even was. There was no mention in sex education about these kinds of ‘it’s’.
And once I figured all this out, I eventually felt liberated, relieved, ‘normal’, but that was only after I dealt with another toxic emotion that I couldn’t curb until I let it have its way: anger. I didn’t realise at the time the subtle and intricate ways your body tries to fight your corner, because it felt like it was fighting me. It wasn’t doing what I was told to expect. I didn’t realise that despite me becoming convinced it was the enemy, it was actually on my side.
I was very insecure around boys when I was in my teens because I was an object of ridicule. I wasn’t ‘pretty’ or ‘hot’. I wasn’t displaying any sense of being sexual and wouldn’t have known how anyway. On this (what I now know to be superficial) level, I just didn’t count. So I threw myself at my older sister’s friend when I was eighteen. Needless to say my first time wasn’t great. It rarely is right? Another myth we’re sold about virginity being somehow ‘precious’ and that when you ‘give it away’, it’s somehow changed you. If I’d have just had a bad first experience of sex, I don’t think my body’s reaction to feeling invaded would have escalated into full blown Vaginismus. What did it for me was my very sexually confident sister turning up, getting into bed with us, getting it on with him and both of them seemingly forgetting I was there. I forgot this happened until I saw him again at my sisters funeral about twenty years later and in all that time, I literally didn’t do anything intimate with anyone.
I felt worthless, inadequate and ugly. I stopped trying. I was scared of men who gave me the slightest whiff of sexual interest for reasons I couldn’t articulate, as much as I also craved to be intimate with people I was attracted to. It seemed like I repelled them with my vulnerability. But because I didn’t understand exactly why I felt so vulnerable, I took every rebuff personally, I fed the negative voice more food and the tightness got so tight I didn’t even feel it happening, because it numbed me. I was grasping with one half of me even as the other half was always on guard to push back. It was a subtle mundane kind of hell.
The trauma of losing my sister was catastrophic, I had a complete breakdown. Grief is not something that you can ever cure or put down, it’s with you in your body all the time, but after time, it becomes manageable, pliable. You can negotiate with it about how much you can stand to give in to it that day, or how much you just need to forget.
Not so with Vaginismus. You carry it around in every cell of a body you don’t feel connected to and because you can’t put down something that doesn’t feel like it’s supposed to be part of you, it saps a little more of your essence every day, until it feels like it’s not only part of you but the defining part. You normalize it. I couldn’t make the connection between the cause and the effect because my brain had literally made me forget what my psyche couldn’t handle. The distorted knowledge that I had somehow failed to measure up, be desirable, worthy.
When I eventually got better after being on medication and having counselling, I finally figured out that grief was one thing, and the trauma of repressing my sexuality was another thing entirely. And in a way, this unconscious closing down followed by a violent blowing up has essentially been a positive thing, the making of me.
It made me determined to fix it, talk about it, it emboldened me to be brave and start talking about things I’d never told anyone. I decided I wanted to write a show about it in an effort to tackle something I needed to work through via the medium of what I love, what I’m good at; performing, creating, entertaining, showing off and prancing around on stage. It’s the only place I ever felt seen and worthy.
However, ‘fixing’ the problem hasn’t been an easy ride. Mainly because the language around Vaginismus is very much geared to this idea that it is something abnormal that needs to be cured. The question should never be ‘What’s wrong with you?’ The question should be why your body said ‘no’. I was horrified at how little this question is actually asked by the medical profession. When I talked to a female gynecology nurse her first question was ‘Have you considered surgery?’ That was her first question: a female gynecology nurse! I felt instantly enraged on behalf of any young girls who could have been me going to a health care professional with this worry about what the hell was happening to their bodies, having invasive surgery presented as the first solution. Eventually all this confusing horribleness emboldened me to help myself my way. At the end of the day, no one knows what’s going on in your body better than you do, or rather, your body is keeping the score even if you’ve stopped counting.
Being a spiritual type, I went down the route of holistic care and this is ultimately what helped me the most in terms of helping my tight muscles unwind. I tried to give mind, body and soul a thorough healing with things like Hypnotherapy, Yin Yoga, and mindful masturbation. I re-educated myself about my anatomy and realised how my school sex education was utterly inadequate. I spent a lot of time actively listening to my body, finally acknowledging that although I never asked for what prompted my Vaginismus, I had ignored the consequences for so long my body had to take some pretty drastic steps to make me listen to it. It had had to give me regular boughts of full on existential despair to make me realise it wasn’t as simple as ‘I can put a dildo up me finally, I’m cured’.
The phone call with the gyno nurse is what prompted me to make the kind of show that, had I watched when I was eighteen, would have given me an entirely different perspective on virginity, consensual pleasure, autonomy and how your body tries to take care of you. I wanted to be very candid about my personal life because I’ve finally got to that sweet stage in a budding feminist’s journey where you’re just done with shame, self censorship and worrying about if you’re over-sharing.
So, coming to the show itself, NO ENTRY! is an autobiographical solo show about my experience with Vaginismus and the next live performance will be at Birmingham Theatre at The Crescent on the 31st July at 9pm. You can book tickets/watch the trailer here:
After each performance I will be running a Q and A/discussion via Zoom for women in the audience who would like to know more about Vaginismus or share their own experiences in a safe space to help encourage solidarity and open conversation. More details on this tbc.
In the meantime, here’s a poem from No Entry: https://soundcloud.com/lornameehan/no-entry
And an interview I for a Vaginismus podcast: ‘V and Me’:
You can find me at: @LornaEMeehan on twitter
This post is a condensed version of a longer article I wrote for Vaginismus Awareness Day, you can read the full article here: