Knowing Your Body: What To Do When Your Body Doesn’t Agree With Your Eco-Feminist Lifestyle Choices

March 4, 2014

At least three friends had started using the Diva Cup and ever so emphatically advocated its benefits to me before I finally bought one last November. In addition to picking their brains about the logisitics of shoving a small silicon cup into your tunnel of love, I also did a lot of research and I considered myself prepared for the task at hand. I knew that it was supposed to be difficult at first. I had read that if I was getting frustrated with the insertion process I was to take a breath and take a break.

I was so excited to join the ranks of my fellow users who were no longer paying out monthly for tampons with fancy applicators or diaper-like pads. Not to mention I was eager to cut down my personal ecological footprint; I had even considered Luna Pads in my journey to a more eco-femnist period. Realisticlly though, I knew I would give up on something that required additional laundry. I, like many busy (read: lazy), people was looking for a win-win solution to the pains of the crimson tide.

So when the moment came, there I was, Diva Cup in hand, sitting on the edge of the bed taking deep breaths and going over the included instruction manual. I headed into the bathroom and decided to try the C-Fold method in a crouching position. No luck. I took some deep breaths and decided to try the triangle fold, which creates a narrower tip to ease insertion. Still nothing. Now what? I did what anyone would do when faced with a mystifying physical response from the body: I jumped on the internet. Instead of WebMD I found myself perusing forums where other women described their own, similar experiences with menstrual cups and having what they described as a “too small vagina” – What?!

I sat back and took a deep breath to digest this diagnosis – I had a small vagina. Reluctantly, I packed my DivaCup away in the lovely floral pouch it came with. What did this mean? Was I stuck using pads forever or was there a lesson to learn here? I recently read an older essay by Chloe Angyal on about painful intercourse that made me consider again. I realized that I had had a similar if less intense experience.

Even before I became active, I knew sex was supposed to hurt the first time. So when my time came, I knew that it was meant to suck and be painful but that it would get better. This is what we’re told growing up, that you just have to lie back and think of the great sex life you’ll have one day. So the first time I had sex I had extremely low expectations. But as soon as I could, I made sure I had an appointment with the doctor to get everything checked out. Like a proper and responsible young feminist, I wanted to stay on top of my sexual health. But when it came to inserting the speculum (the doodad that opens up your ladycave), I cringed and wiggled.

Feet in stirrups and knees in the air, I was shifting far too much for a successful examination. My doctor concluded that my hymen remained undisturbed – the cause of the pain I was experiencing. “Have more intercourse and come back to me,” she said. That was years ago and I left thinking that that would be the best prescription I would ever get.

But things never got less painful. Fast forward to late last year, I realized that my hymen is probably not the problem.

So what is the solution for other women experiencing the same? Angyal describes methods of physical therapy she has tried and Toronto’s Good for Her {} (which describes itself as “Toronto’s cozy, comfortable place where women and their admirers can find a variety of high quality sex toys, books, DVDs, workshops, sensual art, and much more.”) sells a product called the Silicone Vaginal Exerciser which “is meant to assist women in overcoming vaginismus, aiding post-surgery stretching and relieving other conditions resulting in painful intercourse.” Founder Carlyle Jansen describes how to use this product in this video.

The most important thing is to talk about it. As Angyal explains, “The pressure to stay silent about pain for fear of being different, or even abnormal, is intense.” I personally have had my experiences of painful intercourse dismissed by girlfriends saying “well it’s always painful at first,” but if you’re experiencing painful discourse or anything that sounds like vaginismus or vulvonynia then don’t let patronizing comments like that dissuade you. Talk to your doctor (and don’t settle for the same advice a I got). Don’t remain silent and don’t be afraid to share your personal experience because there are options for you. This is your body and you should know it, own it, make it eco-friendly if want to and definitely get as much pleasure (and as little pain) from it as you want.

For more information:

-Chloe Angyal’s essay: When sex wouldn’t stop hurting
Good For Her
-Good For Her’s instructional videos
-Good For Her’s Silicone Vaginal Exercisor Set (for those experiencing painful intercourse
-Dr. Deborah Coady’s book Healing Painful Sex
-Information on vaginismus
-Information on vulvodynia

Read the Op-Ed on the Because I Am A Woman blog.