We Shouldn't Be Ashamed to Talk About Vulvar Pain
Words By. Pam Clynes
It amazes me that after every movement, every march, every voice, there is still a stigma around pretty much everything. In my case it’s the words vulva and vagina and everything that has to do with our sexuality. I live in a culture filled with taboos that we’ve been carrying around for years, and I think now it’s time to let them go.
My name is Pam, I'm from Mexico City and I suffer from Vulvodynia. If you don’t know what it is don’t worry, most people don’t. But, if you want to learn about something that affects 6 million women’s lives in the U.S. alone, you should keep reading.
It all started 5 years ago, I was living in New York, studying my Masters on Fashion Marketing, when I began with awful symptoms of an unexplained chronic pain/burn inside my vagina. At first I thought it was a yeast infection, but after several pap smears and cultures that indicated there was no bacteria or anything that suggested a normal infection, I began to worry deeply. My mind went to places I’ve never been before. My body kept screaming, “please do something.”
After two and half years of searching for doctors and specialists in Mexico who could tell what was happening to my body, after spending all this energy, time and money, I gave up completely. Pretty much hating everything and everyone in my life. I swear to God that if one more person told me if I tried yoga, alternative medicine or essential oils, I was going to hunt them down. It’s really a no brainer, of course I’ve tried EVERYTHING! I even went to see a Shaman who was famous for helping women who couldn’t get pregnant. I drank a lot of horrible tasting herbs. At one point, a very well-known gynecologist in Mexico City told me that the pain was all in my head and that maybe I had some kind of sexual trauma. I’ve started to notice that women’s pain is often minimized or even seeing as a joke. No one believed in my pain. People started seeing me as crazy, as an emotional wreck.
One day I was watching an episode of Sex and The City where I heard for the first time the term Vulvodynia. Basically, in that episode Charlotte was “diagnosed” with it, and she mentioned about it at brunch with the girls. “My vagina is depressed”. I remember all four of them laughing, not taking the matter seriously. The worst part was when Carrie asked Charlotte if it hurts, and she said no. I have nothing against the show, in fact, I’m a huge fan, but I was extremely disappointed on how they addressed a serious medical condition. Not only does it hurt like hell, sometimes you can’t even sit down or wear jeans because anything that puts pressure on the vulvar area aggravates the pain.
When I googled about Vulvodynia and started a profound research, it was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I found the National Vulvdoynia Association (NVA). So, what is Vulvodynia exactly? To put it in simple words its vulvar chronic pain with no known cause. Everything made sense, and it was such a relief to know that I wasn’t crazy and that there are in fact doctors who know how to treat it. Luckily I was able to go to Florida and meet with incredible physicians. A gynecologist specialized in vulvology and a team of pain management specialists as well. I started my treatment immediately with hope and positive vibes, even though from the beginning they told me that there are no guarantees. Not every treatment works the same, every woman is different, every body functions different. It might not work at all for some women. In my case, some worked and some didn’t. I’m still struggling with the pain, sometimes it gets better and some days I can’t even get out of bed.
The million dollar question
Can you have sex? Sex can be challenging, I’m not going to lie, but it’s not impossible in my case. I guess, my biggest fear is not the pain itself, it’s the telling your boyfriend part. I’ve had bad experiences before, men that couldn’t handle it and left. At the end of the day, what matters most is to find a loving, caring and patient partner. Communication is key. If there is one thing that I’ve learned is that NO is NO. We all know that there are other ways to give and receive pleasure besides intercourse. If we keep thinking that sex is only penetration we might as well go back to live in another century. Thankfully, intelligent people are creating new products based on sexual intercourse, like vaginal dilators, to help women deal with the pain.
What I’ve come to realize from this challenging journey is that the more I try to hide it or resist it, the more I try to pretend that I’m ok, the worse it gets. So, that’s why I’m breaking the silence, and I’m making peace with the pain. I know the pain is there, I acknowledge it, and I’m letting it go.
So now what? What keeps me going is the fact that I have more information now, knowledge is power and I know that there are many women suffering in silence and I want to help them. I’m not alone. I believe there is nothing more powerful than to go to a doctor’s office with data. A recent study from Harvard University indicates that 6 million women in the U.S. suffer from Vulvodynia today. The other real issue is that most women don’t talk about it, they feel ashamed, fear of being judged. Some can’t even say the word vagina out loud. It’s that stigma and ignorance that silence us, and prevents to discuss about things that are completely natural and more common than we think.
I can proudly say that I’m the first advocate for Vulvodynia in Mexico. I started an Instagram account to raise awareness and let people know that this is real and a lot of girls and women are battling with it everyday. I receive messages from women from all over the world. Words of solitude, fear, pain, frustration. I invite you to follow my story through @peacewithpain, a safe platform that aims to support other women, even if they only need to be heard and believed in.
The founder, Pam Clynes, is Mexican and has been suffering from this condition for six years. Peace With Pain ™ was born as a social initiative, as there is not much knowledge about vulvodynia in our country. When Pamela started with the symptoms, she did not find a gynecologist to give her a diagnosis in Mexico, nor the necessary treatments for the pain. Telling her story openly, Pam invites women who suffer from this condition to talk about their symptoms, and to break the silence without pain. The most important thing is to raise your voice and educate others to have the right support.
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