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Vaginismus: Why Do We Disregard Female Sexual Pleasure And Pain?

Trigger Warning: Mention of r*pe, abuse and assault.

India gave “Kamasutra” (the sex guide) to the world and what an irony it is that sex is still a taboo topic in India. Sex is such a hush-hush topic in India that we are not provided with any knowledge about it. Indian education only teaches about sex as the part of reproduction not as something to enjoy or seek pleasure. The lack of sex education is the reason for various issues especially related to women sexual reproductive health because in India women are in the lowest position if they get sick then they are the last person to get the treatment.

Therefore, if they have any problem related to their sexual health, they themselves ignore it because they are indoctrinated to give less priority to their health and the glorification to endure pain within women is also a by-product of such internalized patriarchy.

Nowadays, the new generation has started to have conversations about sex education and they have started exploring their bodies, thus the problems related to sex have also arrived and the controversial topics regarding sex. But the one topic which is still unrecognized and not acknowledged in India is “Vaginismus” and I assure you that many people have never heard of this term before.

According to studies, 1 in every 500 women in the UK suffer from vaginismus and in India, we don’t have such data available. Moreover, we don’t really know how many people are suffering from vaginismus and what is the ratio of the population who have some knowledge about it.

James Marion Sims first coined the term ‘vaginismus’ in 1862 at an address to the Obstetrical Society of London. Vaginismus is a condition that involves a muscle spasm in the pelvic floor muscle. This can make it painful, difficult or impossible to have penetrative sex but that doesn’t mean, a person with vaginismus is not sexually aroused and doesn’t have a sex drive. In most conditions even inserting an object such as a tampon, sex toys and a penis into the vagina leads to tightening up of the vaginal muscles because of an involuntary contraction of the pelvic floor muscles.

There are three types of vaginismus- Primary or Global, Secondary and Situational. The primary or global vaginismus is experienced by the women during their first intercourse itself, this proves that pain was always there. In the secondary type, vaginismus develops after women who have already experienced normal intercourse. This can occur because of some specific reasons such as infection, menopause, social stigma, radical extremists, religious indoctrination and childbirth. Situational vaginismus occurs in certain situations, for instance inserting a tampon may not cause any pain but inserting a penis might cause a lot of pain.

If we take an example from cinema, there are movies and series now which started giving us hint around sex and the glorification of women’s pain.

The Great Indian Kitchen: Enslaving women since forever | Entertainment News,The Indian Express
A shot from The Great Indian Kitchen. Representative image only.

Like in the latest Malayalam movie, “The Great Indian Kitchen“, there is a scene where like every other night the couple was going to have sex but her wife decided to talk to the husband about the pain during the sex but at the same time she was also afraid that this talk might hurt his husband’s masculine ego and the result was worse than she expected, what happened was not only that his fragile male ego was hurt but he was also shocked and upset at the same time that her wife knows about foreplay and she is asking for it.

This scene depicts an example of this patriarchal society that how this society trained women and men in such a way that sex is only where a man can enjoy and impose their power on women. Here, women have no rights to even tell them what they want. As male orgasm is the only thing a man and woman both want.

If we look at another example, a Netflix series called ‘Unorthodox’, where a Jewish couple was happily married but their sex life was not very happy. She was not comfortable having penetrative sex because for them there was no kiss, no foreplay, nothing, it was a mode of reproduction-only as described in their religious text. The women of that community were forced to have more and more kids for the sake of the community population as Jews suffered the loss of their community after Hitler, therefore these women had the duty to make up for the loss.

LISTEN: Everything is kosher and nothing is unorthodox in sex, says therapist | The Times of Israel
Why would sex not be Kosher? Representative image only.

The Ultra-orthodox religion was gravely dominant that even when no one was watching them in their bedroom the man was not ready to go against the community and their sacred religious texts. Society uses women’s pain and womb as weapons for the benefit of this world but no one cares about them.

Women are not able to recognize this pain because society has glorified this pain as part of pleasure or a common occurrence during penetration. Men think that the more the woman screams or moans during the sex the more she enjoys it. This is true for some women that during the initial stage of penetration women can feel the pain but in vaginismus the intensity of that pain is unbearable.

Due to this fear of pain women starting avoiding sex. It doesn’t mean that she is not enjoying or doesn’t want to have sex. Women also don’t know what they want because society always makes it a disgusting feeling for a girl to touch her body. So, unlike men, they don’t know what they ‘desire’.

Ratna Pathak Lipstick Under My Burkha Movie Stills : lipstick under my burkha on Rediff Pages
Women of all ages are shunned from expressing sexual desire. Representational image only.

There are several reasons a person is having vaginismus. Like anxiety, lack of sex education, women are most afraid of having sex for the first time, they want to have sex but they feel anxiousness is high, other reasons can be problematic relationships, an abusive relationship or traumatic life events including rape or childhood experience of physical assault and these types of trauma leaves lifetime scars. Infections, pelvic surgeries and side effects of medications can also be the reason for vaginismus.

Vaginismus is not something that cannot be cured. Vaginismus should be given relevance like any other disease. It takes time and effort to cure. A person needs to consult a gynaecologist first and then a psychologist. Doctors may recommend people with Vaginismus a laparoscopic test, few therapies or exercises but it is going to help them. Doctors may also prescribe some medications and recommend vaginal dilators. Sex therapy is also a part of the process it will especially help people if they are married or in a cohabitation (live-in a relationship without a marriage) with a partner.

Vaginismus is not only a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s problem because if your partner is having vaginismus it will affect both their sexual and emotional life. Only if people know this issue and try to understand it, will this help them to recover more comfortably as this process can be stressful and exhausting for them. Therefore a partner plays a very important role in the treatment of Vaginismus as they can help their partner by understanding what they feel during the process. Sex conversations, role-play mostly helps, it is the most important part before having sex, not enough foreplay can also result in painful penetrative sex.

Dr Sharmila Majumdar - Sexologist Psychoanalyst in Hyderabad - Sexual Medicine Specialist
Dr Sharmila Majumdar is a Sexologist Psychoanalyst in Hyderabad and specialises in Sex therapy.

It is important to have sex education because it will not only help us to know our own body, it will also teach us to respect each other’s body. In India having a sex-related disease is like having black money, people are so afraid that what if others will know about their disease, they will behave differently or discriminate against them. They are so ashamed of themselves that they do not even tell their doctors about their problem completely, and the fear of judgment makes it even worse.

There are so many misconceptions and lack of knowledge about sex that results in ignorance of women’s sexual and reproductive health. This is why we need sex education more than before. So, society would not discriminate, children can talk to their parents about their sexual health issues without any hesitation or fear of judgement. Half of the problem will be solved if we start giving the right sex education from the very beginning of adolescence.

In addition, then our upcoming generation will not be the victim of myths and misconceptions about sex. The Internet is a great place to know about any topic but it is also a scary place for teenagers as this platform is also bombarded with the wrong information, which can cause serious problems in someone’s life.

This is a universal truth that most of the world population perform sex but not many have the means and the education to have the right comprehensive sex education, which leads to frustration because it’s difficult to not be able to understand and perform sex properly.

Similarly, Vaginismus should be given the attention it requires and not overlook it by thinking it’s the end of your life.

 

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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