What My Broken Vagina Taught Me About Pain And Sex In India

What My Broken Vagina Taught Me About Pain And Sex In India

 What My Broken Vagina Taught Me About Pain And Sex In India




The first time I tried having sex was at a resort in Taiwan. I’d snuck away with a boyfriend (let’s call him G), on my own money, and it was perfect. We’d been there for a while, and I finally decided to try to have sex. I was excited. I’d been wanting to do it since forever (okay, maybe from when I was 15), but had decided to wait until I became an adult. This was the first chance I’d gotten after turning 18.

It wouldn’t go in. All that I had seen in porn, the penis smoothly sliding in while the girl moans in pleasure? Nope. We tried some more, and then G had an idea. He thought maybe using his fingers would break my hymen, so he inserted (with consent) one finger. It felt painful, but I could deal. I bled a little. I was happy. We then decided it was time for another finger. It hurt too, and this time I couldn’t hold in my tears, and I think I said something very mean. I remember him being shocked and angry, turning away and falling asleep. I remember crying myself to sleep.

G apologized for that night later, and we made up. The relationship didn’t last more than three (very blissful) months, and I was heartbroken when he left. I also decided that I would not have sex until I met someone I could love like I loved G.

After going through possibly some of the worst times of my life, I eventually fell for a cute Chinese boy in my hostel. I made a few moves, and soon found myself in his bedroom, excited beyond measure. After we had made out for some time, he started tugging at my shorts. I told him that I was okay with oral sex, but didn’t want to have intercourse just yet. He literally asked me to put on my clothes and leave. I had no idea how to feel then.

We behaved as if nothing had happened, but internally I was falling apart.

Then, a few months later, I was feeling particularly heartbroken, and ended up hitting on a senior some of us had just started hanging out with. One thing led to another, and we ended up spending the night together. It was one of the most beautiful nights of my life – it was tender and meaningful, and I had never been loved so gently in my life. There was no intercourse, but I was happy.

S and I started dating the next day, and slowly fell in love.

I finally felt the same comfort, the same affection, and the same warmth that I had felt with G, and then some. About a month into this new relationship S and I tried having sex.

Again, there was pain, and it wouldn’t go in. S reassured me that this was probably just an initial problem, and that we’d be fine. Over the next few months, we tried again several times, but it never happened.

I spoke to an experienced close friend, and she told me the first few times always hurt. We followed all the advice we found online and offline, but every time we tried, I would inevitably end up crying because the pain was so bad, and we would stop. We kept on trying. It became a pattern. We would start getting down to business, would enjoy pleasing each other orally, and every time we tried sex it would end up with me sobbing into his chest and apologizing.

Eventually, we stopped trying.

When I came home that summer, I visited my gynecologist for some period trouble I was having. I asked her why I was not able to have sex. She did not bother to examine me, and asked me if my mother knew that I was trying to have sex. When I answered in the affirmative, she told me that I was too young (I was 19), and that my vagina was not ready, which is why it hurt so much. Not knowing what to make of it, and unable to push any further, I dropped it.

When I remember this incident now, it makes me livid. In a country where child marriage is prevalent and young girls have kids at ages as young as thirteen, at 19 my vagina wasn’t ready?

When the official age of consent in our country is 18, how was my vagina not  ready at 19?

Reproductive health in India, especially for young and unmarried women, is restricted to having regular periods and perhaps dealing with PCOD. Sexual activity or it’s lack thereof is gauged through euphemisms such as ‘Are you married?’.

Ideally, my gynecologist should have done an internal examination. Was she just being lazy? I doubt it. As a society, we actively try to restrict young women from having sex. And she succeeded that day, causing me years of anguish.

When I got back to college, I started giving myself deadlines. I’d have intercourse in the next 10 days, no matter how much pain I’d have to bear. I’d have intercourse by my 20th birthday. I’d have intercourse by S’s birthday. But nothing worked.

Whenever we’d try, I’d brace myself for pain, and then end up in tears. Seeing me in that much pain, he would lose his erection. He was unfailingly supportive, and never pressurized me, but I could not help feeling inadequate. After each failed session, he would hold me and tell me he loved me no matter what. He reassured me over and over that he wouldn’t leave me even if I could never have intercourse, but it did nothing to alleviate my sense of shame.

I was sad. I wondered if I was just too weak to deal with the pain, or if there was some problem with me. I felt handicapped for not being able to do what I felt was the most natural thing in the world. I started seeing a therapist, but I never had the courage to tell her that this was what was troubling me, especially after she balked when I told her I thought that I identified as polyamorous.

As a society, we actively try to restrict young women from having sex. 

Meanwhile, my friends thought I was the cool one with a great sex life. I remember all my school friends eagerly asking me about sex and what it felt like. I remember one close friend telling me about her sexcapades and wanting the earth to swallow me because I could not do something so ‘normal’, while she did it again and again with multiple people.

I remember talking to friends about how good S was, always adding ‘at oral sex’ in my mind. I remember pretending to have great sex. I remember being embarrassed when an acquaintance asked me how long it was normal to last, and I had no idea. I made up an answer (5 minutes I said, porn was obviously all a lie), but I remember feeling guilty and shameful for lying.

By this time, S and I had stopped trying to have intercourse. We both became very good at oral sex, and our sessions mostly concluded when we were done pleasing each other. I learnt to swallow (pun intended) my inadequacy and shame. I loved S even more, because he chose to stay with me even though I could not provide him the most basic pleasure in the world. My self-esteem was non-existent, and not being able to have sex weighed on my head no end.

The next summer, I finally decided to confide in my mother. It had been close to two years, and we had still not had intercourse. She told me that it would hurt the first few times. I dissolved into tears, confident that the problem was with my ability to bear pain, and that nothing else was wrong.

Pain is a common refrain in women’ sex lives. Dealing with pain during your periods, dealing with pain the first time you have (or try having) sex, dealing with pain because of a lack of foreplay, dealing with pain because no one cares if they are lubricated or ready, dealing with pain because marital rape is not a crime, dealing with the pain of childbirth… these things are just built into our daily lives. We exalt sacrifice and self-abnegation, and we lionise those who are able to bear pain.

I was tired of being told that it would hurt, that pain was normal, that I was broken, that I couldn’t deal with something that was so normalised for women.

By this time I had lost interest in sex almost completely. My libido was at an all time low, and S had started to get impatient. Since we were in an open relationship, S once picked up someone at the bar, and had sex for the first time since he’d started dating me – but with someone else. Again, the jealousy I felt was not because he had had intercourse with someone else, but because I couldn’t and she could.

Over these two years, I had almost stopped consuming heterosexual porn, because every time I saw a penis go into a vagina, my inability to fuck flashed in front of my eyes, and I couldn’t shake off the feeling for hours. I was resentful of those of my friends who had roaring sex lives, and those who had just started having sex. Everything about heterosexual physical relationships made me hurt.

My sadness took me to a lot of dark places. One of these was Reddit. I’d trawl the website, reading about other people’s problems and trying to feel better about my life. One day, I stumbled upon an article on vaginismus. It is a condition in which your body makes your vagina contract whenever a foreign object tries to enter it. It sometimes occurs because of sexual abuse earlier in life. I’ve been molested once, and even though I wasn’t particularly affected by it, I thought maybe my brain has stored away a memory somewhere that’s making this happen.

So I immediately diagnosed myself with vaginismus. Now that I knew the disease, I also knew the cure. So I gave myself the task of doing finger exercises and kegels. But my heart was not in it. S encouraged me, supported me, loved me through it all, but I had stopped trying. I never did the finger exercises consistently, because I was worried that maybe I would not be able to have sex even after I did them.

S moved away, and we had a very nasty break up (it was my polyamory that broke us). I was still, according to me, a virgin. At that point, I think I had accepted that I wouldn’t be able to ever have intercourse. I watched a lot of lesbian porn, and convinced myself I’d lost my virginity (oral sex was sex too, right?), and that it was normal to not be ‘able’ to have sex.

Then another day, while trawling reddit, I saw a post that was titled How I Fixed My Vagina. I was intrigued. The girl in the post had the exact same problem as I did. She could not have intercourse because of the pain, and the problem persisted even after she’d tried for months. As I read on, she described that she had a septate hymen, and that she was getting it surgically corrected.

I saw a ray of hope, but I was too ashamed to do anything. Because of my permanent sadness and nasty break up with S, I kept in very poor health my last semester, and I went to the medical center quite a lot. As a result, I’d developed a friendship with one of the doctors. One day, when I was assigned to her room for an ear infection, I mustered up the courage and requested her to take a look at my vagina. She obliged. And sure enough, she found the membrane too. She drew it for me, explained the condition, suggested that there was corrective surgery, and referred me to a gynecologist.

I felt vindicated. There was a legit problem, and it could be repaired. But I also felt angry.

Sometimes I wonder how many young women in India have to deal with such problems. There are no statistics available for the prevalence of a septate hymen in India. If someone coming from as much privilege as I was could suffer so much, I shudder to think about those young girls who don’t even have access to a gynaecologist. After all, this is a country which marries off its women at a young age, and many of them do not have the option of postponing or turning down sex. A friend of mine who had the same problem recently told me that her boyfriend tried to forcefully enter her when she was drunk, and she bled for a week after.

So much shame, so much pain, and so much mental distress, for a surgery that is quick, effective and mostly inexpensive.

Discourse surrounding sex in India is either couched in reproduction or shame, and the category one falls into is decided by one’s marital status. It is beyond frustrating, the kind of moral chiding that women get when they demand something as basic as the right to practice safe and pain free sex without getting married.

I came back home that summer. I was 22. As my luck would have it, the insurance only paid for the gynecologist I’d seen earlier, so I went back to her. I told her, almost angry, that I was now 22, it had been 3 years, and I was still unable to have sex.

She refused to examine me, and instead asked me if I was married. I told her I wasn’t.

She finally relented and agreed to examine me when my mom insisted. Lying there on the bed, having her finger me, felt extremely invasive, but I soldiered through. She could not find the septum. When I explained what my college doctor had explained to me, she finally found the septum.

After trying to pull it, and stopping only after I winced, she told me, “It’s nothing. With regular use, it will go.” I could have hit her then. Was there no difference between a ball-point pen and my vagina? My vagina had to be ‘used’ for my septum to go away? I insisted that she recommend the corrective surgery, or at least refer me to the surgeon, which she finally did.

17 tests and approvals from 5 different doctors later, I finally had my surgery. I was put out, and I woke up within two hours. The nurse showed me the offending septum, and I remember taking a photo even in my anesthesia-induced grogginess.

Four hours and fifteen grand later, I was officially fuckable.

Since I had not been given any instructions as to when I could have sex, I took a two-week vow of celibacy. I had started seeing Y a few months ago, and I was all ready to finally have intercourse. And I did. And it was extremely underwhelming.

The first time we did it, I remember almost crying in relief because it happened, while also feeling sour that it was so devoid of pleasure. But at least I was able to have intercourse. I was almost giddy with joy. It’s been a year since my surgery, and sex has gotten much better.

In a country where your teachers, doctors and family adults are so reluctant to speak about sex (even utter the word), and there is no sex education curriculum in schools, it is next to impossible that anyone would have even heard of a problem like mine.

We’re comfortable discussing our other bodily functions in great detail. However, when it comes to sexual health, we all go quiet.

We’re comfortable discussing our other bodily functions in great detail – just listen to middle aged people talk about their constant acidity and gas problems, or their constipation, or digestion problems. This is socially accepted and is not considered ‘gross’. However, when it comes to sexual health, we all go quiet. We don’t even talk about our periods openly, how will we ever get down to discussing problems that occur while having sex?

Far from focussing on women’s pleasure, we aren’t even ready to acknowledge that medical help may actually be required if women are dealing with too much pain while having sex, simply because their comfort doesn’t matter. Women are just expected to deal with the pain.

I cannot emphasize the relief that courses through me every time I am able to have sex. Often, people are unable to understand what the entire fuss is all about. But I can’t help it. This entire ordeal is now thankfully over. I’m finally trying all the things I’d fantasized about as a teenager and I think it’s been worth all the trouble.

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