Imagine your significant other: boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, favorite goat. Now, picture not being able to have sex—not because you're uninterested in sex, not because you're separated by oceans and continents, connected only by steamy emails. Instead, sex feels like a dull, rusty steak knife being twisted and jabbed where no dull, rusty steak knife belongs. Doctors can't seem to diagnose it, much less treat it. Bleak, isn't it? When I was 24, sex just hurt, for no discernible reason. Eight long months later, I learned I had a condition known as vulvodynia, a medical term which roughly translates to "no sex for you, missy."
I come from sturdy peasant stock, so the discovery that sex was about as pleasant as a nail file being raked down my cheek was rather shocking. With my bone structure I should not only be able to have sex, I should be able to give birth to a Volvo while casually discussing the peccadilloes of George Clooney. We all know that sometimes sex hurts the first time; weeping discomfort is not the stuff of bodice rippers, but I don't think there's a reasonable human being alive who expects the reality of the first time to match a story featuring brawny men with flowing locks. But when sex remains excruciating, the problem ceases to be a mere annoyance and begins to burrow into your psyche.
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My boyfriend was as patient and understanding as can be expected for a man who hadn't had much of a sex life in almost a year. Nobody wants to hurt the person they love, especially not during the most instinctual demonstration of that love, one that is, incidentally, supposed to be rollicking good fun. Reality can be brutal, and the reality of vulvodynia is that the lightest pressure on my inner thigh felt like someone dug a pointy fingernail into my skin and yanked downward. Nerve centers fired rapidly, causing the interior muscles to quiver in pain until they were so exhausted they simply gave up.