Sometimes it hurt to walk. For over a year it hurt to use the bathroom. A year without sex, a year in which my relationship frayed at the seams, a year of feeling entirely deficient because the tenets of basic human biology didn't seem to apply to me, and I had no idea why. A year spent tamping down the primordial urge to throttle anyone who tried to shuffle me out of doctors' offices with a cheery, "Use more lube and it will go away on its own!"
My state of mind was what most people would categorize as "witheringly depressed." I was young and didn't realize that I wasn't, in fact, the only person in the world with this problem. Maybe it was vestiges of my angst-ridden, teenage woe, but I'd never heard of anything like this. My friends didn't talk about it. Painful sex wasn't what made the headlines in popular media. I didn't know it existed. My doctors didn't know it existed. Yet, statistics show that as many as one woman in six might suffer from vulvodynia in her lifetime, often thanks to unknown causes.
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Finally, I unearthed a specialist (there aren't many). When I told my new physician that my last gynecologist tried to pawn me off on a psychiatrist—the problem being all in my head, of course—this debonair, 70-year-old man started banging his sparsely covered skull gently against his walnut desk. After my exam, I walked into the afternoon sunshine with a diagnosis, a treatment plan, and a hefty bill. If you were wondering, validation tastes like a $500 cone of caramel fudge ice cream.
But it still took two more years of experimentation with gels, antidepressants, physical therapy, and doses of electro-shock therapy to my delicate bits before sex was comfortable. It was a long two years, years in which my self-esteem plummeted and my relationship splintered and finally dissolved. Sex is a fundamental part of a romantic relationship, and when that aspect isn't an option, it becomes hard to hold the other parts together. Fortunately, I am completely cured, but I occasionally have a flareup and will visit my doctor for follow-up treatments.
All of humanity, most of the animal kingdom, and half the world's flora have sex—and now I do, too. It was a frustrating and sometimes devastating journey, plagued by the persistent fear that I might never have a normal sex life and gnawing guilt that I was keeping my partner from the same. But there is treatment, which means there's hope for misfiring pain receptors in groins everywhere. Sex is rollicking good fun, and I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have firsthand experience.
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Amber Adrian is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. She likes green sneakers, coffee beans, and clean sheets.