The Low-Down on Pelvic Physio – Part 2

This is part 2 of my description of pelvic physiotherapy.  If you missed part 1, it can be found here.  And just so we’re all on the same page:

*DISCLAIMER* Pelvis physiotherapy was the single most life-altering treatment I received for my vaginismus.  I truly believe that without my therapy, I would not have been able to beat this.  That being said, I’m only documenting my personal experience. I do not know if the practices of all pelvic physiotherapists are the same, and I cannot guarantee that this will work for you as well.  I can only hope that the information I provide here for you will be helpful to you, and, as always, feel free to email me with any additional questions you might have.

So, we’ve been through my first appointment at my pelvic physiotherapist.  What happened next?  Well, I won’t break it down appointment by appointment, as I had many.  It takes different people a different amount of time to conquer their vaginismus through physiotherapy, and for me, it took about about a year.  In that 12-month period, I saw my physiotherapist anywhere from once a week, to once a month, depending on schedules and how I felt I was progressing.

Each appointment was roughly the same in terms of the procedure. After my first appointment, my physiotherapist asked me to get my hands on a set of vaginal dilators that we would use during the appointments.  I already had a set of 7 wax ones that a previous sex therapist had given me,  but if you are looking for a similar set, they can be purchased online or in person here.

We would start each appointment by talking about how my “homework” had gone the previous week.  Homework usually involved me working with the dilators at home by myself or with my husband.  We would discuss any problems or successes that I had, and she would answer any lingering questions.

Then we moved on to the work with the dilators.  Again, she would set up the massage tables with sheets and pillows and leave the room so I could strip from the waist down. Most often, she would begin the dilation work by just using her gloved finger (with lots of lube) to gently apply pressure to the outside of my vagina.  Eventually, we moved on to the smallest dilator in the set.  She would put a condom over the dilator (much more sanitary) and then apply lots of lube to it. When I was comfortable and relaxed, we would work together on inserting it.

For the most part, she controlled the insertion of the dilator itself.  It was my job to relax my mind and my muscles so that the insertion was possible.  My physiotherapist used lots of positive language and imagery to help me relax, and I found that it was really important to listen to her, and try to do what she said, even if it sounded corny or hippy-dippy.  For example, if she said “imagine that your hip bones are falling apart from one another,” I really tried to visualize that – and it worked!  If she said, “melt this muscle here, like butter,” I honestly tried to picture that muscle as butter melting.  And somehow, by visualizing that image in my brain, my muscle would start to obey.

Once we were able to get to the point where a dilator was fully inserted, my physiotherapist would then work to stretch the muscles. She told me to imagine my vaginal opening like a peace sign, with the two arms of the peace sign stretching down to each buttocks.  Then, with the dilator still inserted, she would apply pressure downwards on each arm of the peace sign, one side at a time. It was often uncomfortable at first, but if I kept breathing through it and using the imagery she provided, that muscle would eventually relax out of it’s spasm. The trick was that when she released the pressure, the muscle would often shock itself back to the spasm, so it often took a few tries.  I had to really work to not be discouraged.

Eventually, over the course of 12 months, we were able to work our way through all 7 wax dilators, plus a more lifelike dildo that I had purchased.  At no point did my pain level ever go above a 4 out of 10, but it was important to keep open communication with my physiotherapist in order to maintain this.  My husband was also invited to come to an appointment and learn how to properly help me use the dilators and do the stretching (not all husbands would be able to stomach this, I believe, but it was a really positive experience for us!).

My progress was certainly much faster when I kept up with my homework of stretching and working with the dilators at home, in between appointments.  At first, I was scared of doing “too much” homework, and it was often difficult to schedule time when we had houseguests or were traveling. But persistence was the key.  Once I started dilating every one or two days, I really started to see progress.  But I had to work through the mental and emotional blocks first before I could get there (a good counsellor or sex therapist can definitely help with that).

Again, if you have any questions about my experience with pelvic physiotherapy, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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The Low-Down on Pelvic Physio – Part 1

I’ve noticed that many people find this blog because they are searching Google for information about physiotherapy for vaginismus. At first, this made me really excited ’cause I like to think of myself as a bit of an expert in the area, having gone through months of treatment successfully.  Then I realized, I don’t really give that much information about the physiotherapy process on this site, and I certainly remember being totally baffled as to what a physiotherapist could possibly do to help me. I had been to physio for back and ankle problems in the past – but I could not fathom how a physiotherapist was supposed to help with the vag.

So, if you’re in the same boat – this post is for you! I’m about to get a little graphic on you, so please only read on if you want to know exactly what happened in my physio sessions.

*DISCLAIMER* Pelvis physiotherapy was the single most life-altering treatment I received for my vaginismus.  I truly believe that without my therapy, I would not have been able to beat this.  That being said, I’m only documenting my personal experience. I do not know if the practices of all pelvic physiotherapists are the same, and I cannot guarantee that this will work for you as well.  I can only hope that the information I provide here for you will be helpful to you, and, as always, feel free to email me with any additional questions you might have.

I was referred to my pelvic floor physiotherapist by a sex therapist that my husband and I were seeing.  In fact, I think it was one of the first things the sex therapist did, and to be honest, I was completely and utterly wary.  I had been dealing with vaginismus for YEARS, and by this point, had convinced myself that it was mostly a mental/emotional issue for me.  So, I really felt that seeing a pelvic physiotherapist was going to be a total waste of time, but I wanted to humour our new sex therapist, so I agreed to the first appointment.

I had no idea what to expect at that first meeting – but I was nervous. The woman that greeted me in the waiting room was, in a word, adorable. She was bright, bubbly, friendly, compassionate, and when we sat down to go over my history, I really felt like she listened to me and understood what I was saying.  I didn’t feel like a weirdo, which, after seeing multiple medical experts over many years, was a breath of fresh air.

At that first meeting, we spent a lot of time discussing my history with vaginismus.  She asked detailed questions about my pain levels in various situations – sitting, peeing, tampon-usage, intercourse attempts. She also asked about other therapy that I was undergoing (which, at the time, was anxiety counseling and the sex therapist). This initial appointment was 45 minutes long, and I think we spent about 30 minutes of it, just talking.

After we had gone through my whole history, in great detail, she asked if I would be comfortable with her examining me.  She explained that to do so, she would leave the room, and I would undress from the waist-down, cover myself with the hospital gown, and hop up on the massage table.  She would then come back into the room, and do a visual and light-touching exam of my vaginal area – but only to the point where I was comfortable. By this point, I really was feeling quite safe around her, and so I agreed. She set about setting up the massage table with sheets and pillow props to make me comfortable and then left the room.

And to be honest, my first exam with her, was quite comfortable.  Her ground rule was that I was to never feel pain above a “4″ on a scale of one to ten (one being no pain, ten being the most pain ever).  So, I was able to verbally let her know if things were ever too uncomfortable, and she was always asking me how I was doing.  There was always constant communication.

During the exam, she wore gloves and had a small amount of lubricant on her fingertips.  She would then use her fingertips to apply small amounts of pressure around the outside of my vagina (again, only to a level “4″ of pain). This was not actually painful for me, but it did require an incredible amount of trust with a woman I had only just met.  However, because she had spent so much time with me discussing my problem, I really felt that I could trust her completely.

I don’t believe that she actually inserted her fingertip into my vagina during the first appointment, but I do recall her saying that “everything looked normal” which, to me, was a huge relief.  Having only had one painful pap test before, being abnormal was a worry to me, so this made me feel a lot better. For homework, she encouraged me to practice my Kegel exercises (holding and releasing my pelvic floor muscles), and that seemed easy enough.

I left my first appointment pleasantly surprised, and actually a little bit excited to return.  Finally, I had met a healthcare professional who understood, and seemed to have a course of action to help me.

In my next post, I’ll delve further into my pelvic physio experience, including breathing, muscle stretching, wax dilators and lots of lubricant! Stay tuned!

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Oh, Baby!

So, it looks like another 4 months have ticked by without any updates to this little blog.  But I am always so excited (and a little surprised) to see that I’m still getting lots of webhits and the occasional email from a reader.  I often forget that there are still lots of us out there, struggling with vag.  And so, because of that, I’d like to offer a little bit of new hope.

I’m pregnant.

It’s still early, so I do feel like I’m tempting fate a bit, by putting that out there.  But we are almost at the 12 week mark.  And, not gonna lie, I’m still in disbelief.

2 years ago, I was the girl who never thought sex would be possible, let alone a pregnancy and a baby. Although I was pushing forward with treatment, I actually didn’t really believe that I would ever see this day.  I *hoped* I would see this day.  But in the back of my mind, I don’t think I ever really thought it would actually happen.

Am I 100% cured of the vag? Heck no.  It took a lot of hard work, pain, creative maneuvering, tears, heartache and determination to get me to this point.  And every time we have sex (which hasn’t been frequent lately – the nausea doesn’t help!), it’s still not the wonderful, spontaneous, do-it-like-they-do-in-the-movies kind of sex.  But I’m ok with that. Because I am a bazillion times farther ahead than I ever thought I would be.

So, I want to encourage you to keep going.  There is a solution out there for you. Find that determination and just keep taking steps forward, even if they are baby steps.  If I can help, let me know.  Send me a note, ask me questions – I’m an open book. And I’m going to try and write more here.

I have a pipedream of one day making this blog more than just my little corner of the world.  I don’t know that it will ever really happen – but I never thought I’d be growing a tiny person in my belly one day either :)

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When have you been stronger than you thought?

I was reading a blog post today, by one of my favourite coaches and bloggers, Michelle Ward, the When I Grow Up Coach. Every Tuesday on her blog, is Tough (Question) Tuesday, and today’s question was “When have you been stronger than you thought?”.

You see, Michelle has been fighting boob cancer for these last few months. She’s endured 4 chemo treatments, hair loss, exhaustion, putting business and family dreams on hold and next month, she’ll undergo a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction.  She is in her early 30′s. And today is her last day of chemo.  And she asked this question of her amazing readers so that she could have something to read from the chemo chair.

I went to her website to see what comments people had added.  So many people had posted amazing comments about how they had been strong through fighting a disease, the loss of a loved one, a miscarriage, running a marathon. Truly fabulous feats of strength.

And I started to feel a little unsettled.  I hadn’t gone through anything like this. Ever. I had nothing to say.  I haven’t lost anyone close to me.  I haven’t battled cancer.  I’ve never been pregnant.  I’ve never run 1 mile, let alone a marathon.

But something tugged at the back of my brain, begging to be remembered.  I knew that I had felt, at some point, stronger than I ever thought I could be.  And it wasn’t from resisting the last piece of chocolate mocha cheesecake at Christmas dinner.  And then I remembered – I have beaten vaginismus.

And I was suddenly sad.

Because I wasn’t comfortable adding that as a comment to Michelle’s blog.  Because I’m still embarrassed by it.  Because I still feel like no one would really get it.

So, I’m writing it here, where I can feel proud, and know that someone out there reading this will understand.

Beating vaginismus was the hardest battle I have fought so far.  It was emotionally taxing, physically painful, mentally defeating.

But I did it.  And I continue to do it, every day.

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The Big Update

I want to apologize to all my readers for dropping off the face of the earth.  It looks like the last time I posted was October 2, 2011 – almost 4 months ago – and I really left everyone hanging.  The truth is, I had big plans – a possible new website about vag – and sadly, I haven’t done anything about them.  It’s still in the back of my mind and I truly appreciate those of you that commented or sent me notes, expressing interest in being a part of that website.  I do intend to be in touch, when I finally approach that project.

In the meantime, there have been some seriously huge developments. But it has taken me 4 months to feel the urge to write anything here.  However, yesterday was Sunday – and like I do every Sunday morning, I read the latest PostSecret installment on my iPhone while lying in bed.  And what did I see as the first secret?

Now, this is not my secret. But it still rang true. (and thank you to the brave person who sent this secret in. If, by some chance, you are reading this blog, I hope it’s ok that I re-posted your postcard).

But it reminded me that I’ve made huge strides in the last few months, and maybe there are women out there who could use a little encouragement.  Maybe it’s time I shared my big secret……and so…..

I did it.

In fact, I’ve done it 7 times! 7 times!!!!

Truthfully, it (sex) has not been great.  It’s been awkward and uncomfortable, and most of the time, it’s been painful. And I think that’s why I hesitated against posting anything.  Because I didn’t actually believe that this was something I’d be able to do permanently.  Like, maybe the first time was just a really lucky fluke. Or that it would only get worse, and not better.

But it’s been seven times.  Over the course of 4 months. And each time, it’s gotten just a little bit better. And I am actually starting to believe that this might be something I will have the privilege of doing again and again, AND that one day, it might actually feel normal and good.

So, I wanted to share that huge milestone with you.  It IS possible. It can be done. :)

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What’s missing?

If I really believe in something, I’ve never been one to just sit back and hope that someone else comes up with a solution.  Although it might take me time to get over my demons and take action, that “something” is always in the back of my mind.  Like this blog…I’ve felt pretty isolated with this condition for most of my life.  I’d let people in on the “big secret” every now and then, but it’s been hard to keep facing that demon. I’d been thinking about starting this blog for a long time….and I finally did it.  And it’s been so rewarding to hear from other people via this blog.

I believe that there’s value in sharing my story.  I believe there’s value for all of us sharing our stories. We’re not alone.  And we can kick this.

So, lately, hubby and I have actually been toying with the idea of creating a website.  There are a few great websites out there with vaginismus information, and there’s certainly more information out there than when I first started Googling ten years ago.  But it’s disheartening to know that there are still people out there who don’t have solutions, who are suffering, who don’t even know what this condition is that they have, and who don’t know how or where to get help.  That’s not cool with me.

I think it’s absolutely crucial that we put more information about this condition out there into the wide world of the web.  So, I’m asking for your help.  What information do you feel is missing?  Some thoughts we’ve had:

- comprehensive list of practitioners who specialize in or can help with vaginismus (pelvic physiotherapists, counselors, OBGYN’s etc.)

- up-to-date list of and links to different dilators, literature and other vaginismus tools/information

- links to vaginismus in the media

- shared personal stories in the form of an anonymous podcast or multi-authored blog

What would help you? Please post a comment below, or email me directly from my Contact page.

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No More Pushing Past the Pain

So, I have to say, I was getting quite cocky recently about my vagina progress.  I kept doing homework with my dilators, and it got easier every time.  I discovered that using a vibrator for dilation was also extremely helpful (not because it was arousing, but more so because it seems to confuse my muscles and they don’t know what else to do but relax!).  So, I was trucking along, and feeling more and more confident.

And then I did homework last night, and although I didn’t have a huge setback, I still had more pain than I was used to, and some pretty significant difficulties with Big Red (my current dildo of choice). It was really, really difficult not to just try and “push through” the pain, but I kept hearing the voice of my pelvic physiotherapist saying, “Don’t let the pain be any more than 4 out of 10.” And at some points, it was definitely more than 4 out of 10.

Before starting pelvic floor physiotherapy, I had more than my share of doctors and/or therapists tell me that I just needed to “push past” the pain, and eventually it would get easier.  That’s a very hard mindset to get out of.  But I’m really starting to believe that if I cause my poor va-jay-jay some pain, she’s going to be less cooperative the next time around.

In fact, when I think about it.  The last few times I did homework, there was definitely some pain that I just pushed through, and it has me wondering if that’s why it escalated this time.  Do I need to be listening to what my vagina’s saying a bit more carefully? No one likes to be ignored, and clearly my vagina knows what will get my attention.

Ok, va-jay-jay – I get it. No more pushing past the pain. I promise.


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Opening the Door to Vaginas

I’ve never been someone who is completely comfortable talking about sex.  I’ve never had girlfriends that I would giggle with about penis-size or orgasms, never really talked about “first times” with any of my close friends in high school, and I still don’t really have conversations about sex now with any of my girlfriends.  It’s not that I was afraid to talk about it; I didn’t avoid the conversations intentionally. But it was almost like somehow, people just knew not to talk to me about sex.

And I think being able to talk about sex comfortably has been a huge part of tackling my vaginismus. I’m not an outwardly sexual person.  It’s just not something I’m really good at talking about.

But when I was in university, I came across a women’s movement that really struck a chord with me.  I came across The Vagina Monologues. A pair of women came into my Women in Literature class, so that they could let everyone know about the upcoming auditions they were holding for the play.  I didn’t know much about it, but I knew I needed to be involved.  So, I auditioned.  And I was cast. And for the next 8 years, I was involved in The Vagina Monologues in some way, shape or form including acting in it, directing it, producing it, promoting it, and stage managing it.  I did it all.  I just had this need to be involved and to connect with other women about this important “sex stuff.”

The Vagina Monologues opened a door for me, and got me talking about sex.  Granted, I am still a little uncomfortable when it comes to talking about things of a sexual nature, but I am so grateful for the ease and familiarity that The Vagina Monologues gave to me, when it comes to my own vagina and it’s magical workings.  If you haven’t read the book, or seen the play – go do it. You won’t regret it.

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I’m Just Like This.

I’m just like this.

I’ve been to a frightening number of doctors, psychologists and other health professionals who have wanted to search out a good, concrete reason for my vagina problems.  They’ve wanted to say something like, “ahhhhh, yes. You were molested as a child.  Now it all makes sense!” and then be able to prescribe a wonder-solution that would make it all better.

And for the better part of my life, I searched for that wonder-solution too.  But to my recollection, I hadn’t been abused, or raped, or molested, or harassed, or injured. Having vaginismus just didn’t make sense. I wasn’t raised religiously, so I couldn’t use God as an excuse.  I wasn’t raised in a particularly prude household, so I couldn’t say my sexuality had been stifled. I even contemplated hypno-therapy, convinced that there must be a Reason for my debilitating sexual problems. A Reason hiding in the annals of my subconscious, just waiting to rear it’s ugly head. What else could explain it? Normal people aren’t like this.

I wanted somewhere to place the blame. I wanted something or someone to be angry with.

The truth is, I got nuthin’. The best I can figure is that I’m somehow genetically, or emotionally, or physically pre-disposed to this condition.  Yes, some parts of my childhood, or my adolescence, or my university years *may* have contributed to this – but there’s no way to know for sure.  So, is there really any reason to place blame?

And it doesn’t matter. Yes, if I was molested, I would have a really excellent focal point for my anger.  But I’d still have this condition.  And I’d still need to figure out a way to get past it.  These are the cards I’ve been dealt, and regardless of how I got them, I still need to learn how to play with them.  I can’t give them back.  I can’t ask for a re-deal.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from having vaginismus is that sometimes it doesn’t matter “WHY.” Sometimes the search for an explanation just deters the healing.  Instead, I focus on the present and the future. I continue talking about it.

Keep communicating. Move forward. Be hopeful.

Posted in It's History | 4 Comments

Big Love to those that are Reading

Firstly, I want to apologize for disappearing for a few weeks.  I’ve had a few reasons, the main one being that I’ve been away.  Right now, I am currently on my dream trip, and am living abroad for the next month.  But I also haven’t written because I don’t have much exciting to report.  I’m still plugging away with my dilators (no pun intended!), but have been working mostly solo, as my husband is not with me.

But I wanted to post and thank everyone for reading, and also thank the few of you who have taken the time to email me.  I know that there are quite a few of us out there who are working on tackling this issue, and we’re all at different stages. I really love knowing that by putting my story out there, I am helping in some way.  And it’s made me realize that just because I don’t have much to say about the “here and now,” I can still post about the things I’ve already been through because that just might strike a chord with someone reading out there.

So, I’m going to try and post a bit more frequently, and will tackle some of the topics from my history with vaginismus.  I really encourage you to email me if you have questions, or if you just want to tell me your story.  I’m happy to listen, provide feedback, or answer questions.  We are not alone, girls.  I’m here, and I’m listening :)

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