[image description: a tall waterfall cascades down a sharp brown rock incline. a rainbow shines across the waterfall.]
This is a two-part series on vaginismus and sexual trauma.
Content warning: explicit discussion of vaginas and what feels good.
See part one here.
Quitting physical therapy for vaginismus was my turning point. Somehow, I’d still believed that the medical complex could do something magical for me that I couldn’t do for myself. Now, I’m sure that PT has helped some people. And it was definitely a catalyst to take myself more seriously. But as someone with PTSD from unconsensual sex, I maybe could have anticipated that laying half-naked in a doctor’s office with a stranger would not do it for me. I would have to really start from the ground up: touching and reclaiming this sacred part of myself.
Once I got curious, and then determined, resources started to appear before my eyes.
I had been doing energy work via yoga and the chakra system for several months when I realized: energy couldn’t flow freely through my vagina because of the psychic and physical blocks manifesting as vaginismus. And this was a problem for me!
In many world energy traditions, including Chinese medicine and the yogic chakra system, energy is meant to travel up and down the body along the spine. The second chakra, Svadhishthana, is found in the pelvic bowl and relates to our creativity, sexuality, emotions, and vibrancy. Its element is water, to represent the flowing and effortless nature of our instinctual life force.
I had already begun to experience the magic of yoga to facilitate the energy flow up and down the spine and through all seven chakras. But I realized that at a deeper level, if I couldn’t feel the sensation in my pelvic bowl and vagina from the inside, I wouldn’t be able to pull energy through them fully. And I longed to feel energy melt into this part of my body.
Further, if I was (at some deep and subtle level) scared of feeling sensation in my pelvic bowl, I also wouldn’t be able to mindfully explore my own vagina. And this psychic block around exploring myself was at the heart of my own fear and discomfort around my genitals.
If I could explore myself, I could learn, and if I could learn, then I might not physically or spiritually shut down anymore.
It was humbling to realize I had to start with the basics. As a now long-time feminist, it felt so passé, so beginner-like, to hold up a mirror to my vulva. As an academic, I had long deconstructed the intellectual shame around my vagina… but that intellectual work had never touched my deeper, emotional and spiritual fear.
So I held up a mirror to myself.
I held sacred space for myself: lit candles, breathed like I loved myself, burned sage. Pressed my outer lips and felt into the feeling. Realized just how numb I habitually felt there. How nervous it made me to experience even neutral sensation. Told myself over and over again: it’s me. it’s me. you’re safe. it’s me.
Me versus centuries of misogyny. Me versus a lifetime of pussy shame and a shitload of currently-being-processed trauma.
I kept going.
I explored tantra teacher Layla Martin’s pussy self-love and pussy massage videos — knowing that these videos’ cis and sometimes heterosexual framing might make them inaccessible to some (including myself, sometimes) but taking what practices I could and using my own language.
I started reworking the dirtiness and shamefulness so traditionally tied to vaginas. Replaced it with language like: sacred. gorgeous. divine. ecstatic.
Reframing my language started to create a totally new relationship with myself. One where I wasn’t ashamed of my vagina, or reluctant to explore its depths.
Started looking at jade eggs (haven’t tried them yet!) and started to consciously feel and breathe into my vagina. Feel this as a seat of vitality and power in my body. Started reading books like Urban Tantra, which introduced me to ways of breathing sexual energy throughout the body and to sacred sex, generally.
Started realizing how I hold tension in my vagina and pelvic bowl throughout the day (!!), and not just during sex. (Does anyone else do this? Can you feel a subtle tightening?)
Started having ecstatic experiences masturbating in the bathtub — moments that everything in me let go, and I rode my own waves of desire.
Started craving sex as a way to connect deeply to myself, and others.
Started wanting to incorporate sensual energy in my daily life through exercises like breast massage, recognizing that there’s no neat correlation between having breasts and having a pussy, and that everyone’s the expert on their own chest and what feels good for them in their gender and body.
Started, shockingly, craving my own penetration. Where I had never used to masturbate with my hands, let alone finger myself, I could feel my vagina almost magnetically pull my fingers inside herself. Could feel me dance inside myself. Serve my own pleasure.
Pleasure, and difficult emotions. Putting gentle pressure on the walls of my vagina often makes me really nervous, and sometimes makes me cry. It’s said that we store trauma and deep emotions there. So I breathe and cry and release.
Then I felt into manual clitoral stimulation. Not just touching myself to get off, but touching myself to feel something fully. Breathing into my clit. Moving slowly. Seeking pleasure, and nothing but.
I’m still very much on this journey. But things have already shifted a lot.
I remember back in college, for an exercise in a discussion group on gender and sexuality, I elected to rename masturbation “sex with myself.” That still rings so true.
I’m not gonna lie: sometimes, I just want to get off. I use orgasms to make myself feel better when I’m sad or stressed. But while it works in the short-term, it tends to be mechanistic and orgasm-centric at the expense of other more embodied touch. I hate to say this, but for me, it’s dissociated.
So more and more, I crave authentic sex with myself. I crave deep and instinctual connection to my body, heart, and soul. Crave the mindful attention that heightens every sensation.
I feel closer than I ever have to my vagina, and feel more comfortable by myself and in sex with others. Although it’s been a very long journey, I’m grateful that I’ve gotten here and that I’ve let go of prescriptive routes for “curing” vaginismus. I knew that dilators and sterile exercises wouldn’t work for me — or at least, my vagina did. But reclaiming my own sacred sexuality has permanently transformed my relationship to my vagina and my self.