Sex Diaries: 'My Vulvodynia Disappeared When I Broke Up With My Boyfriend'

I used to suffer from vulvodynia, a persistent pain in the vulva, and thought I'd never be able to enjoy sex again.

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It started overnight in our third year of university. Every time my boyfriend and I had sex I got this burning pain when he tried to penetrate me. I thought it was odd but ignored it, even though it was really painful. In fact, it was excruciating – he couldn’t even use his fingers. My vagina felt like it had almost closed up.

Of course, he didn’t want to push the issue, so within a few weeks we just stopped having sex. We had been going out for two years by this point and had never had problems in the bedroom before. When we first started out, we were having sex twice a day. Not having sex changed our relationship completely but I was in denial so didn’t address it.

Then one day I was at the hospital for an unrelated issue and it came up with the doctor. I described my symptoms and was told it could be vulvodynia, where pain signals get mixed up in your brain even though there’s nothing wrong physically. I was prescribed this lubricant and a syringe that was supposed to numb the area and help us start to have sex.

We decided to give it a go without knowing we needed to wait about 45 minutes for it to work. We tried, it didn’t numb anything and I was in pain. And I thought – well, I’m not going to sit here slathered in lube for nearly an hour, I’m out.

I was put on to a medication that’s actually a really low dose of antidepressants – a common treatment plan for vulvodynia. I took them for a couple of months then decided they weren’t for me. I was also prescribed some vaginal dilators, but I could never bring myself to go and collect them from the pharmacist.

For the next six months we didn’t have sex at all. Maybe once when we were on holiday, but that was it. It got so bad we went to see a psychosexual therapist. Quite honestly, I had no idea what was wrong, why this has happened to me. I kept searching the internet trying to find women in the same position. I thought I was just a broken lady; that this was me done forever. This was the man I imagined I would marry and have babies with, after all. Then, the November after graduation, we broke up. He said it wasn’t about the sex but part of me knew that it wasn’t true.

I decided to download the dating apps and embrace being single. It went well with matches – my friends described it as my ‘post-university gold rush’. But I was so nervous about meeting someone and getting to the stage where he wanted to have sex. The first time I did get there, I was absolutely terrified.

I had met the guy on Tinder, we’d been on a few dates and I really liked him. One night we sat and talked till the last tube had gone. He cooked dinner for me, he was a real frontrunner. But of course I never mentioned my vagina.

“When I look back on my relationship and the problems we had, I think it was my body telling me it was no longer working.”

As a woman you don’t want to talk about your vagina not working properly – you’re meant to use it to have sex and have a baby and here I was having all kinds of crises about what I could no longer do with mine. But it was a few months since my break-up by this point and I was starting to want to have sex.

So I went to this guy’s house and we got down to it.

I was so nervous – but there were no problems, none at all. It all just worked. Here I was expecting a really long road to recovery but I wasn’t waiting for a broken leg to heal, it was in my head. And just like that, there were no issues. It was a proper celebratory moment for me (even though he didn’t know that).

I started seeing other people. One weekend I slept with one person on the Friday night then went on another date on the Saturday and he asked me back to his place – I still had my pyjamas in the bag from the night before so I went with it. Two guys in two days! I don’t want to make a habit of that. But I’m enjoying being able to have sex again. I thought it was gone for me.

When I look back on my relationship and the problems we had, I think it was my body telling me it was no longer working. My mum keeps telling me it’s because we weren’t “compatible” – she says by the end it was like watching a brother-sister relationship. And honestly when we were having sex it was a lot of me doing what he wanted and not thinking about myself. I think I lost a bit of my sexual identity along the way and that’s just how it manifested itself.

Now I’ve realised what it means when you’re sexually compatible with someone – it’s communicative, you can just enjoy it.

As told to Sophie Gallagher