Today, let’s dive into a topic that affects many of us but is often hush-hush – sexual pain.
This pelvic party crasher can bring not only physical discomfort but can also send ripples through our personal and professional lives. Problems that seem like bedroom issues often extend to every aspect of our lives. The shame and taboo around these legit health concerns make it hard to talk about. However, in the next few paragraphs, please join me as we explore the impact of vaginismus and other kinds of sexual pain on career women, from the medical and social challenges to how the impact can influence relationships and careers. Grab your cup of water and let’s chat about it! Why do you ask? Well, we all need to get 8 cups of H2O per day! (…sorry once a pelvic PT, always a pelvic PT!).
First things first, let’s talk about the medical side of things. Vaginismus isn’t just a myth; it’s a real challenge that many women face. According to studies from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), vaginismus affects around 2-15% of women worldwide, making it more common than we might think. These numbers for penetrative pain are as high as 50% in some cultures and religions. Pain with sex often may cause pain with medical exams. This makes women dread the annual gyno check! And that means many women miss life-saving medical and cancer screening checkups.
Let me repeat this for those who didn’t hear me the first time: Sexual pain like vaginismus is treatable. Vaginismus can cause severe vaginal pain during regular pelvic exams but because most of us can’t even talk about it…we instead avoid going to the doctor!! Do you see the dangers of vaginismus now? I get it..it is scary..the cold painful speculum is no one’s friend. So many women just skip routine check-ups. Women often rationalize this decision with “Well! I am not sexually active right now..so I don’t need my gynecology check-up” or “ I am young and mostly healthy and I get regular periods, so I don’t need my vagina examined!”
Or “ I will go to the gynecologist when I am thinking about having babies.”
Ladies……listen up..vaginal exams are for sooooo much more than sexual function or pregnancy checkups! Women can get vaginal infections, uterine problems, and cancers. Avoiding routine exams due to pain deprives you of the opportunity to prevent diseases – and sometimes, can put your life at risk.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room – the social impact of vaginismus. Sexual health is not something we can always discuss openly, which can lead to feelings of isolation and shame. This makes it even harder for women to seek support. The occurrence of anxiety and stress is higher in women struggling with pelvic pain. Managing your mental health while having a vibrant social life… Well, let’s just say – it is a tall order!
In today’s day in age with social media, it has become harder to avoid the dangers of comparison. Old wisdom tells us- comparison is the thief of joy! And yet all of us fall prey to it. Our digital life has a scary way of making us all feel inadequate. When you are dealing with hidden pelvic pain, it can feel unfair, isolating, and scary. Because no one talks about it, women feel alone and sad in many social situations. Even when surrounded by loving friends and family, not many women feel safe discussing such an intimate problem with their support system.
Now, let’s change gears and talk about relationship rollercoasters. For those who are partnered, penetrative pain can be an unwelcome guest in the bedroom. They have to face the social expectations of a “healthy” sex life while adjusting to this new challenge around pleasure. It’s natural to feel disappointed. For those who desire pregnancy, there is added stress of navigating “how to” when your vagina is closed shut! The battle between the career clock and fertility clock has most of us beat as is. No one needs the extra challenge of painful sex.
For those seeking partners- Dating is daunting as is. To approach the conversation of a certain “closed road” down south is like climbing a mountain in stilettos: It can be done, but …boy oh boy… no one would volunteer for this task!
Now, let’s talk about the impact on our professional lives. Vaginismus can be a career blocker, affecting our focus and confidence. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women with sexual pain disorders, including vaginismus, reported higher levels of distress and lower sexual satisfaction, which can extend to other areas of life, including the workplace. It’s like having distracting background noise during a crucial business presentation – not ideal.
Our careers are like a carefully choreographed dance, except most of us are dancing on a rope and one wrong move can cost us a lot! Most of us don’t have the flexibility and more importantly, we don’t have time. We are all time-poor, goal-driven, stressed-out superstars. When health challenges join the party, it can throw off our rhythm. Now imagine if the said uninvited health problem is in your lady parts… game over! You can’t talk about it…you can’t seek support…you can’t admit you have it, and yet you very much have it! The fear of judgment and misconceptions about sexual health can lead to anxiety and stress, affecting our overall well-being. Constant hidden struggles in private while continuing to feel pressured to outperform everyone at work is not impossible, but is definitely exhausting.
The financial cost of treating vaginismus can also be a concern. On average women experience vaginal pain / sexual pain for more than five years before they seek care. From doctor visits to potential therapy sessions, the expenses can add up. The cost of time investment in doing the things that need to be done is also often unnoticed. Not everyone has the privilege to make time for their health because it literally affects their paycheck. In some cases the time needed to take care of your health has to wait until things slow down at work… which …do they ever??? The higher up you are on your career ladder, the harder it can be to slow down and take time to solve a medical mystery.
However, investing in our sexual health is like investing in our professional growth – it might seem daunting at first, but the returns are worth it. The alternative is, well, wait and watch…and how has that worked out so far?
In the grand symphony of our lives, vaginismus might be an unexpected dissonant note, but it doesn’t have to be the finale. By acknowledging the medical, social, relationship, and career aspects, we can open a conversation surrounding this condition. It’s by breaking these barriers we are giving women the true power to embrace their life on their own terms. The world has conditioned women to shrink, take up less space, sacrifice, and suffer. For a long time, taboos about sexual health have been delivered as modesty and shame. It’s time we recognize these as simply treatable medical conditions and create awareness about them. Remember, ladies, your journey is uniquely yours, and there’s no shame in seeking help or sharing your story.
Dr.Darshana “vaginia warrior” Naik.