It’s 11pm and I’m in pajamas, scanning CVS’s shelves on a silky summer night in LA. I exhale as I finally find what I came for. I pluck a tiny, pink battery-powered vibrator from the back of the store and walk the labyrinth of trendy streets back to my friend’s couch where I’ve been crashing for a work trip. I tear off the packaging, then my pants, running to rinse the toy under the sink. I take a deep breath to settle into myself.
I turn it on. I recognize a pulsing against me, a distant sensation that has a sound without shape, one that I’m witnessing, but has nothing to do with me. I’m reminded of drilling construction work, incessant buzzing for a building being built that isn’t mine. I might as well be the leather couch I’m pressed against, immoveable, inanimate, empty.
I can not feel anything.
I’m scared and confused. I call my partner crying.
It’s been weeks and I’ve tried everything. I have no feeling in between my legs. Not only does nothing excite me, but I’m numb to the touch. All I did was take a cross country flight and now, it seems, my body is broken.
I take the flight back home but it doesn’t reverse itself; it doesn’t go away. I move in with my partner, the both of us so used to touching, roaming, feeling each other, and still I feel nothing.
Until all of a sudden I start feeling again — but the only thing I feel is pain. At this point in my life, I’ve climbed mountains and descended volcanoes barefoot. I’ve spent days without food or water with only a plastic tarp to wrap myself in from the cold. I’ve been feverishly sick in the jungle for weeks without medicine. I can handle pain.
This is different.
This feels like a tearing of my flesh so deep it tears my soul, salted sandpaper grating against the tenderest parts of me, taloned claws ripping any sensation of pleasure or normalcy away. My partner can’t enter me without my sobbing. I can’t wear tampons or the menstrual cups I loved using to save my blood for when I watered the plants. My body refuses to have anything inside her.
I go to the doctor, the gynecologist, I search for articles online.
But it isn’t. My flesh is on fire. My skin is burning. I can’t stop crying.
This isn’t normal.
I am broken.
It isn’t until my friend suggests the word — vaginismus — that I discover what all these professionals didn’t know, or wouldn’t say.
Vaginismus is described as vaginal tightness causing discomfort, burning, pain, penetration problems, or a complete inability to have intercourse.
With this new word, I’m armed with recommendations for dilators and penetration buffers. “Little by little,” they tell me. “Start slow.” But these tools don’t help because I’m not even sure this is the condition I have. Once something is inside, it’s not so bad. It’s the entering and exiting, the passing through of my canal, that burns like acid.
There’s another word, vulvodynia, which is a chronic pain in the vulva, described as a sensation of burning, stinging, itching or rawness. That sounds right, but where it hurts isn’t technically my vulva either. Even with these community diagnoses, I don’t fit; my pain exists in the in-between.
I keep asking questions, but only get shrugs in response.
Even with these community diagnoses, I don’t fit; my pain exists in the in-between.
Nothing helps. I feel hopeless and like my body decided to drop me, shattering all my pieces in such a way I’d never be able to find them again. My partner starts taking my pain personally. I start taking his reactions personally. The thing that was most beautiful between us starts destroying us. I don’t feel confident. I don’t feel like a woman. I feel broken. My relationship breaks too.
We separate and I start dating with what feels like the biggest secret. My pussy won’t work and no one knows how to fix it. My soul is broken and I don’t know how to fix that either.
I disassociate, I black out constantly, I’m terrified of sex — but more than being terrified of sex, I’m terrified of disappointing someone else with my body.
Fast forward a few years to today.
I can have intercourse again. Physical intimacy no longer overwhelms me to the point of convulsing tears. I still cry sometimes, but because I’m in the moment, not because I’m scared. I’m able to communicate, to be wholly present, to explore. I’m able to trust myself.
So many people suffer like I did, but so few of us talk about it.
If I hadn’t shared what I was going through with a friend, I never would have discovered that my experience was common, there were even names for it — even if having names for what I was feeling didn’t always help. There may not be consistent research or science-backed solutions, but that didn’t make my pain any less valid or real.
So how did I start moving through all of it?
I learned I wasn’t alone in what I felt — and if you experience anything like what I described, neither are you. Once I was affirmed, once I stopped feeling absolutely crazy, I could start healing.
I realized that the reason I felt pain was because my body was protecting me.
My body was asking for communication with me, and no longer was allowing herself to be ignored. She was asking for me to earn back her trust. So I started doing everything I could to do that.
I had spent years feeling like a puppet, my presence leaving my body so often I was constantly watching myself from above, my limbs being pulled on by invisible strings. I was always floating, me, the cloud, right above my head. I noticed it stopped only when I started dancing, moving my hips so quickly I had no other choice but to lock into my body, experience my skin sweating, bare feet pressed into the floor.
I danced and danced and started exploring other ways to integrate the power I felt in those moments to extend into the rest of my life.
When I was dancing, I wasn’t people pleasing; I wasn’t performing. When I was dancing, I wasn’t suffering from the severe anxiety and panic attacks I felt in all the other moments I accidentally came crashing back into.
In order to truly make this shift, I began working with a teacher, who I call my witch doctor, and through intense, consistent practice, he helped me uncover the patterns that allowed me to continually betray myself and my body. He also helped me see how I’d been dehumanizing men — seeing them as monsters only capable of hurting me — in a very similar way that I’d experienced them dehumanizing me throughout my life.
It’s taken time to deconstruct all the illusions I had about myself and the world I live in.
I’m not afraid of myself anymore, and I’m certainly not afraid of anyone else. I am experiencing a freedom in pleasure unlike I ever thought possible, and have chosen to create a career around helping others do the same.
It sounds like the biggest cliché, but what I thought had broken me was really just a portal into all the power I possessed.
So if you are where I was, I promise there’s a way through. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but I can tell you from where I sit, the journey is worth it.
FOR PHYSICAL & MENTAL STRESS RELIEF
FOR RELAXING RITUALS
FOR ALL OVER PAIN RELIEF
Meet the Author
Arielle Egozi (she/her) @ladysavaj
Favorite Form of Self Care
I am so hypersensitive, that the surest way to regulate my nervous system is to calm it with nature. I've started getting into the ritual of making coffee with cardamom, cinnamon, and a blend of mushrooms, putting it in a mason jar, and walking the few blocks to the beach with it in the mornings. Sometimes I bring a journal, but usually I'll just sit with my feet in the sand feeling the wind brush against my body as the early sun warms my skin.