It was a gorgeous, sunny Saturday, so naturally I was deep in the reference section of the library reading the DSM-IV-TR,* as you do, and I happened to come across the section on vaginismus. (*The newest one is the DSM-5, but it wasn’t available while I was there.)
“Vaginismus is an involuntary spasm of the musculature of the outer third layer of the vagina, which makes penile penetration difficult or impossible. The diagnosis is not made if an organic cause is known. Although a woman with vaginismus may wish to have intercourse, her symptom prevents the penis from entering her body. It is as though her vagina says, “No!” In lifelong vaginismus, the anticipation of pain at the first intercourse causes muscle spasm. Pain reinforces the fear and on occasion, the partner’s response gives her good reason to dread a second opportunity to have intercourse. Early episodic vaginismus may be common among women, but most of the cases that are brought to medical attention are chronic. Lifelong vaginismus is relatively rare. The clinician needs to focus attention on what may have made the idea of intercourse so overwhelming to her: parental intrusiveness, sexual trauma, childhood genital injury, illnesses whose therapy involved orifice penetration, and surgery.” DSM-IV-TR, p 1074, 2004.
This is absolutely shocking. I can’t believe they acknowledge that vaginismus is the vagina saying “no,” but they classify this as a disorder! That is a blatant example of rape culture. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of the misogynists who create this book that the vagina has a right to say no and that this is completely normal and acceptable behavior, since heterosexual intercourse is not necessary and is unpleasant to some women.
This week I also read a conversation between some lesbian detransitioners about how they didn’t know how to relate to their genitals and their sexuality because their sexual feelings didn’t match what they were taught about female sexuality. (More on this later.) This all makes it clear to me that we aren’t done talking about female sexuality, particularly lesbian sexuality, because people are still going around thinking that women are receptacles for male sperm, and that any women who don’t like being treated this way either have a disorder or aren’t real women. This is ancient fucking misogyny and I am really pissed that this is sticking around.
(It’s too bad we don’t have a feminist sex-positive movement that tells the truth about female sexuality and fights against rape culture, so that women can enjoy sex safely and in ways that work for us. Instead, we have a bunch of fucking idiots going around calling themselves “sex-positive” while promoting pornography, prostitution, and BDSM, all institutions which exist for the benefit of male abusers and to the detriment of women. That shit is abuse-positive, not sex-positive.)
PIV sex is culturally forced on all women–it has reached the status of institution and is expected of every woman whether she wants it or not. I’ve also written before about how lesbians are being taught to interpret their natural sexual desires as evidence of maleness in this post. I’m going to be repeating myself a bit here, but that’s okay. Since saying no to dick is still considered a disorder, and since lesbians still believe they’re men, I figure this is worth repeating. Besides, as a radical man-hating lesbian feminist blogger, writing against PIV is literally my job.
*rolls up sleeves*
Let’s start with vaginismus. This condition is generally caused by fear of intercourse and previous trauma. The involuntary spasm of the muscles is obviously a defensive reaction against something the body fears. Why does this even need to be treated? Why would you try to remove a defensive reaction from a traumatized woman in order to subject her to the same incident that traumatized her before? (Answer: misogyny.) This is so hateful it’s amazing that anyone can suggest it with a straight face. The treatment for vaginismus is, of course, more penetration. If we lived in a woman-friendly culture, the cure for not wanting to have sex would just be not having sex. The DSM-IV-TR mentions “pairing relaxation techniques with progressively larger vaginal dilators (p1075).” That sounds a lot like “Close your eyes and think of England.” Just relax, ladies, and accept the exact same penetration that caused you fear and pain in the first place, until you finally learn to enjoy it, or at least fake enjoying it. Because it doesn’t matter what women want, it just matters that men can continue to dominate us.
The website vaginismus.com, which exists in order to sell a book and kit to women in an attempt to cure them of their bodies’ legitimate defensive reactions, has some more shocking information about this “disorder.”
Some non-physical causes of vaginismus, according to vaginismus.com:
“Fear or anticipation of intercourse pain, fear of not being completely physically healed following pelvic trauma, fear of tissue damage (i.e. “being torn”), fear of getting pregnant, concern that a pelvic medical problem may reoccur, etc.”
These are all legitimate reasons not to have intercourse.
“General anxiety, performance pressures, previous unpleasant sexual experiences, negativity toward sex, guilt, emotional traumas, or other unhealthy sexual emotions.”
Why is negativity toward sex an “unhealthy sexual emotion”?? It is entirely reasonable to feel negatively toward sex, especially when you are female. The risk of pregnancy and infection are always there, plus in this culture, sex for women often means being disrespected and abused by partners who are addicted to porn and full of male entitlement. Why on Earth would women who feel negatively toward sex be encouraged to have more sex? This is rape culture.
“Partner issues : Abuse, emotional detachment, fear of commitment, distrust, anxiety about being vulnerable, losing control, etc.”
If you are having relationship issues such as abuse and distrust, then dump the boyfriend, don’t buy a vaginal dilator!
“Past emotional/sexual abuse, witness of violence or abuse, repressed memories.”
Once again, why should abuse survivors have to repeat the incident that traumatized them?
There are also physical causes, such as medical problems, results of recent childbirth, surgery, vaginal dryness, or insufficient foreplay. All very good reasons not to have intercourse.
Vaginismus.com has a page devoted to treatment. This page sells you their book and kit which takes you through everything you need to know about how to override your body’s reactions and submit to your husband or boyfriend who wants to penetrate you against your will. Their ten-step program makes tiny mentions of relationship issues and prior trauma, but it mostly talks about how a woman can relax her pelvic floor muscles and practice inserting objects into her vagina despite the pain it causes. It uses rapey language such as “how to override involuntary contractions, relaxing the pelvic floor so it responds correctly to sexual penetration.” BARF!
That sentence from the DSM-IV-TR is still haunting me. It is as though her vagina says “No!” The medical establishment has been considering a woman’s “no” to be a problem for decades, and of course, the capitalist patriarchy is going to benefit from the gas-lighting of the medical community in order to sell us products that “cure” our legitimate need to say “no.”
One of the reasons why this particular sentence is haunting me is because I remember a time when I attempted intercourse and my vagina said “No.” (Actually, I think her exact words were, “No way dude, get the fuck out.”) At age 18, when I was in deep denial that I actually preferred women, I had sex with my friend who we’ll call “Joe.” I believed I wanted to, and I was happy while driving to his place, and we did the things I believed I wanted to do, but my body didn’t respond. I barely got wet at all, and I ended up drying out completely when he penetrated me. I dried up enough that we couldn’t continue. We awkwardly stopped trying and neither of us were satisfied. At the time I had no idea what was wrong. Despite years of finding female friends attractive, I believed that my body would respond to heterosexual intercourse. I believed this because of the strong heteronormativity in society—every bit of culture I was exposed to told me that all people were heterosexual, and when I learned about sex from books and sex ed classes I saw the diagram and the explanation of what sex is—“when a man puts his penis in a woman’s vagina.” I was taught to believe that this was the most important and enjoyable sex act humans can partake in, and I was baffled as to why it didn’t work for me. I tried it again multiple times, believing I’d figure out how to make it work someday, but it never did. In university I was sleeping with a guy regularly and using artificial lube because I wasn’t wet enough. I was discussing this with a female friend and she had to sit me down one day and explain to me that it’s not normal for a horny 21-year-old to be dry during sex. She helped me to realize that I actually wasn’t enjoying it because I wasn’t excited by men. I couldn’t escape the denial anymore—I knew it was true.
Look at what the medical establishment suggests for someone like me, whose vagina said “No” to heterosexual intercourse even though in my mind I believed I wanted to. Neither the DSM nor the vaginismus website mentions the possibility that the woman could be homosexual. Nor do they mention that a heterosexual woman might not want intercourse and might prefer other forms of sexual activity. Their suggestion is getting over the fear and pain and doing it anyway. Women have the right to listen to their bodies and go with what feels good and avoid what doesn’t feel good. Instead of being taught a sexuality that suits men, women should be taught to trust their bodies and pay attention to their own reactions.
If I was creating a book for women with vaginismus, it would be very short. In fact, I’ll publish the whole thing right here for you to read:
Purple Sage’s Radical Feminist Cure for Vaginismus:
Step 1: Don’t have heterosexual intercourse.
Step 2: Tell your boyfriend or husband to fuck off.
Step 3: Consider becoming a spinster.
Done! Problem solved, and no dilators needed.
So what did we learn from this study of vaginismus? I didn’t write about this topic to shed light on an involuntary muscular contraction. The point here, of course, is that female sexuality is constructed by patriarchy. The male-run medical establishment creates propaganda in the form of medical textbooks teaching women that our sexuality is to be a passive receptacle. Popular culture, including pornography, also churns out propaganda teaching women the same thing. Religion teaches us that our role in life is to be married heterosexual wives who produce children. Absolutely nothing in our culture teaches us the truth about female sexuality—that we have an active sexual desire of our own that comes from our organ of sexual pleasure, the clitoris, and that the emotions, desires and preferences that live in our brains determine what the clitoris will respond to. The clitoris will not respond to people who aren’t pleasing to her or to situations she doesn’t like.
This concludes part 1, and in part 2 I will finally get back to that conversation I mentioned between detransitioners who thought they were male because they had a normal, active, clit-centered, female sexuality.