Tag Archives: bodies

Sexism makes female sexual dysfunction a hidden problem

The first time I had sex, it hurt. A lot. I have vaginismus, which refers to painful intercourse. I’m sure this is a pretty common occurrence for many people, so I just shrugged it off. After all, sex education taught me that pain is something to expect the first few times you have sex, and that if my partner couldn’t get an erection it was ok – it was just nerves. I never once heard that the pain may continue, and I suspect this is the case for a lot of women. When it continued for more than a year, I finally conceded that something must be wrong.

Female Sexual Dysfunction, often abbreviated to FSD, is a catch-all term for a range of different conditions, from painful sex to lack of arousal. Around 43% of women and 31% of men have reported some degree of difficulty in their sex lives. Despite the higher number of women reporting difficulties, Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is more widely recognised in mainstream media and the amount of research into it also far outweighs the research into FSD. Much of the research into both ED and FSD is very Viagra-centric – but scientists are not even sure whether this works for women.

Unsurprisingly, due to the lack of research, doctors are pretty clueless when it comes to FSD. When I first told my doctor that I was unable to have penetrative sex, it was automatically assumed I had a lack of sexual desire due to depression and anxiety. But I have a high sex drive. I was also shouted at and told to relax when the doctor was having a hard time examining me. I didn’t get the diagnosis I expected – in fact, the doctor didn’t even give the condition a name. I was made to feel as if FSD isn’t a common problem.

I was eventually referred to a gynaecologist after waiting 6 months for an appointment. I felt excited that I’d finally have an answer to my problem, completely putting my faith in what I thought was an FSD specialist. Hope started to fade when I didn’t even see myself represented on the posters in the waiting room. It was clear that if I was here, it was for help with post-menopausal dryness or pregnancy problems.

There are a range of treatments available for all types of FSD. These include lubrication, psychosexual therapy, Botox injections, numbing gels and vaginal dilators. Dilators range in size from a tampon to average penis size and are designed to help you relax and get used to the sensation of having sex. I’d heard about these through different forums, and they seemed to work for some women, in conjunction with therapy.

During my appointment, the gynaecologist suggested I try vaginal dilators. I was pretty excited, as I’d heard good things about them. But my excitement was short-lived when the gynaecologist’s assistant didn’t seem to understand what vaginal dilators were, and then told me that the hospital didn’t have any. I asked if I could get them on prescription. They’re a medical aid, so why wouldn’t I be able to? I was advised, however, that I’d probably be better off spending £50 to buy them on eBay. I couldn’t resist making a joke that I’d better make sure I didn’t get a second-hand product. She also advised that maybe, just maybe (but probably not) I’d be able to get them at a local pharmacy. This is completely unacceptable treatment for such a common problem.

I’ve also been given a numbing gel that is supposed to help with the pain, but that option is problematic in itself. What is the point of having sex if you can’t feel it? Am I expected to lie back passively? Yes, I want to remove the pain, but I also want to feel something.

The examination was a painful experience that didn’t answer any questions. I’ve been put on a waiting list for an indeterminate amount of time for various scans and psychosexual therapy. It’s a long process, and only time will tell whether any of these things will work for me – it’s pretty much just ‘suck it and see’. There’s no little blue pill.

The great thing is, dilators and psychosexual therapy work for a lot of people. The problems lie in the diagnostic process, the availability of dilators and other treatment options, the amount of research into FSD, and the general lack of visibility. If you’re suffering and not being heard, keep going back to your doctor and demand that you be taken seriously. Always get a second opinion. FSD needs to be talked about a lot more. It’s not acceptable that women are suffering, ignoring pain and feeling inadequate when there are adverts for Viagra on TV.

Emily Griffith is a freelance writer specialising in at-home activism and mental health. She tweets at @AtHomeActivist and blogs at The Agoraphobic Feminist.

Photo: Huffington Post

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