Posted: Sat, January 26, 2013 | By: Special Guest
by Amy Shaw
When Sarah first got her period, she just used a pad. She was squeamish about the idea of inserting a tampon and thought nothing much of it.
But as she grew older, she felt increasing pressure from others – particularly her mom – to begin using tampons.
(this essay was originally published at Everyday Feminism - republished here with their permission)
Yet every time she tried to insert one, she’d panic. It hurt, and the humiliation and sense of failure that followed made it more difficult each time.
Throughout middle and high school, it seemed like everyone was using them effortlessly, even kids younger than her.
She found herself sitting on the toilet over and over again – reading the directions about how to insert a tampon – and not being able to do so.
Since she couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her, she just attributed it to her “box of crazies.”
Why It Made Her Feel Insecure and “Crazy”
To Sarah, her inability to use tampons felt tied into the fact that she’d felt socially awkward in middle and high school with boys and had body image issues.
In fact, her vagina problems made her feel like she was unlovable and brought out all her insecurities.
When her friends talked about their boy troubles and how to put in tampons, she sat there thinking how she had never had a boyfriend or used a tampon.
Without the ability to use tampons, Sarah couldn’t do a bunch of activities she wanted to. It seemed like every time she went near water, her period popped up and said “Oh, look here I am! Now Sarah’s not going to have fun again!”
Finally, one night at a summer camp, she told herself, “OK, I am going to do this.” She went to the bathroom, struggled for what felt like hours to put a tampon in, and fell asleep.
The next morning, anxious about having a tampon in for 6 hours for fear of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), she rose early and tried to remove the tampon.
But no matter which way she pulled or how hard, she couldn’t seem to move it.
In a panic, she rushed to a computer and began looking up the symptoms of TSS. When she realized TSS seemed to fit her situation, she fainted in front of the computer.
Waking up, she dragged herself weakly back up to bed. Finally, she managed to yank out the tampon and collapsed in bed.
When she went to the camp nurse about what happened, Sarah was told that she had had a panic attack.
And that was the end of that until October.
Experiencing Intimacy for the First Time
It was during her semester abroad in college that Sarah began experimenting with intimacy with men for the first time.
Anything sexual that involved her vagina was often painful. But she attributed it to her own skittishness or men being too rough.
And then, during one hook up with a guy, the guy said something that she found unforgivable.
He told her that her vagina was too small.
That stopped her cold for a while and brought up all of her previous anxieties.
She talked to him about what he said afterwards and explained that you can’t say things like that to women. It’s like telling a guy that his dick is too small – you just don’t do it.
But even though she had confronted him for what he had said, his words stuck with her.
During her semester, she went to her campus health center because she was experiencing strange vaginal itching. And that was when she finally got some answers.
Medical Answers for Her “Crazies”
While at the health center, Sarah casually mentioned that she had been finding it impossible to use tampons. Her nurse, Nancy, suggested that a manual exam be conducted because she had seen other women with similar problems.
Knowing that she was going to be examined, Sarah found herself shaking uncontrollably and unable to relax. But finally Nancy was able to insert her pinky finger into Sarah’s vagina.
After the exam, Nancy explained what was going on.
Sarah’s vagina was too small for a penis to pass because she had an annular hymen. That meant that Sarah had a very narrow, thick hymen that made penetration extremely painful.
Sarah’s first reaction was, “wait, I won’t be able to ever have sex…EVER?!” Nancy replied, “well… not unless he has a pencil dick.”
Through this talk, Sarah learned that while the size of her vaginal open caused some of the discomfort, it was partly also because Sarah had an intense reaction to inserting anything into her vagina – from tampons, fingers, tongues, etc.
She had essentially developed a pain trigger that was similar to women who have been sexually assaulted. She expected pain so her muscles involuntarily tensed waiting for it, which made penetration of anything difficult.
Thankfully Nancy also told her that there was a minor surgery to widen her vagina that would allow her to use tampons and have sex.
Despite the shock of learning about her condition, learning about the surgery was life changing. She finally had a medical explanation for her “box of crazies.”
Waiting for the Surgery
Publically, Sarah was strong after finding out. She learnt more about her medical condition on the internet and had multiple doctors affirm the diagnosis.
Sarah started opening up and talking about her “mutant vagina” jokingly with friends or even with complete strangers, people – both men and women.
And she found something surprising.
Not only were they incredibly supportive, people often shared stories of their own vaginal problems or of their friends. It was an immense outpouring of love and support, which she really appreciated.
Yet privately at the same time, Sarah was experiencing a lot of emotional stress.
She joked about going back to her room and crying in the fetal position and then she actually would do it. She had never been a crier before but found herself crying often.
She was terrified of the possibility that she might get a portion of her hymen removed and she would still be “crazy.”
The months leading up to the surgery were bleak and dark with worry. And always there was an intense anxiety associated with a sense of waiting…just waiting.
So Sarah experienced both these reactions – laughter and sadness.
When the date for the surgery approached, new anxieties surfaced.
As an avid feminist, Sarah knew that she wouldn’t slut-shame herself for wanting to be able to have sex.
But she was concerned that her family might think she was getting the surgery to have sex.
Post-Op: A Tub of Lube, a Box of Tampons, and Some Success
The aftermath was difficult for Sarah.
What if the stiches fell out and her pee stopped being bloody and she still wouldn’t be able to put a tampon in? Would her “crazies” still be there even though her vagina was physically able now?
But as she began to heal, her doctor told her that she could use lube and insert tampons. So she journeyed to the local Walgreens to purchase some.
Once there, the lube that she bought pegged her as someone who was into kinky stuff in her mind. As she put it on the counter, it seemed like it was a vast tub of lube. But she swallowed the embarrassment and bought it anyways.
Upon getting home with her purchase in tow, she sat on the toilet and tried to insert a tampon but only got it half way in. After surgically removing her hymen to use a tampon, this was crushing.
But a while later, she finally successfully inserted one and felt exhilarated. She texted all her friends to say that she used a tampon and was thrilled.
Where Sarah Is Now
Since the surgery, Sarah has used several tampons. While she hasn’t had sex, she thinks that women should treat their virginity in whatever way makes them happy, whether virginity is constructed or not.
Sarah’s perseverance and strength shows that not everyone’s body is built the same. She hopes that everyone who thinks that they might have a similar issue goes to get themselves checked.
Sarah wishes that she had known about her medical condition earlier. But now that she does, it’s really important to her to share her story so others could feel a little less crazy about their “weird” vaginas.
Because actually no one should be ashamed of their vaginas and how they turned out.
Sometimes they can cause problems.
And it’s nothing to be ashamed about.