I was a virgin when I got married.
I was a virgin when I got divorced.
I have a condition known as “vaginismus.” You can get an idea of what this is on Wikipedia or a general Google search, but basically in my case I had so much (unexplainable) fear of vaginal penetration that I was unable to have sex on my honeymoon or any time after that due to excruciating pain from the attempt.
Of course, this was an immediate problem to our marriage. I mean, sex is a big part of marriage and a psychosomatic disorder putting my vagina off-limits was NOT what my poor husband signed up for. Naturally, we were both disappointed, angry, confused, and in my case, guilt-ridden. I never told anyone about our failed honeymoon except for my best friend. I’ve never been so ashamed of anything in my life.
On the bright side, this is considered a curable disorder. Great success has been had with rigorous dilation routines, in some cases augmented by Botox injections under deep anesthesia to paralyze the muscles at fault. The dilation therapy route consists of (and I apologize for the graphic nature of this description) forcefully inserting plastic rods of increasing diameter into the spasming vagina and keeping them there for a set time in order to condition the muscles to penetration. The first attempts usually take hours to achieve full insertion. In my case, I was never able to get into a mindset where I felt comfortable enough or in control enough to fully insert anything, even a Q-tip or finger, into my vagina. My attempt at a pelvic exam was unsuccessful to say the least.
Now, why on earth am I writing about this, least of all as my first post on what I hope will be an intellectual blog on various subjects with the common theme of an author interested in identity formation, critical theory, theology, religion, and gender issues?
Well, I thought you might want to know where I’m coming from, and this is a decent and personal anecdote to illustrate my ideas about identity, sex, relationships, gender, and myriad other issues.
The bright side isn’t that vaginismus is curable. The bright side isn’t that my husband ultimately left me as he found our marriage unfulfilling and disappointing (though he never, to his credit, cited my broken vagina as the cause). The bright side is that on my first anniversary, while my husband was meeting with a lawyer to draw up our divorce papers, I bought a car.
During college, when all this marriage and divorce and vagina business went down, I would receive around $5000 every semester in scholarships on top of my free tuition and books. I was one lucky duck, for sure. The plan was originally to use this money to travel to New Hampshire where there is a doctor approved by the FDA to administer Botox injections to women under anesthesia and insert a dilator into their vaginas, after which they undergo the less-painful version of dilation therapy and eventually, 98% of the time, are able to have intercourse with their partners without unbearable pain. But, without a husband wanting to have sex with me, I didn’t really need this procedure. Not only because I was the old-fashioned type who doesn’t think she ought to have sex with anyone but her husband, but also because I didn’t want to have sex. At all. I was terrified of it from the beginning, and now I had nobody requiring it of me. So I drove that car off the lot and never once considered saving up for vagina repair again.
The freedom I felt did not cancel out the abandonment and heartbreak and guilt of the impending divorce. However, it was a huge burden off my chest that now, maybe, I wouldn’t feel that my value as a human being, or even as a wife, was connected to the condition of my vagina. I had a new identity, albeit not one I ever desired, as a divorcee. My body was my own again and for me this was an incredibly positive feeling. I no longer had to feel shame as a failure in my role as a wife. But it wasn’t just an internal change: family and acquaintances no longer inquired about my fertility on a daily basis. Suddenly, what I do wasn’t followed up by what my husband does. I also had the name I was born with back on my documents. The name of my whole family. The name that associated me with that clan of weird unique humans who are the only people I’ve consistently known and loved and kept close through my nomadic childhood. The name I got tattooed on my skin later that year.
Well, what’s the point? That my identity was changed so radically by my altered marital status? That I am happier as a single person than I was on a team? Perhaps I just think all people should be allowed to not have sex if they don’t want to and they still deserve love. Well, I certainly do think that. I can’t blame my husband for wanting to have sex since I had indeed promised it to him. But he had promised his devotion without any clause about which parts of my body he could put his penis into, so I suppose we were both a little blindsided.
I think the most pertinent point I can make from this story is that even with specialized knowledge of how identity works, it still has real-life consequences. Even if you reject an identity, it will still affect you when outside sources project it onto you, or assume that because you are (A) you must certainly (B).
My interest in identity is more than mental gymnastics to keep my critical thinking skills in shape: it informs how I live and how I perceive others to live. Most importantly, my sensitivity to the fluidity of all identities puts me at an advantage to relating to other people and ultimately, to loving them as they are.