For 10 years, I have avoided penetration because of pain

Pamela Stephenson Connolly
Illustration: Guardian Design/Getty

I am a 32-year-old woman and for 10 years I have been struggling with vulvodynia and vulvar vestibulitis, which means I feel pain when the entrance of my vagina is touched or stimulated. So I have been avoiding penetrative sex for all these years. I have never been confident with my sexuality, even though I experienced a short period of happy sex before getting ill. I also have a lot of difficulties getting aroused because I know I will experience pain.

My friends say that I am a special person with so many other qualities. I am sure that with the right person I could slowly get my confidence back but I find it hard to believe that I will find a man who can be understanding about this aspect of me. Sometimes I see myself being lonely for ever. I would like you to let other people know of this condition that is ruining many young women’s lives.

I am happy to educate others, but are you aware that a skilled and accredited sex therapist can help you with this issue? There are treatments specifically for vulvodynia and vulvar vestibulitis, and a trained professional can also help you being comfortable having non-penetrative sex with another person. Sex involves so much more than penetration, and it is important to learn to be open to a wide variety of erotic connections.

Remember that the central physical focus of your sexual pleasure – where most sexually relevant nerve endings are – is your clitoris, which is presumably unaffected by your vulvar issues. If a lover does not understand that clitoral stimulation is the best way to please you, to lubricate your vagina well in order to make comfortable penetration possible and to bring you to orgasm, then you need to teach that person. And “teaching” frequently involves showing them specifically how, by guiding their fingers to the right spot and motion. You never need to feel guilty about advising a partner that during lovemaking you may prefer solely clitoral stimulation; many women feel this way – even those who do not experience vulvar pain. To reciprocate, practise bringing a partner to orgasm orally, manually or in other non-penetrative styles.

Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

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