Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thoughts from Anna Rose, Part 3: "The Reactions I Get"

This is the third in a series of posts about my experiences with a sexual pain disorder, and my journey toward a cure.*

Since I try to be an activist about my disorder, I end up talking to a lot of people about it. I once called in to a radio morning show doing a segment on weird disorders. And no matter where I go, without fail, no matter who I talk to--everyone from that radio DJ to my grandmother--I always get the same five reactions:

1) Are you a virgin? No, I'm not a virgin. If I were a virgin, how the hell would I know I have such a disorder?

2) Am I just too tight? No, I'm not. Vaginal muscles are made to stretch. It would be some bizarre trick of nature if muscles that can get to the size of a lemon, and are made to squeeze out a baby the size of a melon, somehow couldn't accommodate an ordinary tampon. Although I suppose that it's a bizarre enough trick that sex hurts.

3) Well, maybe my boyfriend's just too big. That might be it. After all, my boyfriend, who is otherwise the size and shape of an ordinary human male, has a penis like a medieval battering ram--sorry, I'm getting snarky. It just gets old that men are constantly assuming that their organs, which are tailor made to fit into my organs, are just too impressive for my fair little body. Wanna talk about frailty? Ever kick a woman in the crotch? No? That's because it won't make her crumple.

4) Perhaps it's that I don't get wet enough. I should use some lube. You're a freaking genius. You're absolutely right, I should have gone out and bought myself a bottle of AstroGlide before subjecting myself to five years of poking and prodding by a dozen different doctors. Lube must be the answer, and after all this time, you're the first great mind to suggest it.

5) Wrong hole. Anyone who tells me this is a fucking moron, or probably covering up their nervousness and confusion.

I'm not being fair. It's not anyone's fault. No one is ever told these disorders exist, even medical students. People are just trying to figure out what's going on, somehow rectify such a thing with their own experience of sex. They're asking themselves these questions as much as they're asking me. So I'm patient, and I answer. Over and over.

And during my times as a wild college student, I had to explain to men--over and over--that, though I was perfectly willing to get into bed with them, I couldn't actually have sex with them. And in these instances, the reactions could not have differed more. I've had a large variety of encounters with a huge variety of men, across two continents. In my experience, there is no such thing as a typical encounter. And those encounters and reactions have taught me so much.

I had one man look at me like I'd just told him someone close to me died, then bundle me up in his arms and comfort me till he went home and did all the research he could. I didn't actually need comforting, as it happened, but I think he did.

I had another guy come half a centimeter away from raping me (I told him about the pain disorder but not the black belt). The thing is, I don't think he meant to do it. The realization of what could have happened shook me, but it terrified him. I think he just really didn't know how to process the information. He was different, gentler, much more tentative, for the rest of the night. This guy wanted sex really, really badly--but he wouldn't be a rapist.

My most educational encounter was with a friendly acquaintance--a classmate--who I'd been doing the we're-after-each-other dance with for a while. It was finals time of our juniors years of college, and we were both going abroad the following semester. We liked and respected each other, and were hot for each other. We had a fun night. But when I told him about my disorder, his shoulders relaxed, and he said, "Wow, that's a relief," and smiled a nervous version of his awesome smile. He'd been feeling the same pressure to perform as I had, and didn't actually want to--this attractive, charismatic, confident guy. Totally contrary to male stereotype, he didn't want to have sex, perhaps for all the reasons that women stereotypically don't want to have sex.

And I, who had a totally abnormal sex life, began to wonder: What is normal? Is there such a thing? What do normal college students do when they're alone in a room on a Saturday night in spring? And what did my friend think was normal? I'd assumed that there was some very general trend that I just wasn't privy to, and that night was the beginning of my discovery that I was wrong. Just like there's no typical reaction to my weirdness, maybe everyone has their own weirdness that everyone else reacts to in different ways. And when you look at it like that, if you think that every person is so different, and every combination of two different people just doubles the potential for quirkiness, how could there ever be such a thing as "normal?" I wonder if our expectations of a "normal" hookup come from Hollywood, just like so many other expectations.

If sex is so varied, and a combination of such personal expressions and explorations, how could those expectations, how could stereotypes, have ever developed in the first place? Victorian values, maybe, or some famous sex scene in the past. And I wonder if other people think they're weird for not fitting into those stereotypes--whether it be because they don't want them, don't like them, aren't good at them, feel nervous about them, or just aren't sure if they're part of the norm or not, and they're trying, to please their partner, who is of course definitely part of the norm.

Well, I know: I am not normal. I can't do what's normal. So I've had to work around that, I've had to create new expectations. It's taught me more about myself, and about sex, than I think I would have known otherwise. It's made me more open-minded, I think.

My favorite "I can't" conversation, and that dearest to my heart, was with a friend who said, "Okay," and smiled, and kept kissing me. I rode those endorphins for an entire day.

Anna Rose

*If you have chronic pain during intercourse and you know you have no history of sexual violence, you may have a pain disorder, and you should see a doctor. Get opinions from several different kinds of doctors, especially non-conventional if possible.


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