So, something that was really important to me while making the VagEsteem podcast was to highlight and elevate the stories of women. If you're interested in hearing women's VagEsteem stories, you can click on the Podcast tab and listen to a diversity of stories. One of the stories was submitted by Jackie, and I'm publishing with her permission.
Special thanks to Jackie and thank you for sharing your story with your story. It's a privilege
My name is Jackie. I wanted to contribute to the podcast, but after writing, I realized I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. **Trigger warning, I include reference to sexual assault and an abusive relationship.**
The first name I learned about my genitalia was vulva. My parents were pretty good about letting me know what the anatomic names were. It wasn’t until I went to friends’ houses in kindergarten that I realized other people called genitalia other pet names.
I didn’t have much of an opinion about my vagina growing up, and didn’t know what it was until my mom took me to a mother/daughter class that talked about periods and other puberty stuff. I just knew that my bathing-suit area was private, and not for anyone other than a doctor to examine. Even though I had been given an anatomical name for a part of external sex organs, it was by no means complete. I didn’t know what a clitoris was, and when being bathed, I can still remember hurting because I was cleaned too aggressively. I also didn’t know that the labia minora could be bigger than labia majora, and when they grew, I tried to “tuck” them in to make my body look like the illustrated pictures in the body books that were available at home and school. I thought I was a freak of nature.
Puberty came very early for me. I had breast buds by third grade, and my first period in fifth grade- before the “FLASH” (family life and sexual health) unit. I was pretty uncomfortable with being one of the first girls in a bra (no one told me I didn’t need to sleep in it!) and waddling around with a maxipad while delivering candy and valentines to the class felt like the ultimate juxtaposition of girlhood and womanhood.
My first sexual partner made me feel good about my body. We were young (together from age 14 to 17), in love, and experimental. But we didn’t have intercourse, we felt too young, and by the time we felt maybe ready, he was months away from moving thousands of miles away. His mom gave us surprisingly good advice, “If you have sex, this will be the new boundary for you, and you will want to continue, even when you are separated.”
In college, I had a completely different experience. One partner made me feel inadequate. He wanted me to shave all of my pubic hair. He didn’t like performing oral sex, even though he didn’t seem to mind receiving. He thought the only good type of sex was with a penis inside a vagina. He didn’t like wearing condoms. He made me feel bad about wanting to wait to have sex, and coerced me into my first time, about a month into our relationship, guilting me into it. A couple months after that, we were having sex, and it hurt, a lot. My vagina felt like it was on fire from being stretched and pulled. He wouldn’t stop when I asked, then pleaded with him to. I can’t remember how much time passed, but he finally stopped. Later, I would realize that this was rape.
I became disconnected from my vagina. I thought the pain was from an STD, but I was tested, and everything came back negative. Instead, I self-diagnosed myself as having dysparunia. It’s fairly common with women who have experienced sexual trauma, but none of my doctors ever told me that was a possibility, they just told me to stop using scented soap.
I used my vagina as part of my healing because I wanted to be the one to say “yes” and prove I could. Sex had no intimacy for me. It was all about regaining control. So I said yes, and yes, and yes to men, just because I could. I didn’t think anyone would want me for a committed partner, I didn’t think I was worth anything more than what my vagina could offer.
Fortunately, things have changed for the better. I have found people that treat my vagina with respect. It took years of counseling and meeting a wonderful partner before I could physically enjoy sex again. We have been married for three years, and to this day, my partner will still check-in with me, asking, “Are you good?”
“Yes.” Yes, I am good. Thank you for asking.
And thank you to vagesteem for offering a way for women to speak openly about their vaginas!