Nobody knows how strong the link is between body and mind quite like us women. Not to mention young women, just exiting their teen years and entering into the freedom of adulthood. Some days we’re obsessed with our bodies! The way they look, feel and all the amazing things they can do. Other days, a sidelong glance in a mirror can leave us feeling like our own personal rain cloud is hovering overhead the whole day long.
20-year-old Holly Marquis is one young woman who is probably more aware of the intense relationship between body and mind than most. Holly was diagnosed with vaginismus, the involuntary contraction of the pelvic floor that can cause pain during sexual activity, a few years ago. While this was a physical diagnosis, the effects have also been felt on her emotions and relationships.
Holly explains that she began to feel pain during intercourse with her boyfriend, which worsened each time. Before this Holly had never experienced any discomfort during sex.
“Progressively it became more painful each time I tried, and I became anxious about having sex,” Holly describes how the physical pain effected her emotionally, “By persisting through the painful sex, my brain came to associate any form of penetration with pain, which then caused a lot of anxiety during sexual intercourse. So, whilst the diagnosis was mostly to do with my physical state, the involuntary contractions came from anxiety towards the potential pain caused by sexual intercourse, which then in turn caused more pain,”.
After four months of the issue persisting, Holly decided to do some research of her own. Like so many women who experience vaginal pain, she wanted to know if she was the only person having this painful experience.
“I found a variety of different cases that sounded similar to mine. After attempting to persist a bit longer, I spoke to a friend’s mum about what had been happening, and she suggested I go to the doctor to see if there was a deeper issue,”.
It was assumed that Holly developed vaginismus after a particularly long urinary tract infection when sex became uncomfortable. After receiving the diagnosis from a gynaecologist, Holly was referred on to a women’s physio who helped her figure out exactly what her diagnosis meant and the affects it was having on her body.
“She helped me understand the pelvic floor, and how to contract and relax it through a variety of exercises. I was also given a series of relaxation recordings specifically for pelvic floor treatment to do exercises at home that helped me gain control of my pelvic floor and desensitise the area,”.
Holly’s experiences with her doctors was overwhelmingly positive, with each and especially her gynaecologist understanding her needs and treating her issue with emotional sensitivity. She explains that they helped her to understand the nuances of vaginismus and to be optimistic about her recovery.
Unfortunately, Holly’s diagnosis had a heavy impact on her romantic relationship. She cites neither her nor her partner knowing what was happening for a long time as a source of friction within her relationship at the time.
“We were both understanding and patient with the process but it caused a lot of frustration and in some sense estrangement from each other,”.
Now Holly is nearly completely recovered from her vaginismus and has much more control of her pelvic floor muscles than when her illness was at it’s worse. However, she’s still unable to do certain things like use tampons during her period.
“I've found that with sexual intercourse, what is most important to my condition is to have a deep level of trust with my partner, and that they understand that at times my body may not function 100% and that that is perfectly ok!”.
Holly want’s other women who have noticed pain or changes in their body to speak up and know that there’s absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. After all, the pelvic floor is just set a set of muscles in the body like any other.
“I found the more people I spoke out about my diagnosis to, the more girls I found that had been going through similar issues and hadn't felt like they could speak about it. The time spent to try and resolve these issues is absolutely worthwhile. You will feel in control of your body again, and further in control of your relationships,”.
Holly’s message of women being in control of their bodies, health and relationship’s is one that we can definitely get on board with.
Words by Alicia Franceschini