Tasniya Discusses Suffering from Vaginismus
In the blog “Her Body Says No to Sex,” Umm Zakiyyah gives a brief introduction to the condition vaginismus, which is described by Drs. Ditza Katz and Ross Lynn Tabisel in their book Private Pain: Understanding Vaginismus & Dyspareunia as “a panic attack in the vagina,” which is often triggered by cultural upbringings that teach girls that sexuality and female and male genitalia are sources of shame and “dirtiness.”
In this interview, Tasniya, a young Muslim woman discusses how vaginismus prevented her and her husband from having sex for more than one and a half years.
Umm Zakiyyah (UZ): Please tell us a little bit about yourself: your name, age, ethnic background, marital status, and where you spent your childhood and young adulthood.
Tasniya Sultana (TS): My name is Tasniya Sultana and I am 23 years old. I was born in Bangladesh. When I was around 3 years old, I went to Australia and I spent my childhood there. At the age of 10, I came to USA which is where I live. I got married straight after college in 2012 and now I am living with my husband.
UZ: Before we talk about what led to the condition vaginismus, can you please tell us what vaginismus is, what the symptoms are, how it develops and why, and who is most susceptible to this condition?
TS: [According to Women’s Therapy Center], the basic definition of vaginismus is [the following]:
“…the instantaneous, involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor muscles in anticipation of vaginal penetration. This reaction will occur if penetration is perceived as upsetting, painful (even before attempting it!) frightening, or dangerous, making the body scream out loud, ‘NO ENTRY!’ Occasionally, vaginismus will be caused by a physical problem such as a birth defect, or surgery. Either way, it is a vagina in panic…”[i][In the book, Private Pain: Understanding Vaginismus & Dyspareunia, the authors tell us]:
“Vaginismus affects adolescent girls and women of all ages, all cultures, all religions, all socioeconomic and education levels, singles, married, and lesbian couples alike. A common myth is that vaginismus is caused by a physical problem like an infection in the vagina or an allergic reaction but that is not the case. Usually, males explore their genitals from a very early age since their genitals are visible and they can see them quite clearly. Therefore, men usually understand their body and know what they like and what they don’t. However, a females’ genitals are internal, invisible, and not usually explored. Therefore, there is this mystery associated with the vagina because many females never explore or even look at it before they are sexually active. For this reason, the ‘mysterious and unknown vagina’ can be very scary to many females. In addition, a person’s upbringing and emotional health will also play a part in determining whether she will develop vaginismus or whether she will be able to explore her body and emotions. Any traumatic experience, especially to the genital area (whether it’s physical, verbal, emotional, psychological) can have an adverse effect on the body and the mind and can bring about vaginismus as well” (Katz and Tabisel, 94-95).[ii][About women’s sexuality, the authors say further]:
“We also need to understand that in a sexual relationship, often the women carries the emotional burden of being ‘done to’ while the man is the ‘doer.’ Therefore, this carries an enormous weight on the female because they usually have a lack of control and are “choice-less” even if the man is understanding, non-forceful, and the act is consensual. This same emotional feeling also transfers when a women has to go through a pelvic exam, where the gynecologist is given permission to enter the woman’s body yet the women is reluctant to accept this penetration due to a lack of control” (Katz and Tabisel, 95-96).
As a summary, some of the causes of vaginismus according to Katz and Tabisel [are]:
- Fear of the body and its function, fear of the “unknown.”
- Being worried about the fragility of the vagina
- Fear of pain
- Past illness/surgery/medical procedures
- Religious Inhibitions and taboos
- Cultural variations
- Parental or peer misrepresentation of sex and sexuality
- The inability to say No to an unwanted sexual situation. [This] causes the feeling of being forced, of being option-less, of the need for self-protection, and thus vaginismus
- Childhood sexual abuse
- Parental indulgence and over-protectiveness
- Failed Penetration experiences
- Fear of penetration and infection
- Loss of Control
- Physical and social causes
For more detailed information about each of the causes, I highly recommend to buy the book Private Pain.
UZ: How can sufferers of this condition get help?
TS: Sufferers of vaginismus can get help by visiting www.womentc.com. It is called the Women’s Therapy Center and this is the place where I went to get cured and I got cured 100%. Alhamdulillah [All praise is due to God], the doctors are amazing and really know what they are doing. I highly encourage anyone who is suffering to reach out to this clinic because it has changed my life.
UZ: Thank you for taking time to educate us on this condition. What inspired you to do this interview?
TS: When I got married and I wasn’t able to consummate my marriage, I was very confused. I went to several counselors, Imams, and gynecologists but no one really understood me. I felt isolated and depressed because I thought I was the ‘only one’ going through this. For example, my gynecologist gave me an exercise to do: she told me to buy the smallest tampon in the store, put lube on it, and try to insert it into my vagina. It was a nightmare for me! I just couldn’t do it and I felt like a failure every single time. Therefore, at one point, I seriously considered leaving my husband because I felt as though I was being unfair to him and he deserved better. Feelings of shame and guilt overwhelmed to the point where I was really having difficulties living a normal life. Insha’Allah [God-willing], my husband and I want to start a family some day and I thought that I could never do such a thing because I couldn’t even have intercourse!
Alhamdulillah, after making du’aa [prayerful supplication] to Allah (SWT) and doing some research, I came across the clinic in NY [New York]. I realized my condition actually has a name and I’m not some sort of weirdo because there are others out there just like me! Then, I realized that if I am a Muslim woman who was suffering silently, I am sure there are other Muslim women who are also suffering silently. This is a taboo topic to talk about and no one likes to admit that they can’t have intercourse (especially after marriage). That is when I decided that I have to spread awareness about this so I can help the ummah. I want our ummah to know that there is a cure and vaginismus can be a thing of the past insha’Allah!
UZ: What are some of your memories as a child and young adult that you feel are significant in shaping how you felt about your body, specifically as a female?
TS: I always felt uncomfortable in my body. I have low self esteem and body image issues. I was always under the impression that things like the period or menses are a dirty thing. I would always be ashamed of my pad leaking, which I believe contributed me to ultimately be ashamed and disgusted by my vagina. Because I didn’t realize that menses are a normal part of the life, it became something that was unnatural to me.
I also associated pain, shame, and disgust with things like intercourse. I don’t think I was ever taught that intercourse is a pleasurable thing for the husband and wife. No one ever told me that intercourse is pleasurable in the eyes of Allah (SWT) when it is done in the confines of marriage. Therefore, mentally I conjured up this negative image of intercourse and associated pain and disgust with it, which ultimately led me to having vaginismus.
UZ: When you reached puberty, did you know what was happening? If so, what did you know about this physical change? If not, why not?
TS: When I reached puberty, I had no idea what was going on with my body. The first time I had my period was a traumatic experience. I thought I had cancer and I was afraid to tell my parents because I didn’t know what they would think. Finally my mom saw me crying and I told her what had happened. She gave me a pad but I never really understood what was going on and why I was having my period all of a sudden. Therefore, this lack of understanding of what truly happened in my body could have resulted in having vaginismus.
UZ: As a teen and young adult, how did you feel about your natural feelings toward the opposite sex? Did you talk to anyone about these feelings? If not, why not? If so, who, and how was the topic addressed?
TS: I always felt ashamed of having feelings toward the opposite sex. In my mind, I thought I was sinning and God would punish me for having these feelings. I would try to contain them but I couldn’t. I would talk to my friends about these topics but that’s about it. We were all going through the same thing and we really didn’t understand what was going on. I would enjoy talking about boys with them but afterwards I’d feel guilty because I thought I would go to Hell for even talking about such things.
UZ: Do you recall feeling confused or frustrated as a child or young adult regarding any “taboo” subjects? Please explain.
TS: I always felt upset when I couldn’t openly ask or speak about certain topics with my family members. I remember an aunty of the family once telling my mom how ‘advanced’ children have become these days because they know so much about topics like intercourse and sex. She remarked how back in the day children were so innocent and because they didn’t know what intercourse or sex was until they got married. It almost seemed that because children are learning about these topics at an early age, they are somehow “messed up”. So it would often frustrate me because I felt like those aunties were talking about me. I learned a lot about sex from my classmates and health classes in school. However, I didn’t think I was a “messed up” child for knowing these things. It almost seemed that being ignorant about the world was a sign of purity and being knowledgeable was a sign of impurity. It just didn’t feel right and I felt very conflicted.
UZ: When did you first discover you had vaginismus? How did you know there was a problem? What happened?
TS: Before marriage, I had a gut feeling that something would go wrong. Every time I would think of having intercourse, I felt nervous or afraid. However, I thought all girls felt that way because it is something new for them. I first discovered I had vaginismus after I got married. I couldn’t consummate my marriage so I knew something was wrong. We would try for hours and hours to have intercourse but I just couldn’t. I would start panicking and crying in bed. I was so afraid to open my legs up even when my husband would try to. If he tried to touch my vagina or anywhere near that area, I would move his hands away and push him.
When he tried to enter me, it literally felt like he was hitting a brick wall. I started to think something was wrong with me anatomically and maybe I didn’t have a hole or something. It was frustrating and I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t know exactly what it was and the traditional doctors or gynecologists did not know either.
Another experience that confirmed that something was wrong with me was when I went to have my first gynecological exam. It was a nightmare. I was freaking out and my heart was racing. When the gynecologist came to do my pap smear, I was so terrified. I was not about to let her put that instrument inside me. It looked so big and scary! She tried to put her small finger inside me and the pain was excruciating. I started crying and I told her I did not want to go through with the exam. So my husband and I left. I was so embarrassed. I felt like I failed him. I failed us. Again, I had no idea what was wrong with me but there was something wrong indeed.
UZ: What do you believe was most significant in causing this condition for you?
TS: I believe the lack of understanding and knowing my body was one of the primary causes for this condition. In addition, having self esteem and body image issues was also a major contributing factor.
In Part 2, Tasniya discusses what women suffering from this condition should do and how parents, husbands, and Muslim communities can help. She also shares common mistakes made by friends, family, and Muslims that only worse the condition for sufferers. (Read PART 2 HERE)
To learn more about vaginismus and other female sexual health issues, visit the website for Women’s Therapy Center at womentc.com or read Private Pain: Understanding Vaginismus & Dyspareunia by Ditza Katz, PT, Ph.D. and Ross Lynn Tabisel, LCSW, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2014 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.
[i] “Penetration/Pain Disorders” retrieved from http://www.womentc.com/conditions-and-treatments/penetration-pain-disorders/
[ii] Katz, Ditza, and Ross Lynn. Tabisel. “What Causes Vaginismus?” Private Pain, It’s about Life, Not Just Sex …: Understanding Vaginismus & Dyspareunia. Plainview, NY: Katz-Tabi Publications, 2002.