She was taught that sex was dirty and shameful, so she was never allowed to talk about it. In her family and culture, this thinking was considered the highest form of modesty. But unfortunately, this “modesty” led her to have so much anxiety about sex and nudity that she didn’t even feel relaxed enough to let her own husband touch her. In fact, she’d developed a condition called “vaginismus” in which her body literally closed up, preventing any penetration. So even after she got married, she was unable to have sex with her husband for more than one and a half years. Read some of her story below.
The following is an excerpt from the book Let’s Talk About Sex and Muslim Love by Umm Zakiyyah:
In this interview, Tasniya, a young Muslim woman, discusses how vaginismus prevented her and her husband from having sex. She says:
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!
What are some of the causes of vaginismus?
According to Ditza Katz and Ross Lynn Tabisel, authors of Private Pain: It’s About Life, Not Just Sex, some causes are:
- Being worried about the fragility of the vagina
- Fear of pain
- 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
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?
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.
When you reached puberty, did you know what was happening? If so, what did you know about this physical change? If not, why not?
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.
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?
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.
Do you recall feeling confused or frustrated as a child or young adult regarding any “taboo” subjects? Please explain.
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.
When did you first discover you had vaginismus? How did you know there was a problem? What happened?
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.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. Join UZ University to learn how you too can find your writing voice and share inspirational stories with the world: UZuniversity.com
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