Monday, April 2, 2012

Impact of Childhood Experiences

During my first gynecological appointment, the nurse asked - as I was sobbing - "have you ever been sexually abused?" I was stunned and also embarrassed that this exam caused me to cry so much that someone would think that. For years, I wondered if I had been sexually abused without remembering it. Nothing else made sense for explaining why I was the way I was. It wasn't until I was in my mid 20s that I determined - with the help of a sex therapist - that I hadn't been sexually abused. I still struggled with understanding why I was afraid of sex, why I couldn't insert anything or stand to look at my vulva, why I never saw my college boyfriend of over two years without his boxers... But at least I could stop worrying that I had repressed memories of sexual abuse.

About five years or so ago - again, with the help of a great sex therapist - I figured out that an experience I had as a middle-schooler might have had a significant impact on me. When I was in the sixth grade, after multiple UTIs, I had a catheter to determine if there was anything seriously wrong. It was a painful and humiliating experience. Imagine being in a room with a bunch of strangers, having them insert a tube into your urethra, and then being asked to pee in front of everyone, but being unable to do so (to the point where they eventually turned on the faucet to try to induce me to go). I was frightened, embarrassed, and in pain. It was my first experience inserting anything into that area and it was negative and confusing.

Even though I always had a hunch that this catheter contributed to my vaginismus, it was always just that - a hunch, a best guess. It was important for me to find the "cause," but could an isolated incident (so long ago and so brief) have really caused this lifetime of struggle?

Yes, according to psychiatrist Dr. Anne Hallward. She's conducting a study about the impact of childhood medical procedures on women and she's looking for participants. Here's more about it - please contact her if you're interested and let her know I sent you:

Research on the Impact of Childhood Medical Procedures:
It is not uncommon for girls to get a UTI when they are quite young, and to undergo various medical procedures to both diagnose and treat the infection. To date, nothing has been written about the impact of such invasive genital procedures on the life of these girls as they grow up. I am looking for women who had a urinary tract infection (UTI) as a child and had treatment for it, including either catheterizations, hospitalization, or other urethral procedures like dilation, or imaging studies. I would like to schedule a time for an interview that may last up to an hour about how this experience has affected your life as an adult. I am interested in looking at how such medical trauma is both overlooked in the life of a child, and may have far reaching effects on your relational, sexual, professional and emotional life. If you would like to participate in this research, your name will be kept confidential and any identifying information will be changed in publications. Please contact Anne Hallward MD at ahallward(at)gmail.com

I received an email with this description through a vulvodynia support group I'm in and was so relieved to see that I'm not alone in my experience. I talked to Dr. Anne last night and she was a kind and compassionate listener and asked good questions. I was amazed to learn that other women have had similar experiences that impacted them through adulthood. After almost every issue/feeling I shared - no matter how embarrassing - Dr. Anne let me know that I wasn't alone and that other women reported similar feelings and experiences.

If this resonates for you, please let me know in the comments section - even though I don't respond to everybody, I really appreciate hearing from you! You can also email me at livingwithvaginismus(at)gmail.com

Finally, I encourage you to get in touch with Dr. Anne Hallward if you've had a similar experience. I'd love to see her study published - both for letting women like us know we're not alone and also for influencing practitioners in how they conduct medical procedures with children. Maybe we can help make a difference!


14 comments:

  1. I'm really happy for you that you were able to find a potential cause as to why this (vaginismus etc) happened to you. Hope this helps you grow.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My story is so similar to yours it's scary. I had a procedure done involving urethral catheterization when I was eight years old, and I have recently come to realize that this may have had a significant impact on the issues I have now. For the longest time, I struggled with wondering if I had been abused in my early childhood because of my reaction to any sort of contact "down there." At my first gynecological appointment, my nurse practitioner asked me the same thing. Thanks for sharing about Dr. Hallward's study.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you so much for posting this. I was 4 when I had an IVP done which involved a catheterization. I've been told constantly that I couldn't possibly have been traumatized by it or that if I was, I was the only one. This means a lot to me.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I didn't have a catheterization but I did have an extremely traumatic medical situation 10 years ago which is the cause. I feel so alone and I'm so fed up of medical people judging me and looking at me like a freak when I have to explain that I'm a virgin. If something hurts you generally don't do it- its not rocket science!!! Feeling so low about this...

    ReplyDelete
  5. This article is very interesting. I developed vaginismus to what I now believe was due to a bad experience. My issues were down to psychosexual problems so I trawled the web looking for solutions. I did not want any more prodding and poking by doctors and gynaecologists. I tried hypnosis but gave up after the first session. I felt a bit intimidated. Then I found an interesting website with loads of information on vaginismus, and smears which concerned me as I was physically unable to cope with these. My PC muscles were simple too tense and I would literally jump off the table when someone tried to examine me. The site is called www.vagi-wave.co.uk. The solution was a small silicon tapered rod, a bit like a tampon but with curves along it. It seems crazy but by using this inside me for 21 nights my PC muscles started to sort themselves out. I actually went for smear soon after and also intimate relations have now resumed. Basically my confidence improved and my fear diminished. I am not sure how. I suppose it is like confronting your fear again and again without any problems…you soon get over it. I hope that this information helps who ever reads this article. Paula

    ReplyDelete
  6. Would you be willing to get in touch with me if I gave you my email? I'd really like someone else to talk to about this who has experienced this.

    Thanks...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! You can email me privately at emartin.vag(at)gmail.com. I'm happy listen/offer advice/resources if you want it. You're not alone!

      Delete
  7. What I believe to be the cause of my vaginismus is very similar. I was 14, and having bad abdominal pain, to the point that my mom took me to the emergency room. The doctor (male) thought I might have an ovarian cyst, and reached up inside to see if he could feel one. I had never even used tampons, this was my first experience with penetration of any sort. And it hurt so bad I was literally crying. Turns out it the pain just went away, but I was stuck with vaginismus. I didn't even realize I couldn't have sex until 4 years later.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I know this post was from awhile ago but I have had the same experience. I had bathroom issues as a toddler and three doctors had to hold me down and insert a catheter while I was screaming and trying to get away (they made my mom stay in another room). I'm tired of living with vaginismus. In June 2014 I'm going to see the doctors at women's therapy center in New York. I can't wait!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carrie, you will be cured in NY! I went this year and it was the best thing I've ever done for myself. I'm so excited for you!!!!

      Delete
  9. Hi Carrie (and Anonymous from April 2013!) - thank you for sharing your experience with me/the blog. It's always good to know we're not alone with this. Feel free to email me directly at emartin.vag(at)gmail.com if you want to keep corresponding. I will update the blog soon - I've started using more mind/body techniques/approaches, which is really helping!

    ReplyDelete
  10. HI, I've had the same curious thoughts and same struggles with wondering 'have I been sexually abused, and totally forgotten about it.' I love the consideration of other impactful situations in my childhood, I'll have to take the consideration.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I was sexually abused as a child but also had a traumatic experience with a forced catheterization where I had to be held down while I was screaming, right after my 5th birthday. I have vaginismus now too. Sorry you're also dealing with this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so sorry to hear that. Sending you healing vibes!

      Delete