Meet the Vulva Girl
Though not widely discussed in mainstream media, plenty of folks experience unwanted vulvar pain, and may be at a loss of where to go and who to turn to for more information. Women walk into our store frequently with questions about their health, and what they can do about the pain they may be experiencing during sex. At Come As You Are, we are always working harder to make sex easier, so in the spirit of our values, we have contacted Amrit, founder of the Vulva Girls, to get more information and spread the word so that we can get the support, information, help and empowerment we need!
Tons of folks come into our store everyday to approach us about unwanted pain during sex play. It seems to be a very common phenomenon, why do you think it's not widely talked about?
It is very difficult for someone to be open about their pain when they have no way of identifying it. Often, women go through more than 5 practitioners before receiving a diagnosis for sexual pain after repeated rejection from doctors, invasive procedures and in some cases losing support from close friends or partners. Ultimately, the public knowledge is not there. Both women and men need to have sexual pain disorders in their vocabulary so that it can be easily identified and begin to be managed – in the same way that we know how to identify a flu. If someone can recognize that they are experiencing the symptoms of sexual pain then the healing journey can begin that much sooner, before damaging procedures and psychological detriment.
We are able to speak openly about chronic pain in our limbs, for example, but when it comes to our vagina, which biologically is another set of muscles, it is not so easy. Our vulvas represent the seat of our sexuality and to experience pain in our most intimate areas everyday has massive effects on our psychological/emotional wellbeing and more specifically our perception of self and sexual identity. This is what happens when a person’s sexual expression is stifled and why it can be very difficult to speak openly and confidently about sexual pain.
How did you become involved with The Vulva Girl Support Group?
Sexual pain is most often a battle that women find themselves fighting on their own. The Vulva Girl Support Group arose from the desire to change this. It was the National Vulvodynia Association (www.nva.org) that ultimately led me to a diagnosis after years of online research and confusion. Having the NVA as a resource felt like I had an army behind me - but it was a faceless army. I became interested in connecting with others experiencing my same trials and guiding women in pain away from unnecessary uncertainties and isolation. After interviewing for and assuming a volunteer position as provincial support leader, I noticed through the support work that the numbers were simply not adding up. According to the statistics there are thousands of women in Ontario experiencing sexual pain - but where were the and how to bring them out of the shadows? I recognized that the issue is rooted in the lack of awareness and saw the necessity to start locally. I wanted to foster an active and engaged community of women within a local network of resources and support – so I founded The Vulva Girl. I thought, if I was a superhero, I would be The Vulva Girl and sexual pain would be my arch nemesis.
What can a newcomer to the group expect at The Vulva Girl Support Group?
Support in every way possible! The strength of The Vulva Girl lies in our face to face social interaction - real women making real connections. It’s a unique network. We are not just women in pain. We are also practitioners and supporters. Some of us are leading pain free lives and helping others towards the same happy ending. Members instantly become part of our strong network of women experiencing sexual pain, practitioners and healers. We connect through a variety group activities and discussion forums but also provided one on one support sessions.
Sexual pain is usually something members don’t want to scream from the mountaintops. Not to worry – The Vulva Girl is a completely private group. This means that your information is in a safe and secure place. All support group content such as meet-up times and locations, resources, membership profiles, discussion forums etc. are visible only to members and each member is approved individually by yours truly :)
We also skype in members who are not able to join us in person so no matter how far you are from the GTA, we encourage women to join!
What kinds of activities do you folks do?
We have a range of group activities including our regular meet and greets for sharing experiences, resources, etc. Certain meet and greets include a specific topic for round table discussion such as relationships or pain management techniques. Our Professional Seminar Series connects women in pain with the knowledge they need to heal through a series of intimate discussions with practitioners engaged in fields with the most success for healing pain and easing pain management such as physiotherapy, acupuncture, CBS therapy, sexual therapy, tantra and much, much, much more. We will also be holding yoga classes focused on gently pelvic stretching, mindful meditation and muscle relaxation in the fall.
Your mantra at The Vulva Girl Support Group is "pleasure over penetration," can you elaborate on this?
The Vulva Girl group is pleasure’s biggest fan. We are dedicated to helping women find sexual satisfaction and enjoyment which is ultimately their birthright. By virtue of experiencing vulvar pain, women are practically forced to confront their bodies. I like to think that we are given the unique opportunity to become deeply in touch with our bodies since our healing depends on it. In many cases, women with vulvar pain haven’t been given the opportunity to mature sexually because our vagina simply says ‘no’. There is difficulty in finding partners who are willing to patiently explore a sexual relationship with a no-entry girl, but I see that most women in pain don’t know where to begin that journey. We get so hung up on that fact that nothing can go inside that our priority turns from being pleasured to being penetrated. I am a firm believer in that fact that you can be an utter babe AND have a sexual pain disorder. I’m having better sex now than back when I was pain free because I have explored so many sexual avenues in my continuing healing journey. Believe it or not, you can have a chronic pain condition and a juicy, steamy sex life - and we cannot wait to show you how!
It seems difficult for folks to find health practitioners who are knowledgeable and respectful about sexual unwanted pain, why aren't doctors more aware of this?
I wish I could give one clear reason that explains everything but I am going to have to lean on my personal experience with practitioners and my work as a support leader. My inclination is that doctors are not as educated on sexual pain disorders as they ought to be for women’s health issues, though improving, has generally lagged behind in Western medicine. Generally the attitude is that it looks like every other vagina therefore the pain must be in your head – and just like that, your health issues are excommunicated from the Western medical world because nothing can be done for you. This being said, there are vulvar and pain clinics in the city of Toronto that are there to help women. The problem is that women in pain don’t even know they exist because they haven’t found any conclusive diagnosis with the doctors they have seen. I feel that the revolution in women’s health issues is ongoing - while sexual dysfunction is becoming better known, it is still fairly mum. Also, women were less likely decades ago to speak openly about sexual dysfunction to anyone, MDs included. There is a social stigma that plagues both men and women’s health, and it is that our sexual organs should just function properly – that if you can’t get off or get up, something is wrong with you – and this attitude desperately needs to be eradicated. I believe that the social stigma, though still present, has evolved since that time and allowed for an environment in which women can speak begin to speak openly about their pain.
Do you have any suggestions for folks who might be reading this and experience unwanted vulvar pain? Are there some take-home tips that you might suggest, or is everyone's experience really different?
Healing for vulvar pain is something that needs to be tailored to each individual person. There is no single way of treating chronic vulvar pain but there are many techniques including physiotherapy, acupuncture, western and eastern medicine, CBT therapy, tantric therapy and more. Finding professionals in these fields is an intense research process and The Vulva Girl seeks to consolidate that knowledge into one body to help you find out what form your healing journey can take.
There are initial steps that can help all women be receptive to healing. The most popular phrase I hear in my support work is "I thought I was a freak". Terrible, yes, but at a closer look extremely magical. Thought. Past-tense. This is the first step in initiating the healing journey: realizing that you were never alone, you are never alone, and you will never be alone. The next step is seeking support and taking advantage of it. If you have access to a support leader or resource, milk it! It’s also a good idea to keep up to date on the advancements in sexual pain healing methods. And the most important part: listen to your body. Do not force it to do anything it does not want to do.
You have a upcoming seminar for The Vulva Group Support Group, would you like to talk about it?
Absolutely! The Professional Seminar Series connects women in pain with the knowledge they need to heal through a series of intimate discussions with practitioners engaged in fields with the most success for healing pain and easing pain management. As part of this series, we will be exploring psychological approaches to sexual pain and opportunities offered by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Hypnosis, and Energy Psychology techniques (e.g., Emotional Freedom Technique - EFT) with Dr. Sandeep Hunjan, Clinical Psychologist on the evening of Friday, Sept 7th. Dr. Hunjan will also be hosting an EFT workshop later in the month and Yoga samplers will kick off in October!
Do you have any suggestions for other possible resources? Websites? Books? Etc...
A lot of published and online material can leave women dazed and confused in dealing with sexual pain. Because it’s often a problem women first tackle alone, they have likely combed through a lot of this material. I highly recommend ‘When Sex Hurts’ by Andrew Goldstein MD, Caroline Pukall PhD and Irwin Goldstein MD. The National Vulvodynia Association is at the frontlines for raising awareness at institutional and political levels and they also have great resources and booklets for women experiencing sexual pain. The Vulval Pain Society is wonderful too! The Vulva Girl will also have a vimeo/youtube channel which we will be uploading book reviews, vlogs and other goodies.