This is what it is to be 26 and never have an orgasm

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Emily * is a 26 year old female living in the Northeastern United States. She went to college for four years, works full time, and has an active love life. But she also lives with an invisible problem – one that has affected every relationship she has been in.

Emily has never had an orgasm, neither through sex nor through masturbation. She feels pain whenever her clitoris is touched or something is inserted into her vagina. Her doctors suspect that she has genitopelvic pain / penetration disorder – whose symptoms include pain and muscle tension in the pelvis, vulva and vagina when trying to penetrate.

“It’s more, obviously, than not being able to reach an orgasm,” Emily said in a recent interview. “Any kind of stimulation is painful.”

For years, Emily kept her problem a secret. Now she embarks on a search for answers. She spoke with Microphone on its course.

Brooke Cagle / StockSnap / Micro

Mic: When did you first realize that something was not the way it should be?

Emilie: Not before college. I was functionally asexual in high school – I didn’t date people. My friends weren’t really talking about masturbating. I didn’t masturbate, because I knew it wasn’t doing me good. So that kind of delayed crawling until I was with someone.

In college, I remember meeting a guy and I didn’t feel anything; it may have been related to sexuality stuff. But when I was constantly with a female partner and nothing was happening, that’s when the wheels started to turn.

In relationships, when and how do you tell your partner about your condition?

E: It gives me a lot of anxiety in the early stages of seeing someone, until the point where it becomes physical, because it’s not something you can hide. So I have to give this warning, and this conversation is always fair – it destroys me. It’s so scary, because my ultimate fear with all of this … is that no one will ever want to be with me because of this condition, this disorder, whatever you want to call it.

This is usually one of the first times we log in.

During sex, do you mostly end up being the donor?

The eyes. Because I know it’s 100% comfortable.

Have you ever inserted a vibrator or other toys into your vagina?

E: It was immediately removed – it’s hard to explain. It’s been attempted and violated, but it’s just so immediately uncomfortable that I push it away.

George Yanakiev / StockSnap / Micro

How would you describe the sensation you get around your vagina and clitoris?

E: Just dry, pain. Pain is the word that keeps coming back. Pressure. It’s not a dull ache – it’s like, sharp.

What would happen if you touch your clitoris with your finger?

E: It would hurt. I would need some lubricant. It is impossible, for example, to get things done naturally.

What about when something is inserted into your vagina?

E: It’s forbidden, because it’s another level. My clitoris, with lubricant and moisture, it can become a neutral feeling – sometimes even potentially, slightly positive. But my vagina – to put on a tampon is excruciating.

What kinds of things have you tried to do to reach an orgasm?

E: Vibrator, my fingers, someone else’s fingers, someone else using a vibrator on me.

You said you tried to hold a vibrator to your clit for hours.

E: Yeah. There is no appreciable increase – I don’t know what the word is -. Progression. No construction.

Sunset Girl / StockSnap / Mic

You saw a doctor for the first time about the problem in college. What did you say to him?

E: I worded it like this: “I can’t have an orgasm”. That’s all I was able to verbalize.

She gave me the names of two Laura Berman books. They were very heteronormative and for middle aged people. It was like, “Massage each other! Use wax!” You know, insulting. They seemed geared towards couples who have lost their fire.

Three years later, you broached the subject with another gynecologist.

E: I worded it like this: “I feel a lot of pain sexually. Maybe I just mentioned the clitoris this time. And she said, “Oh, that’s a very sensitive area! I’m not surprised by everything you say.”

In both cases, I was not transparent. I did not tell them everything: that everything is painful, that I have never reached an orgasm, that I have trouble getting wet.

Why were you holding back?

E: Because it’s so hard to talk about it.

Chelsea Francis / StockSnap / Mic

Finally, in 2016, you opened up to your gynecologist in an email. You told him everything.

E: When I sent this email, my doctor called me the same day. She gave me a lot of hope – she said she saw this all the time. I said, “But with people my age?” She said, “Almost entirely with people your age,” which blew me away.

Going through my records, she said, “There is absolutely nothing wrong physically. I would recommend dealing with this psychologically.”

Part of the email Emily sent to her doctorMicrophone

You also started seeing a clinical social worker specializing in sex therapy. She thinks you have genito-pelvic pain / penetration disorder.

E: She said, in her experience, that only in about 10% of people who report issues like mine, it’s actually something physical.

How did you react when you heard that it was probably something psychological?

E: Both hope and despair. If it was something physical, you’d be like, “OK, we have to fix this part – this mechanic – and we’ll be done.” This is the part of the desperation.

The hope part is that sometimes there are things physically – it’s just your biology, and there’s no way to fix it. So I’m like, “Oh, okay, I’m going to rework my way of thinking and my thoughts around sex or whatever. ”

Could it have to do with the environment you grew up in?

E: I grew up in a house that wasn’t sexually positive – and we’re trying to figure out how that affected things – but I don’t think it marked me for life or anything.

Do you have any ideas as to what could have caused it?

E: This is where the plot comes in, because there is no trauma. Nothing bad has ever happened. So it’s like, why do I have this block? Why can’t this happen? I want it so badly.

Ben Waardenburg / StockSnap / Mic

Was there some sort of defining childhood moment that could have affected your relationship with sex?

E: I specifically remember when I was very young, probably five years old, I was in the tub and touching myself. I didn’t think it was sexual – it was almost like a tickle, or something – and my mom said, “Don’t put your hands there. It’s disgusting, ”or something.

What do they say I was literally five years old and my mom still bathed me – that was so long ago – and it stuck? And at home, I literally never talked about sex. Never.

Did you learn sex at school?

E: And friends. Yes.

Have your parents ever said anything negative about sex?

E: No. Just – it was not discussed.

Chelsea Francis / StockSnap / Mic

What is your treatment plan for the future?

E: The [clinical social worker] I see recommended one of two women’s sexual health treatment centers [in the country]. But to get the reassurance that she accepts it, it’s pretty much a part-time job.

One of the treatment center websites had a practical guide to providing treatment. What does that say?

E: One of the options – how to pay for the treatment – was to get a second mortgage on your house. Or find a second job.

Why is it so difficult for women to get specialized treatment for this?

E: Even though it’s 2016, there just isn’t a priority. There are penis transplants, and Viagra has been around for about 15 years, but it’s just not a priority because in general society cares less about women.

Paul Green / StockSnap / Micro

Even if you don’t pay for the sexual health treatment center, you will continue to see your clinical social worker. What are his treatment plans for you?

E: She thinks – from what I’m describing – that this will probably result in me using this succession of dilators.

Would you keep them within you throughout the day?

E: No, she said you lay down and left it for half an hour, or something like that.

If it’s something psychological, how are dilators going to help?

E: She said that because I get so tense in sexual situations, it might be physically difficult for the moisture to work its way into me … So to undo that long term muscle tightening a bit, she recommends this . I didn’t start this.

As you work to address this, what is your ultimate goal?

E: My goal is to have a fulfilling, happy and positive sexual health experience. And I really want an orgasm. People make it seem like it’s pretty fun.

* Names have been changed to allow sources to speak freely on sensitive topics.

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