Stephanie Muller grew up in a Christian household and she decided she wanted to wait until after she got married to have sex. The 23-year-old met her husband Andrew, 31, in 2013 at their local church in New York.
Two years later, they started dating and two years after that, they married. They decided that they would wait until their honeymoon to have sex together for the first time. But when they tried, penetration was too difficult and Stephanie ended up with a severe yeast infection.
She was given medication but it didn’t work and the infection lasted over three months. When she had a pelvic exam, the pain was so severe, she shook, screamed and cried. After the infection eventually went way, she tried to have sex again, but again it wasn’t possible.
In January 2018, she saw a gynaecologist, who told her the problem was she has a condition called vaginismus; where the vagina suddenly tightens up. Stephanie said that her diagnosis took a long time because she hadn’t realised it was a problem until after she got married. She explains:
‘Saving sex for my wedding night was my personal choice. I wanted to save sex for my wedding night because I didn’t want to have sex with anyone that wasn’t my husband,”
‘I personally believe that sex is a very intimate and special thing, and I didn’t want to share that with someone else that I would not end up marrying. I think oftentimes this is seen as a burden or shame-filled tradition, but I genuinely felt that it would be the best thing for me.’
After her diagnosis, she was referred to the Vaginismus and Women’s Therapy Centre but as told that this would not be covered by insurance, so she prescribed her with Vicodin, a medicine used to relieve moderate to severe pain, to have sex with her husband. For years she felt ashamed that she wasn’t able to have sex with her husband and that their lack of intimacy made her feel like they were friends.
‘My husband and I have talked about how vaginismus really de-sexualised our relationship; it was almost like living with a roommate,’ she said. ‘We would even be careful about other physical things because neither of us wanted to suggest trying to have sex, be disappointed, and the night ending in tears.’
In 2018, Stephanie felt she needed to do something to tackle the issue and started to look at other things she could do. ‘Around September 2018 we had a very honest conversation about the physical part of our relationship and how it was affecting us.
‘We then made a decision to not give vaginismus so much power over us that we would hold us back from being playful, affectionate and physical. ‘I think this really helped us begin to emotionally, mentally and relationally heal, even prior to going into treatment. I bought a dilator set online that came with a couple of books, but I personally didn’t find them helpful.’
Stephanie was eventually treated at Women’s Therapy Centre in Plainview, NY, and she said they have helped her condition. She added: ‘My husband and I went to our consultation appointment in January 2019, began treatment in late March 2019 and were healed and finished with treatment in May 2019. ‘Having vaginismus is a heavyweight, and what largely makes it so difficult is the isolation and shame that comes with it.
‘I felt really embarrassed, broken, and like I couldn’t talk about it with anyone. Andrew and I felt like we lost this really big thing and we had to grieve it all alone. My husband has been incredibly supportive throughout my journey with vaginismus. Anytime that I would say negative things about myself, he would always reassure me that none of those things were true and that he loved me. He would constantly remind me that he wasn’t going anywhere, even if the vaginismus was never healed. He also drove me and was there with me for every appointment, even though he didn’t have to.’
After having treatment, Stephanie felt more willing to open up about her condition, speaking first to friends about it. She now wants to raise awareness of how it can impact women. She said: ‘A big dream of mine is to do public speaking engagements. I have a variety of topics that I am interested in, but one of those topics is definitely vaginismus.