Content note: This post refers briefly to blood and even more briefly to sexual assault. It also briefly describes a positive experience in a medical setting. If any of those things are hard for you, feel free to give this one a miss – you are the priority ♥
I had one of the best secondary school sex and relationships education experiences out of all of my peers. I know this because I spent a significant chunk of my time at sixth form educating my peers about safer sex, since, whilst they were being shown shame-inducing close-ups of oozing genital warts, my cohort were rolling condoms onto a model penis and discussing things like peer pressure and the relationship between booze and consent. I was the resident Sex Friend, who answered questions unabashedly (sometimes with diagrams) and collected free condoms on others’ behalves.
I was also living with and ignoring cervical erosion (sometimes called cervical ectopy) for about four years.
I was starting to investigate the sex positivity movement online. I had heard time and time again that penetrative vaginal sex isn’t supposed to involve the painful tearing that pop culture suggests it is, not even when you’re doing it for the first time – but I had somehow autistically assumed that painless bleeding was fine. I knew something funky was going on with my connective tissue, so I assumed that I was sometimes experiencing small tears in my vaginal canal when I was getting dicked down, and that’s where the blood was coming from.
Reader, I carried this assumption with me for four years.
The thing is that the sex positivity movement was trying to convince its audience that sex is awesome (which is very frequently is) and that’s it’s nothing to be afraid of (which is usually the case). I think it was for that reason that nobody I read or watched or listened to discussed vaginal tearing in-depth; they just advised their audiences to avoid it.
In part, I was embarrassed to mention it to anybody because I thought it was a result of user error. I like deep, rough fuckin’, often with minimal foreplay (mostly due to impatience and my wildly unpredictable sex drive meaning that I seize every opportunity to get my nut out). I was noticing mild-to-moderate discomfort as I was initially being penetrated, and then I was carrying on regardless. Some traumatised part of me was convinced that I would be ‘in trouble’ if I admitted that I was being, ahem, less-than-gentle with my vagina, and so I just mopped up blood-streaked cum (mine and/or others’) in private and tried to put it out of my mind.
The only reason I spoke to a doctor about it at all was because I mentioned it to my mum during one of our many discussions about the symptoms we have in common, since she has similarly fucky joints and similarly fucky connective tissue. I brought it into the conversation offhandedly (“And do you get, y’know, bleeding after sex?”) but as soon as I’d said it, my mum was very obviously surprised – and alarmed. She all but insisted I mention it to my GP, who took one look at the section of my notes specifying I was on oral hormonal birth control and started drawing me a diagram of my cervix on the first piece of scrap paper he could find.
He explained that it was quite common for people in my age bracket, especially those using hormonal contraception, to experience cervical ectropion – wherein some of the cells that are meant to be on the insides of the cervix creep out of the neck and sit outside, on the wall of the vaginal canal. At least, that’s how I understood it – and I understood, too, that raw tissue on the inside of a warm, wet tunnel like the vagina was a recipe for infection. Luckily, he said it could be “very easily treated” (but didn’t specify how, exactly) and he referred me to my local gynaecologist (or, as I lovingly refer to them, the Vag Mechanic) to double-check with a speculum that that’s all it was, advised me to have gentler sex, and sent me on my way.
Next week, I’ll be writing about how it got treated and what the nice ladies at the Vag Mechanic could have done better, but this week it felt especially important to talk frankly about living in our patriarchal, sex-shaming culture when you have a vagina. In spite of how much more knowledgeable I was than my peers and in spite of my continual pursuit of sex- and kink-related facts, I was so disconnected from my body that I ignored it randomly bleeding for four whole years.
I was so alienated from my vagina & cervix that some inside bits were on the outside and I didn’t even Google it.
Dealing with the acute trauma of having been assaulted and the chronic trauma of living in this hellscape of a society will take time, but I’m slowly learning to know my body, and I’m hoping that learning to like it will come next.