I have always felt less than a woman because of my vaginismus – a condition where sex is difficult or impossible, and very painful. Starting with sex education at school, I have grown up in a culture that treats (heteronormative) penetrative sex as the only sex that really counts, and as something that women are obligated to enjoy (and, often, obligated to provide). While I feel assailed by my own body on multiple fronts, vaginismus is the most difficult to talk about. But I’m writing and posting this now because every time someone reads about the condition, it becomes a little more normal.
I jumped at the chance to read Fran Bushe’s My Broken Vagina, and while I don’t know if any of the more practical advice will be of use to me in the near future, I found a great deal of comfort and solidarity in this book—and laughter.
Like me, Bushe has struggled with vaginismus all her life. But she’s been a tad more proactive and bold in trying to overcome it. She’s spoken with medical practitioners, “Sex Camp” attendees, and many fellow sufferers. She provides a compelling explanation for why we shouldn’t buy into the label “Female Sexual Dysfunction” (apparently created by Americans to sell pointless drugs, WHO WOULD’VE THOUGHT?). She sensitively navigates the semantic minefield of discussing how vaginismus makes her feel broken, while emphasising that we don’t have to feel broken.
The most painful parts of the book to read are Bushe’s experiences with doctors who dismiss her suffering, and with men who, when she tries to open up about vaginismus, respond with unkindness and defensiveness; they seem to interpret a woman’s inability to enjoy sex with them as blame. I haven’t experienced this myself, but perhaps only because, having internalised aforementioned cultural expectations, I have always faked my way through sex (something I intend never to do again).
Despite the many distressing moments in the book, there were so many times when I smiled or laughed out loud. Bushe is a comedian, and clearly a very good one (I wish I’d heard about her comedy gigs on this subject). The yoni egg chapter has to be my favourite bit. Ultimately, My Broken Vagina is not just for women with vaginismus, and indeed, I recommend it to anyone whether cishet or LGBTQIA+ (there’s a lot of representation among the people that Bushe interviews in the book). Although I’ve already read plenty of books that go over the usual statistics on women’s sexual pleasure and the massive orgasm gap between men and women, frankly, this is a subject that can’t be talked about enough. It makes me think of all the times that men I’ve been with have said the most ridiculous things about sex that simply are not true. I can only hope they know better now.
My Broken Vagina is published on 13 May 2021. With thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for an advance version of the ebook, in exchange for an honest review.