Kendra Blair, 39, always planned to wait until she got married to have sex for the first time.
Then, at 19, she tied the knot with her first husband, and immediately discovered she couldn’t have sex without excruciating pain.
12 sexless years followed, and Kendra was diagnosed with vaginismus, a condition where the muscles involuntarily tighten as penetration is attempted.
The relationship eventually ended and Kendra went on to meet Sean Rice, 38, in May 2019.
Now Sean and Kendra, of Independence, Missouri, US, are engaged, and Kendra is determined to have sex with her partner when they get hitched in 2022.
She’s sharing her story to raise awareness of vaginismus and help other women.
‘I have only been able to have penetrative sex with Sean a couple of times in our entire time together,’ Kendra said.
‘Of course, there are other things we can do, but there are times when I feel very depressed and wonder how long he’ll stay with me, or what he’s getting out of the relationship.
‘But he does everything he can to reassure me and by proposing, I know he’s in it for the long haul. I feel very lucky to have met him.’
When Kendra was unable to have sex on her wedding night 20 years ago, she simply put it down to nerves.
But in the months that followed, she experienced an extreme burning sensation and became so distressed that she would hyperventilate every time she attempted to make love.
‘It felt like there was a bone there that my husband couldn’t get through,’ Kendra explains.
‘My then-husband and I endured months of frustration. I knew there was something else wrong, but everyone just kept telling me to relax.’
Eventually, Kendra consulted a gynaecologist, only for the same extreme reaction to be triggered when the doctor attempted to conduct an internal examination.
It took her five years to regain the courage to see a second doctor, who finally diagnosed her with vaginismus.
‘I felt some relief when the doctor told me what I had, as it proved I wasn’t crazy,’ she said. ‘She also told me I was not the only one that had this.’
Kendra was given dilators, designed to stretch and retrain the vaginal muscles, but they did not work.
She said: ‘I couldn’t get any of them in – not even the smallest one, which was the size of a small tampon. I just couldn’t do it. It was too painful.’
Starting to lose hope of ever finding a solution to her problem, Kendra’s marriage began to suffer.
And in 2012, after 12 years without intimacy, her relationship ended.
She said: ‘Before we split, I’d tell my husband to go and have sex with someone else. I didn’t want that, but I felt so frustrated.
‘It didn’t help that I was getting older and people were always asking why we didn’t have kids yet.
‘I’ve always wanted to be a mother, but the vaginismus was preventing me from getting pregnant.
‘We had other issues going on – not just the sex – so we didn’t get divorced just because of my condition, but it was a factor. After a while, I’d stopped wanting to work on it because I knew it was going to hurt.’
Finding herself single again, Kendra’s confidence was in shreds. In time, she was ready to date again, but worried that she would be rejected when men found out she couldn’t have sex.
Then she met Sean on Plenty Of Fish, and was blown away by how supportive he was.
Soon they became an official couple, all while Kendra started to see a physical therapist and began performing pelvic floor exercises to stretch her muscles – also joining a Facebook support group full of women from around the world who live with vaginismus.
Before too long, with her self-esteem restored and the help of physical therapy, which she had been doing since June 2018, she was able to have sex with Sean on a couple of occasions.
‘I didn’t feel as broken,’ she said.
Sadly, since the beginning of 2020, she has found herself regressing and her symptoms have been getting worse – which she puts down to the stress of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Stress can be a real trigger, so the state of the world took its toll on me hugely,’ Kendra said.
Although Sean was incredibly reassuring, Kendra could not help worrying about the implications for their relationship if she was unable to be intimate with him anymore.
So, at the beginning of September, he surprised and delighted her by proposing.
They are still in the early stages of planning their big day, but Kendra and Sean hope to tie the knot in an outdoor ceremony in 2022.
She has also recently resumed doing her stretches and exercises and hopes this means she will be able to consummate her marriage.
She said: ‘Two years gives me plenty of time. I’ve also started to see a therapist to deal with the emotional fallout of all of this.
‘I don’t want a repeat of my first wedding, so I am determined to be able to consummate the marriage this time.
‘Sean and I would also like a child together one day, though we don’t know whether that will be possible. Only time will tell. I’d want to make sure I was healthy, given my age, before we started trying.
‘Still, he proposed to me after everything we’ve been through, so I know he is a keeper.’
Now, Kendra runs a Facebook support group, connecting with women from around the world and helping them to feel less alone.
‘It’s been such a relief to find women who understand vaginismus,’ she said. ‘Lots don’t speak out as they feel so ashamed, but I’m determined to change that.
‘Although I have been struggling recently, I don’t want my story to scare anyone. I want it to be a story of hope.
‘Like any long-term condition, dealing with vaginismus is a process – but the important thing is to keep going and not give up.’
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