sex advice - i have vaginismusThere's been a lot of talk lately about women's sexual health. Either we're not doing it, or we don't feel like doing it, or don't like the feel of doing it. I fall squarely into that third category, because when it comes to matters of the old in-and-out, my girl parts are afraid of boy parts. Sounds ridiculous, I know. But I have a doctor's note.

My condition is called vaginismus. It's basically a gag reflex for your downstairs, or like the mythical vagina dentata, but without the badass peen-chomping teeth. It's goes a little something like this: Say I'm about to get down to business with my best guy. We're hot, we're heavy, we're headed to the bedroom. All casual-like he sidles his yang on up to my yin, and at the first whiff of that quivering member, we have a lockdown situation. My cooter shuts up tighter than a Chinese finger trap. Nothing's getting in. Not nobody, not no how.

Bring on the panic attack. You see, as my vagina has become conditioned to fear the peeper, so have I. My heart races and my body tenses, because I know what's to come. (Hint: Not me.) "Get the lube, get the lube!" I'll plead as I focus my breathing, concentrating on relaxing my muscles, relaxing my mind, tricking myself into believing that this time I will somehow magically be fixed.

That's never really worked, though. I can calm myself to the point where penetration is possible, but never pleasurable. Instead, it feels like being ripped open from the inside out. Oh, yes, there will be blood -- and several days of soreness.

You may be asking yourself why, if sex is so painful, I would attempt it at all. First of all, things weren't always this way. I have fond long-ago memories of enjoying sex, of allowing myself to be swept away into the throes of passion. Then about two years ago I noticed that my libido wasn't what it used to be. I'd been on the pill for a while by then, so I consulted with my gynecologist, who after a quick inspection, noted in her brusque Russian accent, "You have the vagina of a postmenopausal 65-year-old!" (Her bedside manner leaves something to be desired.)

It appeared that birth control was sapping all forms of sex hormones from my system. She suggested a lower dose pill, so I test-drove it for a few months to no big change. My next visit, she wanted to put me on NuvaRing, that contraceptive scrunchie you stick up there for three weeks at a time. I'd heard that the ring makes your hair fall out, so I took the 'scrip, threw it in the trash and informally took myself off hormonal birth control.

All the while, I was still attempting sex, despite the dryness, despite the pain. In my very not-expert opinion, it's during this time that my body learned to reject sex, to preemptively barricade the door before that evil invader arrived. And when finally my hormones got back in line and I was able to lubricate naturally again, the holy-crap-brace-yourself reflex was firmly ingrained in my muffin's memory.

And consider that I'm in a long-term committed relationship. Sure, there are other things my partner and I can do, other forms of sex, other ways we can express our love. But there is something to be said for being able to connect with a lover on that most primal level, doing what nature intended. It's what Aristophanes famously described as the "human attempt to rejoin with our lost half." But I can't do that. I can't become whole again. My connector doesn't work. I'm a broken woman.

But don't peg me as a quitter just yet. There is a silver lining. Treatment exists. Amazing (expensive!) doctors are out there, and I have an appointment with one soon. And one day I will get back to that place where I once was, before sex was painful and infrequent and a source of so much stress. Then the only thing left to do will be to make up for lost time.

Beth Brennan is the pseudonym that allows Lemondrop bloggers and guest writers to retain what little dignity can be afforded them when their girl parts aren't working properly.