“If you consider a woman less pure after you’ve touched her, maybe you should take a look at your hands.” – Kaija Sabbah
The day started with me calling the eldest of my sister’s to let her know my vagina was about to meet a foreigner.
“Good luck, dude.” She responded.
I was scheduled to have a physical exam and prior to this doctor’s visit I had not disclosed any details about my sexual activity or lack thereof to the nurses and techs on duty. Once blood tests, blood pressure checks, an ACG exam, weight and height measurements were behind me, a straight-faced lady called my name and beckoned me to follow her into a room at the end of the hall. She shut the door behind me and asked if I’d ever had a pap smear before. I smiled timidly and shook my head, identifying a spot for my handbag while I moved to occupy the space next to her.
“Oh no.” She exhaled, evidently disappointed.
I panicked. “Um, is that bad? I’ve never had penetrative sex, so I guess my gynaecologist has never brought it up.”
“You haven’t had sexual intercourse?”
“Then we can’t do this.”
“Why not? I thought it was part of the physical?”
“It won’t work if you haven’t had sex.”
She stood up and pulled out a packaged plastic speculum from a supply pocket and showed it to me. “This is what I will have to insert inside you. If you haven’t had sex you’ll be in a lot of pain.”
I glanced at the instrument and diverted my eyes back to her.
“I’ve tried with virgins that have insisted on getting it done and they can never go through with it because of the pain.”
“You just have to stick it in to see?”
“Well, I have to insert this and then squeeze on these ends to open you up so I can get to your cervix. Look, if you think you can get it in we can do it. But you’ll have to insert it yourself because I don’t want to hurt you.”
I paused to contemplate her suggestion.
“You think you can get this in?”
I looked at the apparatus again. “I can try.”
She ushered me over to the bed and asked me to strip off from the waist down while she lubricated the speculum. I got into the lithotomy position (lying on my back with my legs raised), admittedly unsure of where to rest my feet- resulting in my ridiculous search for stowed away stirrups on the sides of the bed.
“Uh. Hmm? Yes!” I wasn’t. She knew it. I knew it.
“Your feet need to be together.”
“What?” How am I supposed to reach my vagina with my legs together?
“Your feet need to be together and then you spread your knees like this.” She made her instructions clearer as she pushed my knees apart.
“Right.” I tried to sound confident in my new position.
“Here you go.” She placed the speculum in my hands. “Let me know when you have it in. I’ll wait behind the curtain.”
I nodded obediently.
“unknown.pleasures.” by Ludo
You can do this. The chanting had begun in my head. I was uncomfortable laying the way she’d left me and I thought to ask her if I could stand up and try to insert it like I would a tampon with an applicator. Wait, let’s think this through. No that wouldn’t work. Unless? No, there’s no way she’d agree to try look up at my cervix from the ground. Would she? No. No.
“Is it in yet?” She called out, brining me back to reality.
“Can we lubricate the tip? I don’t think it’s slippery enough. It won’t go in.”
“I already did. A lot is on there.”
“Lemme try again.” The room was silent for a few more seconds. “Wait I think I’ve- ouch!” To say I felt like a rotisserie chicken trying to figure out where my stuffing goes does well to describe how oxymoronic the whole ordeal seemed at the time.
“How much of it needs to go in?”
“You need to feel like you’ve hit a wall, that’s your cervix, that’s what I need to see. Push till that.”
I took a deep breath, tried to relax my muscles and pushed till I felt the foreign object creep up my vaginal canal. I called out to the lady in attendance to offer a progress report.
“How did you manage to get it in if you don’t have sex?” She sounded sceptical.
“I don’t know? I wear tampons. I did ballet for a long time. I tried to relax. I mean- Could be any number of activities. I think.” Apparently I’d employed rambling as a defence mechanism, trying to substantiate my departure from what was supposed to be an impossible feat for virgins. Before I could enquire as to what she was insinuating, she’d pushed the curtain back and started to direct my fingertips to the ends of the speculum.
“Squeeze at your own pace and I’ll tell you when I’m able to see.”
It was excruciating. I had barely pinched the ends when shocks of pain raced through the lower half of my body. It felt like needles clawing through my abdomen and legs. I tried to maintain a somewhat calm demeanor before finally conceding defeat.
“I can’t do it. It’s too painful.”
“You’ve done well to get it in. Hold on, let me try now.”
I boldly resigned the task to her, laying back in effort to focus my thoughts elsewhere.
“Nope! Can’t do it. Pull it out, please.”
So, why did I go through all of this? Penetrative sex is not the only way to catch STD’s/STI’s. Some are spread through oral sex, handgenital sexual contact (e.g HPV) and even kissing. While this may not be a novice realization, it is something I want to take more seriously. I don’t want to be careless with my body or make the kinds of mistakes that could lead to irreparable damage, or psychological pain. We’re living in times when love and sexual activity are seemingly interchangeable, and while everyone is entitled to govern themselves sexually, I think it’s dangerous to assume everyone is being as vigilant and careful with their own physical beings, as you might be with yours.
Russell Brand said something in an interview once that has stuck with me: Be careful with your soul, be careful with yourself.
I didn’t do this for the PSA on unprotected sexual activity. I did it because I am a woman. In a world where women’s vaginas and uteri have been regulated by state law; subjected to public ridicule; and reduced to sport umpired by men, I feel women have no choice but to demonstrate the respect our bodies warrant. At the very least to appreciate the power of our sexuality complemented by the delicate nature of our mortality.
Someone loves you.
P.S. Props to all the women out there keeping their cervixes clean. You’re my heroines today!