A walking vagina? We are so much more.

by Jane Torvaney, Physiotherapist, Scotland 

Within my work as a physiotherapist, I assess and treat women who have what is termed ‘urinary dysfunction’. Most often this means that the women have either stress incontinence (leakage of urine when the body is under stress e.g. coughing, sneezing or running), urge incontinence (a sudden and strong need to urinate) or a mixture of both.

As part of the training to more fully support women who have urinary dysfunction, physiotherapists can attend a course to be taught how to perform a vaginal examination. This allows us to measure the strength, tone, laxity, coordination and connective tissues of the pelvic floor muscles and gives women a reference point to feel the contraction of their pelvic floor muscles from within.

Knowing that on this course I would be trained in vaginal examination and then taking it back to carry out with women, sent me in a spin and raised the following questions for me to consider.

Is it a necessary part of the assessment?

Would I be able to carry it out in a way that honoured the woman and her body in the delicateness that is innate in us all?

How would women feel about having such an assessment?

Why do I feel so anxious about learning this procedure?

I pondered over why this had created such a stir in my own body. I had been on many courses, learned many new techniques and none of them had affected me like this. I realised the answer came from my own experience of having vaginal examinations. As a 56 year old mother of two, I have had many vaginal examinations over the years and as I looked back I could see that there were vast differences in how those had felt.

Sometimes the experience felt painful, embarrassing, and imposing. On more than one occasion I felt like a walking vagina with no sense of the doctor recognising that there was a body attached to the area he was examining.

On other occasions, I felt rushed to the point that I felt like I was on a conveyor belt expecting the nurse to call ‘next’ before I had even lowered my legs.

There were other less rushed, more gentle and connecting times and interestingly they have been my more recent experiences.

The common theme running throughout however, was that I would be encouraged by the practitioner to disconnect from the examination itself. They would use such phrases as ‘leave your dignity outside the door with your shoes and pick it up afterwards’ or ‘imagine you are on holiday on a warm beach with a cocktail in your hand’ or ‘let’s get this over with as quickly as possible so you can get back to your life’.

Not even once had I been encouraged to be an active part of the examination, to stay fully present and feel my body in its innate loveliness.

I wondered why this was the case. Perhaps we have been encouraged to do this because the practitioners themselves use that same way to avoid feeling their own discomfort during this examination? Perhaps the male practitioner is uncomfortable examining a woman in such an intimate area. Perhaps the female practitioner is uncomfortable with this area of her own body? Perhaps they are embarrassed? There could be a wide number of reasons for why they may not want to feel this area – relating not just to their own physical body, but how they feel about women, their sexuality and sexual history, relationships etc. Also, what if they were examining a woman who was in her power and sacredness (although most of us are not), what reflection would this offer to her or him?

Vaginal examinations have been taught and carried out in a way to prevent women connecting to their sacredness. At best, they are carried out gently, without harming or causing pain and they may encourage women to connect to the function of their pelvic floor, yet it is my experience that even then, they are still so far from the truth of supporting women in these moments to connect to and feel in any depth, this sacred area of their body.

Could it be down to simple economics of supply and demand and that it is the women attending appointments who expect and demand the examination to be hurried and over as quickly as possible?

Could it be that many if not most women hold in this area some hardness, numbness and protection of how they have lived and what has happened to this area of their body? If they were to feel this area, they might feel the disregard of riding a bike long distances and the ache it caused, putting up with or encouraging rough sex, unwanted sexual advances whether consensual or non-consensual, or perhaps difficulties with child birth. There is much stored in this area of the body and there could be many reasons why women do not want to feel what is there.

Having completed the course and brought the examination into my physiotherapy practice I have found what has supported my patients most has been to connect with them first, encourage them to play an active role in the assessment and to stay present and with their body throughout the examination. When this happens not only do they become aware of their pelvic floor and how it feels, it offers space for a much deeper connection to this precious area of their body that goes far beyond the basic functioning of the pelvic floor muscles and surrounding tissue.

I have healed too. When I attend my routine smear test now it is not with a sense of foreboding but with a deep knowing that I can choose to stay connected to my body and to express at any time what I am feeling and what I need. Each examination I either give or receive is an opportunity for me too, to connect deeply with my own body and its innate sacredness. There is never a rush or a sense of urgency to get it over with, but an understanding that within the space I can hold myself and others with love.

For underneath the hurt, the numbness and the hardness is our innate divine sacredness, untouched by what has happened to us in life. And no matter our choices of the past there is a very real steady delicate innermost that we can reconnect to at any time.

So, could it be we are missing a key opportunity in feeling what is there to be felt in our bodies? How would it be if we walked into our appointment knowing that our bodies are delicate, responsive, super-sensitive and sacred, and that we can connect to and stay with how our body feels during the examination, asking that the practitioner takes time and is very gentle and not being afraid to express if something he/she does feels anything less than honouring of you?

This would be a beautiful opportunity to heal and re-imprint how we have been treated in the past, to honour the Divine woman we are now, and to offer that reflection and inspiration to the practitioner, and to all of us.

 

Read more:

  1. The cervix – so much more than biology. 
  2. From sex worker to a return to sacredness 

 

 

 

24 thoughts on “A walking vagina? We are so much more.

  1. Reflecting on vaginal examination has asked me to deepen and full acknowledge the sacredness and divinity of myself as a woman, it feels like the ‘allowed’ disregard is being exposed and I am being given the opportunity to be stripped bare and heal what is there to be healed. Thank you Jane for bringing us to this ‘point’ of honouring ourselves by honouring yourself in your own deep process of reflection.

  2. Love the way you expressed Jane, with so much respect and care. Like someone who has returned to feel her innate delicateness and now come back to gently open a door, an invitation for all women to walk honouring the same quality within themselves.

  3. This blog is for me a great reminder about the sacredness we hold inside as women. Something I was not aware of before. Just letting in your words brings me back to feel my pelvic floor and womb again, parts of my body that I may check-out from easily. Thank you for inviting us to feel again, with no judgment, the deep disregard we have allowed and all the layers to suppress the enormous beauty we already are from within.

  4. The first time I heard about sacredness, there was a clear knowing that this was in my body, but I was really disconnected from it. Coming back to that knowingness and with an ongoing and ever deepening patience, I’m reconnecting to this very powerful and extremely delicate area.
    Reading your blog, Jane, is a healing for me, in which I can access new layers and allow myself to feel the pulse of sacredness within again, not avoiding the feeling of abusive imprints I have allowed there, but observing, understanding, releasing them and bringing now the greatest amount of love there, to honour it and be able to fully live this precious fragility I embody in this life.

  5. We have failed ourselves as women because we do not treat ourselves with delicateness, we learn from an early age to toughen up. Growing up as a child I learnt very quickly I was living in a man’s world, and to be a girl was to be a ‘sissy’ and as I did not want to be a ‘sissy’ I toughened up and acted as a hard and tough boy. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to do this as a way of survival. So to know that underneath the hardness and the hurt is my divine sacredness untouched and unsullied and all we have to do is reconnect to it. And now we have the support to do this.

  6. Within each woman is a Divinenss that is innately sensitive and delicate and you have captured the essence that women hold in their body knowing that this is untouched and sacred. ‘For underneath the hurt, the numbness and the hardness is our innate divine sacredness, untouched by what has happened to us in life.’

  7. Dear Jane- what a beautiful healing experience and blessing it will be for every woman you get to assist with bladder incontinence, to help them reconnect to their divine sacredness. Your tender loving care will be felt during the vaginal examination putting them at ease and giving them an opportunity to heal the hurts buried in this area. This is so needed in the healing profession.

  8. How amazing is it Jane that you have learnt how assess the pelvic region and can bring your qualities of self love to each woman who has this procedure. To bring much needed tenderness to a woman by treating her with deep respect is something that is sorely lacking in our society.

  9. Our lives are spent coming up with more advanced Houdini escape acts, when if we just stop, accept and surrender to how delicate and aware we truly are – we have everything we need.

    1. I agree with you Joseph. It seems to me we have disconnected from our delicateness and sensitivity, and this process starts when we are young. I was introduced to a small boy of 6 recently and noticed how hard he was, he had already built a fortress around himself; it’s as though we encourage children to toughen up because life is going to be hard and full of injustice. But we have all had a hand in building the society we live in, so I wonder why we have done this to ourselves, why have we cut ourselves off from our delicateness and sensitivity?

  10. So many of us woman have abused our own vaginas. The rough and thoughtless application of tampons, leaving tampons in for too long, getting tampons stuck, vaginal infections, consenting to aggressive penetration either with someone’s fingers, penis or other objects. Writing this has brought up for the first time ever the abuse that I have allowed of the most precious part of my body and there is a deep sadness that has come up with it.

  11. It’s not possible for a practitioner, a doctor, a nurse or a carer to treat their client or patient in a way that they have not first felt in their own body. Jane you are able to honour the sacredness of another woman’s body because you have felt that sacredness in your own body. We can’t learn these things from a book they have to be lived to be known. Sure we can teach that a woman’s body has to be respected but it is only when something is registered by the body that it’s truly known, otherwise it comes partly empty, it’s the understanding of the body that brings the fullness.

  12. Thanks Jane, if such examinations of the vagina are unavoidable, like Pap smears, et al, and knowing how sacred and sensitive our reproductive area is, then the way both we and medical professionals approach it needs to be as equally sensitive and respectful. I feel the approach of both patient and practitioner working together equally involved is a good one. Thank you for leading the way with this.

  13. Thank you for writing this article Jane. In a few hundred words you have supported me to consider seriously having a smear test. The only one I have ever had was in my early 20s and it was so traumatic and painful for me I vowed I would never have another one. That was nearly 30 years ago. ‘When I attend my routine smear test now it is not with a sense of foreboding but with a deep knowing that I can choose to stay connected to my body and to express at any time what I am feeling and what I need.’

  14. It was beautiful reading this article to be reminded of just how precious we are. Most of us haven’t been taught to honour our bodies in the way you describe Jane, but there is no doubt there is so much more to us and our bodies than just the functionality we have come to accept. Thank you for bringing this to our attention!

  15. It is noteworthy that we are being encouraged to disengage from what might physically be unpleasant, painful or, in a different context, downright abusive. Does this disengagement not condone the status quo, for ourselves and future generations of women?

  16. Super gorgeous and revealing article. Something that I can certainly relate to as well. I can certainly relate to being disconnected from this part of my body and share the experience of anyone performing vaginal examinations being hard and rough at times. I can see that me wanting over and done with asap was me saying ‘do what you have to do.’…How often have I said that without any consideration to that very delicate and precious part of me. I am certainly considering much more deeply on how I have been living and what I have been willing to accept. Huge thanks Jane.

  17. Thank you Jane. I can feel the tenderness and respect you hold a woman in when treating her and honouring your equal divine sacredness.

    1. Pure gold indeed Alexis and Jane. Our preciousness is everything. It is the doorway into the depths of our being and our vagina cervix and uterus are a sacred symbol of this truth. Beautifully written Jane and a wonderful invitation for us all to deeply appreciate our reconnection to the sacred beings we truly are.

  18. Reading your article Jane made be ponder on my many experiences of vaginal examinations. Like you some gentle others not so and agree that it was a procedure to get done and dusted ASAP.
    No taking time for honouring such an intimate and sacred area or connecting with the woman. On one occasion many many years ago I had an IUD taken out or shall i say it felt ripped out. I was in shock. Could not say a word. The doctor left and I appreciate I was with a caring nurse who had also observed the procedure. I felt such dishonouring, judged by the doctor for even asking for the device to be taken out, was tearful and it felt like my uterus went into a contraction – like childbirth.
    Thankfully on other occasions I have expressed that I would like the examination to be gentle and have sought out doctors and nurses who have a reputation for that.
    Appreciate your blog and bringing a much needed awareness to the honouring of the Sacredness of us as woman, our delicacy and fragility and ultimately our strength.

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