When Kendra Blair tied the knot at 19, she was a virgin as she had been raised in a Christian household and sex before marriage was banned.
She tried to have sex for the first time the day after her wedding, but it just wasn’t possible.
For five years, Kendra, 39, from Kansas City, Missouri, USA, continued to try but found that every time penetration was attempted she would get an extreme burning sensation, which made her so distressed she even hyperventilated.
Eventually, she was diagnosed with vaginismus – which causes the vaginal muscles to tighten when penetration is attempted.
Her marriage lasted for 12 years, but in that time, she was never able to consummate their union.
Eventually breaking up with her husband in 2012, Kendra’s confidence was knocked.
It took her a while to try dating again, but eventually, last year, she met her boyfriend Sean Rice, 38, and with some help, they’ve managed to have sex twice.
Speaking about her first marriage, Kendra said: ‘I thought I was just nervous, because I didn’t know what to expect. I grew up in a very strong Christian conservative home and sex wasn’t something anyone in my family ever spoke about.
‘But when I tried to have sex, it felt like there was a bone there that my husband couldn’t get through.’
Eventually, Kendra confided in her then husband’s stepmother, who took her to see a gynaecologist.
But the doctor’s examination triggered the same reaction as her attempts to have penetrative sex.
She said: ‘My automatic reaction was to hyperventilate, close my legs, squirm to get away and push the doctor away saying, “Don’t touch me.”
‘She told me I’d have to make another appointment and they would put me out, so she could examine me, but I didn’t, as she also told me just to relax and stop overreacting.’
Five years passed before Kendra plucked up courage to see another doctor, during which time her condition started to affect her marriage.
‘Unsurprisingly, my ex was very frustrated and questioned whether I was holding out on purpose.
‘I think this was because, after a while, I stopped wanting to work on it. I didn’t want to try to have sex because it causes a really agonising burning pain and that’s not fun,’ she said.
But the new doctor diagnosed vaginismus and told her she could use dilators to stretch and retrain the vaginal muscles.
‘I felt some relief when she 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.’
Her husband was supportive after her diagnosis but he was getting frustrated because they wanted to have children.
Kendra said: ‘He stood by me more than a lot of men would, considering that we didn’t have sex for 12 years.
‘He had started putting a timeline on having kids. I understood his frustration, but it felt like extra pressure.
‘I tried the dilators but failed. 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.
‘It seemed like nothing was going to work.’
As Kendra’s problems persisted, her self-esteem took a monumental battering.
She said: ‘Not being able to have sex and fall pregnant – things other people take for granted – left me feeling isolated and broken.
‘This condition really messes with you mentally. Normal conversations you hear day to day – about someone being pregnant, or people talking about having sex – make women with vaginismus feel really messed up.’
Sadly, Kendra’s marriage ended in 2012, and she found dating hard – until she met boyfriend, Sean Rice, 38, online a year ago.
She said: ‘I seem to remember chatting to Sean online and sending him a text about it before we even met.
‘He said, “I’m not in it for the sex, I want a relationship with you. We can deal with this down the road.”
‘It was an amazing response and one you don’t get very often.’
The couple, who now live together and will be celebrating their first anniversary in May, have now had penetrative sex twice, which she puts it down to a combination of Sean’s sensitivity and her finding a Facebook support group in 2017 with over 2,000 other sufferers, with whom she has shared stories about everything from diagnosis to treatment.
Kendra swears that the physical therapy recommended by people in her Facebook group has helped her.
It involves performing pelvic floor exercises to stretch out the vaginal muscles, as well as practising insertion with dilators.
‘I knew physical therapy was an option and something I should have considered doing, but I didn’t have it before this as I had no idea what to expect,’ she admitted.
‘When I joined the vaginismus support group, a ton of women had already been going to physical therapy and shared their experiences. That kicked me into action. – they took the fear of the unknown away from me.’
Also seeing a physical therapist, Kendra practised pelvic floor stretches for five days.
‘I then tried dilating and got to one of my largest dilators with no pain,’ she said.
‘It felt amazing. At last, I didn’t feel broken, as I’d clawed back a bit of control.’
Kendra fears that many sufferers are still self-diagnosing, as they are not taken seriously, even by the medical profession.
She said: ‘A lot of women diagnose themselves, because they see the doctor and get told they’re overreacting.
‘Luckily, physical therapists seem to know all about it and are very sympathetic, but, in my experience, doctors often aren’t.
‘And it’s very belittling to be dismissed.’
Now on a mission to raise awareness of vaginismus, Kendra has started her own Facebook support group, which has some 70 members.
While she is not cured, however, Kendra hopes the progress she has made is taking her one step closer to achieving her dream of having a child with Sean.
She said: ‘I’ve always dreamed of being a mother and so have always felt a void there.
‘I’m worried about my age now, but Sean and I have decided if we can’t have our own biological child over the next couple of years then we will adopt.’
Praising Kendra’s bravery, Sean said: ‘I think Kendra is an amazing woman. Feeling broken can be tough and I try to be there for her and give her encouraging words and help her not feel so isolated.
‘Being open about it is cathartic for her. Not understanding her own body must been really difficult. Her being open about it and honest is amazing and it helps to build her confidence – and that’s what she needs.’
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