Misogyny in the NHS stopped me getting help for vulval pain

10 months after being diagnosed with unprovoked vulvodynia and being told emphatically that there was nothing visibly wrong with my vulva, I’ve just come out of my referral with a consultant gynaecologist.

After introducing herself and getting a brief history from me, she got straight to examining me. Prodding around my vulva with a cotton bud, she asked where I could feel pain. I explained (for what must be the 50th time) where the pain is and gritted my teeth through the rest of the examination.

The consultant told me to get dressed and when I sat down she said immediately: “You have an abnormal vulva.”

Hearing those words was honestly the best piece of news I could possibly have hoped for. I have been convinced when I have looked at my vulva with a mirror that things did not look normal. I could clearly see inflammation in the most painful areas, but every time I went to the hospital for my appointments at the sexual health clinic, I would be told that there was nothing there.

The gynaecologist went on to explain that she has been looking at vulvas for 25 years and that mine does not look normal. She said doctors who do not look at vulvas everyday tend not to actually know or understand what normal is, hence the diagnosis of vulvodynia. She explained that the skin condition I have could well end up also causing vulvodynia, and experiencing painful sex definitely contributes to the vaginismus (which I also have).

I don’t think I can really put into words the the anger that exploded in my body at that moment. I have been through doctors telling me anxiety and mental health issues are tricking my body into being in pain. I have been prescribed pain medication that sent me into a state of depression for months. I have been made to feel like I am going clinically insane for examining myself and seeing red raw inflammation that doctors later tell me is how vulvas are supposed to look.

To hear that after 15 months my pain and suffering is most likely vulval eczema which can hopefully be treated in a matter of months with strong steroid cream…is almost more than I have the emotional capacity to cope with.

I have been unable to have sex pretty much full stop for the last 5 months, not taking into consideration the difficulties I was having before and forcing myself to endure. I have been walking around in agony in the wild hope that my “vulvodynia” would eventually disappear.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that had I been a cis man, my condition would not have gone undiagnosed for this amount of time. I am disgusted by the way that I have been treated by doctors, who refused to listen to me. I have been passed around professionals who are clearly unqualified to deal with gynaecological issues, many of whom have often had the bedside manner of a square of soiled toilet paper.

Of course the NHS crisis is a major contributor to this and I do acknowledge the immense pressure and stress that staff are under. I will not, however, excuse the misogyny evident in the contempt many medical professionals have had for the pain I have described and how they have examined me, what must be dozens of times, only to repeatedly misdiagnose me.

I feel such a sense of relief that I am crying as I write this: they are tears of fury. Fury at the misogyny that has put me through this, at the austerity that is destroying our NHS and for my own fucked up sex life and hatred for my vulva and vagina that has developed over the course of my ordeal.

I am writing this for anyone who has a vulva: demand to be listened to, trust your instincts and do not let male doctors pass off your pain as hysteria brought on by some phantom female anxiety.