Trigger Warning: Effects of abuse
To be honest, I hate hearing people comment on how tight a person’s vagina is. I hate hearing people fret about how tight they are. It causes me an involuntary flinch reaction, a grimace, a turn of the head. It makes me uncomfortable, intensely uncomfortable. And that’s okay.
When I was 15, I couldn’t wear a tampon. I’d spend hours sitting down, cross-legged on the cold bathroom floor, combing over tampax instructions, trying to find the secret clue to it all. I understood the logic of a tampon. Insert at a 45° angle, push the plastic lip, and pull the plastic tube. Sounds easy, right?
I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. When I tried to partake in this this simplest of female rituals, I always cried out in pain. Trying to insert a tampon gave me the most horrific pain I’d ever experienced.
When I went to my doctor, he’d look down at me with disdain and tell me that there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to wear one, that I must be doing it wrong. End of subject. He didn’t want to give me a pelvic exam. He never stopped to consider that I may have vaginismus, a psychological and physiological condition that makes it impossible to have any vaginal penetration. He didn’t stop to consider that my vagina might be having involuntary spasms in response to any vaginal intrusion.
Had he bothered to investigate my silly lady problem, he may have realized that vagisismus is a common side effect of sexual abuse. Had he investigated, he may have found out how, at 13, I was being sexually abused, something that now (2 years later) had altered my psychological and physiological ability to insert a mere tampon. My body rejected all bodily intrusion, even a safe one like a tampon. I wish I’d known, at the time, that I had that condition.
So, maybe I’m biased. Actually, I’m most definitely biased. Because, even before my first consensual sexual experience, I hated the word “tightness.” I hated being tight. It stopped me from exploring myself, from pleasuring myself, and from wearing tampons. I couldn’t go swimming in gym class during those heavy 12-day periods, something my class participated in all winter. I’d have to feign colds and stay home those days, anything to avoid wearing a tampon. Being tight was my body’s first physical symptom of the fear I lived in from my abuse.
My vaginismus faded (magically or miraculously) a few years later. I met a young man who adored me and respected my boundaries and, together, we slowly and carefully explored physical intimacy. Though I still lived in psychological fear of my abuser back at home, the physical abuse had stopped, and my body was finally able to shake itself of my condition. Over a period of two years, I could finally start to use a tampon. My partner and I could explore fingers, toys and, eventually, sex.
Though my religious family suspected that I was sexually active and slut shamed me, I refused to see those first consensual sexual experiences as wrong. To me, they were much-needed healthy experiences with sexuality, and I owned them and treasured them. I loved wanting to touch a man, and wanting to be touched. I hadn’t thought that possible for me.
It was like a key had been found to my body. Suddenly, my body was unlocked. My body and my mind accepted (and even craved) penetration for the first time. My partner was hugely well-endowed, and my body surprised me by being capable of adapting to his size.
In those moments, my body was free. Free from fear, from abuse, and from being tight.
Between the ages of 18-20, I fell into two consecutive abusive relationships.
In the first of those abusive relationships, I was critiqued for not being tight enough. Coincidentally, that partner had a below-than-average sized penis, and much of his aggression towards me appeared to stem from his insecurity of not being large enough (which, he felt, impacted his manliness).
To compensate, he was free to direct his anger and frustration at me. I understand that now but, at the time, the critique really crushed me. Suddenly, in place of hating myself for being tight, I wasn’t tight enough.
I’m built from Dutch stock. I’m taller than almost every woman I’ve ever seen in my city. I have large breasts and large hips. My body is designed for bearing large children, for reaching tall places, for using strength. I’m definitely no small, petite, narrow cis woman. My size gives me a sense of groundedness and presence that I’ve always loved. And, I thought at the time, a large vagina.
When my partner reminded me that I was larger than his previous partners, I immediately thought that I wasn’t womanly enough. To my horror, I grew under the impression that my vagina was built larger than more petite cis women, people whose entire bodyframe was scaled down several sizes.
My abusive partner didn’t like this part of me: he liked my tall, statuesque body, but he insisted that my vagina should be the same small space he expected from a petite woman. He came easily enough, mind you. But the more insecure he was about his small penis, the more he would remind me that he’d had tighter women.
I understand now how the vagina works. I’ve learned that the vagina is a folded muscle that simply contracts and expands to accommodate what’s inside of it. There is no inherent tightness because it’s not an empty hole. The vagina may become less elastic over time after childbirth, but this can be remedied with Kegel exercises.
To quote one expert,
“The vagina’s muscle tissue remains tightly folded like a closed accordion. Anxiety makes the vaginal musculature clench even tighter…. As women become sexually aroused, vaginal muscle tissue relaxes somewhat. Biologically, this makes perfect sense. Evolution is all about facilitating reproduction. A tight vagina would impede intercourse and reproduction, so women evolved to have sexual arousal relax the vaginal muscles, allowing easier insertion of erections–and greater chance of pregnancy.
However, arousal-related vaginal loosening does NOT produce a big open cavity like the inside of a sock. Rather, the vaginal interior changes from resembling a tight fist to a fist loose enough to insert a finger or two. If the vagina feels “too tight” during lovemaking, the woman is either (1) not interested in sex, or (2) she has not had enough warm-up time to allow her vaginal musculature to relax enough for comfortable insertion.
A man who attempts intercourse before the woman is fully aroused–before her vagina has relaxed and become well lubricated–is either sexually unsophisticated or a boor.
After relaxing during sex, vaginal muscle tissue naturally contracts—tightens—again. Intercourse does NOT permanently stretch the vagina. This process, loosening during arousal and tightening afterward, happens no matter how often the woman has sex.” (Michael Castleman at Psychology Today.com)
How I Feel Now
It took me a long time to grow out of this insecurity.
Over the past four years, I’ve looked back on my relationship with the word “tightness” with growing understanding. I understand why my vagina used to lock up and refuse entry. I understand why my abusive partner tried to shame me for not being tight enough around his penis.
Despite this understanding, I still flinch when I hear the word “tightness.” Perhaps, for me, there’s just too many negative associations from my earlier years. Maybe that’ll go away. Maybe not.
My next partner (the man I’m still with today) attracted me by his quiet confidence. There was no insecurity about his manliness or his penis size. He never found me too loose for him. At the time of writing, we’ve just celebrated our 4th anniversary.
Are some vaginas naturally narrower than other ones? Possibly. I wouldn’t be surprised if, to some extent, a petite, 5 feet tall, cis-gender woman had a narrower vagina than me…All of her internal organs would be smaller than mine.
But I’m happy with me. I’m happy with my body, finally, after all these years.