100 Women: I want to break the stigma of painful sex

This article originally appeared on BBC’s World Service. Written by Phoebe Keane.

One woman’s story of a decade of wrongly diagnosed sexual pain has inspired a play – and with it, the hope that other women with sexual dysfunction can be helped.

It was on a cold winter’s day just over a year ago that actress Emily Francis heard an item on the radio that moved her to tears.

“I felt desperately sad listening to Callista’s story. This problem with her vagina had destroyed her life. She’d lost her relationship, become depressed… it felt tragic,” she says.

Callista, a fashion stylist in San Francisco, had been speaking to BBC 100 Women about her long journey to finding a cure for unbearably painful sex. Continue reading “100 Women: I want to break the stigma of painful sex”

how to stop thinking about it so much (…you can’t…)

The light in the doctor’s office is familiar, as are the colors of the walls and cupboards, the smooth surface of the examination table, the charts on the wall of the nervous and muscular systems. Even the color of the doctors hair is familiar. It seems she is always blonde.  I can’t count the number of doctors anymore, can’t tally the puzzled expressions, the trace lines of doubt stitched around the corners of their eyes and knotted right between the brow. Today she is wearing a cotton candy pink sweater set that matches her glasses, which are also pink, and strung from a glass-beaded chain around her neck. Her slacks do not wrinkle. She is kind, but prim and cool, detached from any emotion I am feeling.  She reaches a hand out and pats my knee, which is exposed through a hole in my jeans that appears vulgar in her presence.

“You’re probably just going to have to live with this for the rest of your life, but I can help you manage your pain.” I’m wading through a deep stream and my legs are catching on reeds in the brackish water. I try to speak but I feel as if I’ve swallowed cotton balls. I begin to cry. She stiffens and says nothing while I weep. Continue reading “how to stop thinking about it so much (…you can’t…)”

How vaginal pain nearly destroyed my sex life

I remember exactly how it felt to be lying on the cool tiled floor of my parent’s bathroom. I was 13 years old. The tampon I was grasping awkwardly between my legs looked exactly like the one on the box, but where I thought it should go caused intense pain when I tried pushing. It felt like hitting a wall and having it bite you back. I didn’t think much of it at the time because anything about becoming a woman was just not to be discussed. I never talked to anyone about it, not until much later. Continue reading “How vaginal pain nearly destroyed my sex life”

My BBC Worldwide radio debut


When I was 16 I tried having sex for the first time, and I was surprised by how excruciatingly painful it was.  I knew it would hurt at first, that’s what everyone said anyways, but I never imagined it would feel like serrated knives between my legs, like fresh rope burn, like a ring of fire that burned for days afterwards.  It was so painful it traumatized me – I wouldn’t speak to my boyfriend after that, we broke up, and I fell into a deep depression which I couldn’t truly share with anyone.  Years passed before I would allow anyone to touch me, so scared was I of the consequences.  At the same time, I yearned to be like everyone else and I pretended none of this was that big of a deal.  I told myself I would get over it, that I just hadn’t met the right person, that I should wait until I was older to be having sex anyways.  I was very depressed, the psychological toll of chronic pain was devastating.  Because of the taboo around talking about sex, or having anything wrong with my “private area”, it would be years before I sought and received proper treatment.
Continue reading “My BBC Worldwide radio debut”