My thesis project aims to bring awareness to the existence of female sexual pain disorders, through a series of six figurative illustrations. Inspired by my own experience with vaginismus, a condition that makes penetrative sex extremely painful or impossible, the series depicts the female body in multiple stages of life with sexual pain, encompassing the journey from discovery of the condition through struggling with its presence, to eventual recovery or acceptance. The series makes use of floral symbology and natural settings to represent varying states of emotion or personal transformation.
My paper examines societal attitudes towards sexuality, encompassing virginity loss and active/passive gender roles, generated from my perspective as a woman formerly living with a sexual pain disorder. I attempt to pinpoint specific beliefs and messages that may actively alienate people whose sexual experiences or identities may not fit a typically heteronormative model, including women with sexual pain disorders who may not be able to have intercourse. Using sociologist Laura Carpenter’s defined categories for attitudes towards one’s virginity — the gift, the stigma, and the step in the process – I examine societal institutions and media to determine where these attitudes may come from, how they are reinforced, and in some cases how they are harmful. I come to the conclusion that the concept of virginity needs to be redefined so as not to be limited to simply intercourse — as this erases the first sexual experience of those who are uninterested or incapable of intercourse. Viewing one’s sexuality as a continual learning process inspires greater mental and physical health.