“Have a glass of wine to loosen yourself up a bit?”
These words were said to me by a doctor a few weeks before I turned 30.
I’d been sexually active for 14 years and the truth is that sex was a mystery to me.
I had had sex. Lots of sex. But for the most part, I participated (giving appropriate “ooh” and “aah” noises at what felt like reasonable intervals) and hoped that the next time would be better.
Mostly, it hurt.
Before this doctor’s appointment, I’d decided that enough was enough. I was tired of feeling ‘complicated’, ‘broken’, ‘difficult’ and wanted to become a multi-orgasmic-tantric-come-with-ease-never-painful-sexual-goddess. Or, at least, learn to enjoy the sex I was having, a bit.
I’d been honest with partners about my lack of enjoyment but once they knew about it, sex became a mission to ‘fix me’.
Partners would kindly say “What about that time?”, “Did that special move work?”, or “This always worked on my ex”.
Communication is essential during sex, but it ended up feeling like sex was taking place under exam conditions; your hour to make Fran have a good time starts now.
I became accomplished at pretending to enjoy sex: faking the exact pitch of moans, covering up my pain with exuberant vocal enthusiasm. I was their cheerleader, each moan saying: “YOU are really good at sex.” I was simultaneously being very loud and very quiet.
Often, as a partner fell asleep next to me, I would tell myself that I was not wired up right.
Mostly, it was enough for me that my partner was having a good time, but with long-term and casual lovers alike I’d inevitably feel like I was the problem and was terrified they’d leave me for someone with a more roomy vagina.
It is estimated that around a third of young and middle-aged women suffer from a form of sexual dysfunction, along with around half of older women. This can include problems with desire, orgasm and pain during sex. I have experienced all three at some point.
While for some women, being diagnosed with female sexual ‘dysfunction’ can help them seek treatment, there are also the dangers that come with medically labelling someone a ‘dysfunction’.
Personally, I found it difficult to feel both sexy and dysfunctional, it’s not the hottest label out there.
It is also worth noting that the symptoms of female sexual dysfunction are not necessarily problems unless the woman feels they are affecting her happiness. Women all have different sex drives, levels of sexual response and sexual preferences, so there is a danger of medicalizing something that is just one woman’s norm.
Sitting in the doctor’s surgery with my medical history up on the screen, I could see my sex life mapped out; appointments spanning 14 years marked the times I’d felt brave, desperate or supported enough to ask for help.
After each appointment, I’d left feeling unheard, unimportant and untreated.
Between those times were years of thinking that not enjoying sex wasn’t life-threatening and so I shouldn’t waste a doctor’s time.
I mean, someone could be dying in the waiting room whilst I was complaining about not having a good time between the sheets! Not enjoying sex felt like a ‘luxury’ problem.
It was lonely.
I felt overlooked by the doctor, partners often took it very personally and friends’ well-meaning advice of “When you meet the right guy it will be different!” just isn’t true — I’ve met lots of lovely ‘right guys’. Plus, there’s what feels like an enormous taboo in even discussing it.
So I wrote a comedy show about it, to make some noise and reclaim the voice I so often lost in bed.
Ad Libido is the true story about me at 30, realizing I wasn’t enjoying sex and going on a mission to fix that.
It’s all completely 100% true: from the extracts from my teenage diaries to the wonder cures I tried.
I even went to a Sex Camp. I meant to stay for 4 days, but ended up staying for much much longer.
I never thought I would actually put the show on, because I didn’t think anyone would be interested in hearing about my vagina. All I could picture was people walking out of the theatre thinking, “oh my goodness, it’s going to be a woman on stage shouting at me about her vagina for 55 minutes”.
I was wrong, people are very invested in my vagina. And in sex in general, and how we have conversations about pleasure, and taboos around female pleasure, pain during sex, and different dysfunctions at different stages of life.
Mostly we act like we are sexual gods, like we orgasm every time, are continuously wet and last for hours. The idea of admitting there is something wrong felt so vulnerable and exposing, but I think audiences have found or seen their own experiences in that.
Sometimes my show is the first time someone has seen their sexual experience represented on stage (or anywhere for that matter).
This is a lovely thing for me, but it’s also terrifying because it shouldn’t be me. These things should be talked about much more widely.
I’m now very conscious as well that if people do come to see the show who have had similar experiences, I have somewhere I can send them afterwards.
I have support in place: different clinics, different websites, different techniques. People shouldn’t have to feel on their own.
The amount of people who have changed their lube brand because of coming to see my show is astounding… Oh yes, there is free organic lube!
Ad Libido is doing a UK tour in the Spring 2020. Check my Instagram @franbushe for dates and details.
The Diary Of My Broken Vagina
I then went on to write about my journey in a Channel 4 Comedy Blap The Diary Of My Broken Vagina.
I admit I didn’t think anyone would be interested in hearing about my vagina and it’s woes but I was completely wrong.
After watching my show, many women and men in the audience have contacted me to tell me their stories of sexual pain, loss of libido, the disparity in sex drives between them and their partner, worries about size and the sense of failure these experiences often bring.
Talking about it is scary for me as it means admitting I often feel intimately broken at my very core.
The Diary of My Broken Vagina also available on All 4 and You Tube.
I wish I could say things are different for me now…
But I often find it easier to talk to a room of strangers about my sex life than the person I’m being intimate with.
I wish I could say that I am now loud in bed in a different way, that my moans of pretend pleasure have been replaced by communication, requests and curiosity, but it is not always straightforward or easy.
All I can do is be kind to myself, patient and practice being a little bit more honest and a little more loud every time.
– Fran Bushe (33 years old, London, UK)
P.S. I invite you to also check out my book The Diary of My Broken Vagina: One Woman’s Quest to Fix Her Sex Life, and Yours. It’s available now for pre-order.