Watch Tightly Wound, a film by Shelby Hadden and Sebastian Bisbal.
Writing and making the film did force me to re-live some of my experiences, but the process of working with them and re-telling them and making something beautiful was incredibly healing. – Shelby Hadden, Writer/Director/Producer
Shelby’s vaginismus story
I realized something was wrong when I first started my period when I was 14. No matter what I tried, I could not insert a tampon. Not only was it extremely painful, but it felt like it was just hitting a wall.
I spent many years visiting doctors who couldn’t tell me what I had, or how to fix it. After a lot of traumatic interactions with doctors, I was finally referred to pelvic floor physical therapy when I was 19. I was in and out of PT until I was 25.
How the film came about…
I wanted to make a film about vaginismus and/or virginity for a long time, but struggled to figure out exactly how to approach it visually. I don’t remember the exact moment, but 2D animation struck me as the perfect medium – I could go backwards and forwards in time and figuratively illustrate my thoughts, feelings, insecurities, and pain.
Even when explaining to friends, it was hard for them to grasp why a condition like this affects so much of how you feel about yourself.
The physical and emotional pain can be all-consuming, but if you haven’t experienced it yourself, you may just dismiss it with a “there’s other kinds of sex you can have.” Which is not wrong – but if you’ve been rejected by every guy you’ve ever liked because you can’t have PIV sex, then it feels like the only kind of sex that really counts.
I never thought I’d ever make a personal film because that’s just not the type of film I’ve made in the past, but I felt like I needed to tell my story before ever turning the camera on someone else on this topic.
I first wrote “Tightly Wound” as an essay – I feel much more comfortable writing in essay form rather than screenwriting, so that’s where I started. In early drafts, I had a paragraph about how it was fitting that I had a condition like this because I was a pretty “tightly wound” person.
I eventually scrapped that part of the essay but the words “tightly wound” stayed on my whiteboard for some time afterwards and eventually, I made it the title. I also liked that “wound” (verb: to roll or coil) is spelled the same as “wound” (noun: an injury) – since vaginismus created some major emotional wounds in my life.
The message behind the film!
The film is such a big part of my heart and my story and who I am. I am immensely proud of it. I hope it sends a few messages to the audience:
1. If you have vaginismus or something like this, you are not alone and there is treatment.
2. You can be working on improving your condition on your own, you do not need a romantic/sexual partner – you should really be doing it for yourself, anyway.
3. It’s hard to stay hopeful when trying to change your body, but you can do it!
Most meaningful scenes?
Every scene is meaningful to me.
I would say any time someone else’s voice appears is super special to me. I did my own voice-over and every voice in the film is someone from my life. My mom played herself, my physical therapist played herself, a young actress I’m close to played a classmate, and my friends provided their laughter.
I think a lot of people resonate with the doctor scene where they are on the conveyor belt. There are a lot of problems with our medical industry, and I think that scene speaks to a lot of people’s experiences.
Overall, the feedback has been incredibly positive and supportive. I am so grateful.
The process of making the film…
Making the film was such a journey and a gift.
I collaborated with my friend, Sebastián Bisbal, who animated the entire film. We worked remotely, as Sebastián lives in Chile. We were both coming out of grad school, so we didn’t have a ton of work. He focused on the film full-time for an entire year. Partly due to the success of “Tightly Wound” he is now in high-demand and working on a lot of projects. So, looking back on it, I was incredibly lucky to have all his time and attention. We had a lot of fun making it together.
Personally, it was both extremely healing, empowering, and exhilarating, but it was exhausting and draining.
I’ve heard from so many people around the world who resonated with this film and those messages have fuelled me and pushed me to continue the work. I am so proud of myself and the film for all it’s done to raise awareness and help people feel less alone. On the other hand, it was really tough raising all the money and constantly putting myself out there. People took it for granted that I was willing to talk about my life so publicly and I had to learn how to draw boundaries.
And here is a video walking you through what making the film looked like behind the scenes.
Other projects and going forward
In early 2020, I gave a TEDx talk called, “Why We All Lose When We Talk About Virginity,” which argues for a sex-positive framework for early sexual experiences.
You can watch it here!
Also, Sebastián and I are in the early stages of development for the sequel to “Tightly Wound” called “Winning my Virginity.”
Thank you for reading!
– Shelby Hadden