EXCERPT | My Broken Vagina: One woman's quest to fix her sex life, and yours

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In 'My Broken Vagina', author, Fran Bushe, writes about her funny, moving, and sometimes awkward quest to fix her sex life. Illustration photo by Getty Images.
In 'My Broken Vagina', author, Fran Bushe, writes about her funny, moving, and sometimes awkward quest to fix her sex life. Illustration photo by Getty Images.
  • My Broken Vagina is about one woman's funny, moving, and sometimes awkward quest to fix her sex life. It's the story of millions of women everywhere - half of all women have felt pain during sex.

  • During award-winning writer and performer Fran Bushe's journey towards building a better relationship with her genitals, doctors advised her to have a glass of wine to loosen up, and male friends suggested she simply hadn't 'tried' the right penis yet. Unsurprisingly, neither worked.

  • After a visit to Sex Camp and many attempts to fix her 'broken' vagina, Fran decided to share her own hilarious, excruciating, and sometimes upsetting experiences.

  • With the help of her 16 year old self's diary, expert advice, candid and enlightening interviews with others about sex, and some self-care exercises, Fran sets about trying to make herself, and other people, feel like they're not being gaslit by their own vaginas.

  • Below is an excerpt from her book, My Broken Vagina, published by Hodder & Stoughton.


Jay has decided to not talk to me today because of what we wrote on MSN last night. She has informed me she will resume speaking to me tomorrow at 9am . . .

And

I am thinking of getting a tattoo of a dolphin and some words in French in italics underneath . . . maybe J’adore?

Among all the teenage anxiety, friendship dramas and attempts at tiny rebellions I read . . .

I’m sure sex will get better. Things are always hard at first but get easier with time. Right? I bet it won’t be long before I’m having AMAZING sex, every single time. Probably.

Tried crimping my hair today, but got bored halfway through, it is not as easy as Kim makes it look. I have a LOT of hair.

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I’d sat and reread that diary entry over and over. Things hadn’t gotten better, for sex (or my hair). Over a decade-and-a-half after writing that, lying there basking in his post-coital glow I couldn’t shake an empty feeling. Sex hadn’t gotten easier. I had failed 16-year-old Fran.

‘How was that for you?’ he asked smoothly. I opened my mouth to answer, but left too long a pause. Something in the elastic of myself snapped and I started to cry. I’d done this performance too many times and I’d forgotten my lines.

‘Was it that good?’ he asked hopefully. In his defence he had just witnessed an outstanding performance of sexual enjoyment (complete with standing ovations and multiple requests for a sequel).

In my defence, they were really heaving, pillow-soaking tears, clearly not happy tears. I really did have a good feeling about this man beside me and maybe, just maybe, I thought he would be different. You see, by this point I’d been faking enjoyment of sex on and off for around fourteen years: it had become the norm. I had bad experiences of telling the truth.

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‘I really enjoy having sex with you,’ I said delicately, ‘But I find it really hard to orgasm and sex can be painful. I feel very broken a lot of the time. I always have I think.’ Laying this truth out on the cotton sheets between us, I was completely honest about sex for the first time in six months. He stared at the ceiling contemplatively, breathing calm and easy. ‘Maybe he will be different,’ I hoped, ‘Maybe this time will be different.’

After a few moments he turned his head to me, looked deep into my eyes and asked . . .

‘Is it my penis?’

(It was not his penis).

‘I thought I had a good penis. I’ve been told I have a really good penis.’

‘It’s really not your penis, you have a lovely penis . . . Go Penis!’

‘I’ve always been considered very good at sex,’ he added. Cool.

‘In fact, and I’m not one to brag, I have given several partners, multiple partners, their first ever orgasm. People who have NEVER come before. Never.’

Great. That’s nice. I mean it did sound a little like bragging.

‘I’ve never had any complaints, so, I just don’t know what’s suddenly wrong with my penis. What’s wrong with my penis?’

He didn’t stop saying the word penis at regular intervals for a long time.

‘Penis . . . penis . . . penis . . . penis . . . PENIS?! . . . penis’. I wanted to take back what I had just said, to cover this man in sexual medals and sky-write that he was one noteworthy lover in one-hundred-foot letters across the horizon. I patted his back, soothing his emotions.

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‘It’s me that’s broken,’ I said, ‘You are great . . .  you are perfect . . . your penis [kisses fingers extravagantly like a Michelin Star chef] so nice! What a lovely penis! Just the best of all peni.’ He didn’t hear me though and before I knew it, I’d decided it was too much honesty and maybe if I worked fast I could undo the damage.

‘I’m just a bit of a mess today, hormones probably, period is very due, and my head just wasn’t in the sex. Sorry, the sex is always really great, you are really great at sex, the best.’

I often dismiss and blame moments of sadness or anger on hormones. Sometimes it definitely is my hormones, oh boy is it my hormones, but not always. Sometimes the anger or sadness is what I am feeling, but don’t feel allowed to say or express it, so my hormones take the blame. An hour later, he was still sitting looking damningly at his crotch like it had let the side down, penis and ego both flaccid.

I decided to cheer him up. What really cheers him up? Sex really cheers him up. ‘I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying, I love having sex with you, in fact-’ I leant in, kissed him and . . . off we went. This time I was his full-time cheerleader, each moan erasing his memory: ‘Oh, oh, oh, forget what I just said, yes, yes, yes, you are such a talented lover, that’s the ticket.’

As he finished, he looked at me eagerly. ‘Did it work that time?’

I smiled.

‘You are the best at sex.’

He fell asleep and I pressed my thighs together, trying to numb the pain, feeling like an idiot.

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books, vagina, gyneacology, sex

In 'My Broken Vagina', author, Fran Bushe, writes about her funny, moving, and sometimes awkward quest to fix her sex life. Photo supplied by Jonathan Ball Publishing. Book published by Hodder & Stoughton


Throughout my twenties I had tried to be honest with partners, but they had seen my ‘difficulty’ to enjoy sex as a failing on their part (or parts). When I was honest with them, the truth then lay in bed with us like a strange ménage à trois, impossible for us to ignore or get past. I had come to the point of believing that it wasn’t possible to be in a happy relationship with a broken vagina, so the choice was either lie about enjoy- ing sex or be alone.

Neither ‘Is It My Penis?’ Man nor I behaved perfectly in this. I know now that for him realising that I’d been lying about my experience of sex for months will have felt like a betrayal, adding doubt to a situation where you are meant to be at your most connected and vulnerable with someone. So, I think there’s space here for an apology . . .

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Dear ex-lovers,

I’m sorry I wasn’t completely honest with you about sex.

Often when I told the truth you closed down and thought it was a personal critique of ‘your moves’. I should have been honest, but pride, fear of rejection, and sometimes even love was wrapped up in there too, so I stopped telling you it hurt, because it hurt you too much. In the future, if someone should happen to feel courageous enough to share with you, know that it isn’t an attack or a complaint. So please be kind.

Lots of love and thanks for all the spooning, Fran x

I lay in bed next to a sleeping ‘Is it My Penis?’ Man, feeling like a failure. Failing him by not responding to his touch properly. Failing feminism and womankind, because this is the twenty-first century and I should have been an advocate for my own pleasure and not just be a penis pleaser. And failing myself, why was my body so bad at being a body? My mind kept me awake with an incessant and highly critical inner monologue.

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MY BRAIN: This is your fault Fran, you should tell him what is and isn’t working, he isn’t a mind reader for heaven’s sake! How is he meant to drive the car without a road map?

ME: I don’t even know how to drive the car, I’m not even sure where it’s parked, I think I’ve lost the car keys!

MY BRAIN: You are behaving like a wank sock Fran!

I didn’t enjoy feeling like a wank sock.

Advice columns say, ‘Just tell them what you need!’, like this is the simplest of sex moves, but when I was with someone I cared about deeply, or even a brand-new partner who I wanted to like me, it wasn’t always that easy. It wasn’t even straightforward knowing what I needed or wanted in the first place. At other times I had said what I needed loud and clear, but being heard and listened to was something different altogether.

books, vagina, gyneacology, sex

'My Broken Vagina' is published by Hodder & Stoughton and available for purchase at selected bookstores.

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