Author ORCID Identifier

Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Comparative American Studies

Committee Member(s)

KJ Cerankowski
Crystal Biruk


Vaginismus, Pelvic pain, Sexual pain, Medicalization, Medical anthropology, Gender, Heteronormativity


This paper seeks to understand why pelvic pain conditions cause women to feel such intense shame, and to begin to untangle the many tensions these conditions embody. Pelvic pain -- particularly vaginal pain that causes pain upon attempted penetration into the vagina, including during sex -- is commonly experienced, yet is only beginning to become common knowledge. Women with these conditions feel a great deal of shame, anxiety, and self-hatred, yet often suffer in silence. This paper examines how pelvic pain conditions are at once not taken seriously by the medical establishment, and have not been given the attention and research they deserve and, at the same time, how medicalization and the complex social expectations that govern pelvic pain make women reliant on treatment that will never be able to fully cure them. Women deserve to be able to understand and treat their conditions, but their suffering is also inextricably complicated by their perceived “failure” at being a woman, and the resulting disbelief in their worth as people, that is caused by their inability to have penetrative sex. I will argue that biomedical models of treatment will therefore never be adequate in fully addressing pelvic pain conditions, because they will never be capable of solving the forces of gendered norms that cause much of the suffering that these conditions induce.