Jillian Currie desperately wants to meet The One and fall in love, but every time a guy starts to flirt with her she's filled with fear.
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She knows that any blossoming romance will involve telling someone else about her "problematic" sex life.
The 26-year-old "tears as if she's giving birth" every time she has sex, leaving her in complete agony - and doctors have absolutely no idea why.
Jillian, from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, has suffered from a string of gynaecological conditions since losing her virginity, aged 16, and is now bravely speaking out to help banish taboos surrounding vaginal conditions and to let other women with issues know they are not alone.
She said: “For the past six years, my sex life has been virtually non-existent.
“There’s a stereotype that women have a lower sex drive than men, but that isn’t always the case. I’ve wanted to do it, but not been able to – then I end up feeling frustrated that I can’t satisfy the other person.
“I can’t help feeling like there is a difference in the way men and women’s bodies are treated in medicine. Woman are expected to just suffer in silence, and a lot of the time, we aren’t even properly taught about our own bodies.
“It’s so hard not to lose faith, but I really want to encourage others out there to be persistent and keep pushing for an answer. You know your own body, so trust in yourself.”
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In 2014, when she was 20 and in a relationship, she started to suffer from the horrific tearing of her perineum – the area between the legs – every time she had sex, leaving her in so much pain she struggled to walk.
She said: "I’d be left with a deep cut, right where women usually tear when they give birth.
“It was every time I’d have sex and often it would be so painful that I’d have to stop.
“I was in a relationship at the time, but it obviously had an impact as not only was I not able to be intimate as much as I’d like, but I also lost all my confidence.”
Alongside the tearing, Jillian was also experiencing extremely heavy discharge, to the point where she would have to wear a maxi pad in her underwear, changing it multiple times throughout the day.
She continued: “I felt disgusting. I didn’t want anyone to touch me, so I basically stopped having sex. I know different bodies produce different amounts, but this wasn’t my normal.
“I know my own body and knew something had changed, but every time I went to the doctor, I was told it was probably simple like thrush or bacterial vaginosis – another common gynaecological condition – and was given medication.”
With prescribed tablets doing little to ease her symptoms, Jillian soon reached the end of her tether - fearing, in dark moments, that she had cervical cancer.
Just 24 then, making her too young for a routine smear test, her situation was so untenable that doctors agreed to perform one early.
Thankfully, cancer was ruled out – but she was found to have ectropions – where cells from inside the cervical canal are present outside it instead, causing bleeding, discharge and pain during or after sex.
In June 2018, she had the ectropions removed - via a cryotherapy where lesions are frozen off - and hoped her nightmare was ending but, five months later, her symptoms returned with a vengeance.
“This time, I at least knew what to look for, so I went straight back to the gynaecologist, who found two more ectropions,” she explained.
“In November 2018 I had a LEEP procedure, where an electrical wire loop scrapes and burns off the cells, while I was sedated, and, thankfully, that side of things seems to have been under control since.”
On her doctor's advice, Jillian also came off the contraceptive pill, as that can cause ectropions – but medics have not solved the problem of her skin ripping every time she has sex.
Now the intimate area has become so sensitive that she battles pain most days, sometimes struggling to use tampons and being unable to wear certain styles of underwear, because it irritates her fragile skin.
“It’s been six years of absolute hell,” she said. “I must have seen around 20 different gynaecologists, as well as lots of other doctors like dermatologists, sexual health and allergy specialists.
“At one point, I was even told it might be psychological – but, while I understand that there may be an element of anxiety, I don’t think it’s the whole story. It wouldn’t explain why my skin physically tears.
“I’ve had allergy tests in case it was a reaction to something like an ingredient in my sanitary products, countless scans and even a vulval biopsy – but nothing provided any answers.
“It got to the point where all I wanted was a diagnosis. Even if it was something bad, at least then I would know what I was dealing with and what my treatment options were.”
In early 2019, by which time Jillian had lost hope of finding an answer, she saw a glimmer of light, thanks to a specific steroid cream.
She said: “I’d found one steroid cream that sort of worked, if I used it days and days in advance of having sex.
“But then I figured I couldn’t live that way. For one thing, it would take any spontaneity out of having sex, but I also didn’t want to be using steroid creams long term on such a sensitive area.
"Plus, although it improved things, I was still tearing so it hadn't completely resolved it."
So, Jillian went to see a sexual health expert who referred her to a specialist at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, who they heard had treated similar conditions.
At her appointment in December 2019, she was finally given a diagnosis of vulvodynia – a chronic pain condition which affects the vagina.
“My body is almost associating touch with pain,” she explained.
While it was a relief to have a name for one of her woes, the reason why Jillian’s skin is so fragile and prone to tearing remains a mystery.
Vaginal atrophy, where the vaginal walls thin or inflame, sometimes as a result of a lack of oestrogen, has been suggested as a cause.
And she is now taking a course of hormonal treatment and has to wait and see if it is effective.
“The vulvodynia diagnosis is a definite, but the atrophy is still a maybe,” she said. “I just have to keep going with the treatment and see what happens.”
Currently single, Jillian still has the unenviable task of telling men she has chemistry with that she will struggle to be intimate with them before things progress.
So far, everyone has been understanding, but her situation has battered her self-esteem and affected her mental health.
And she is fearful that, if her condition cannot be treated, she will never be able to have sex again.
She said: “I have been in a couple of relationships while going through this, as well as periods of being single, but I would say my sex life for the past six years has been more or less non-existent.
“Knowing what I'm missing out on has had an impact on my confidence and mental health.
“Now, I almost panic if I’m talking to guy and it starts to get flirty, because I know at some point I will have to tell him that I cannot have sex as easily as other people can. Wondering when and how to bring it up is a challenge.
“Luckily, nobody has been nasty, and I suppose if they were, that’s not somebody I would want around.”
Despite life's considerable challenges, Jillian is trying to stay positive and talks about her struggles in her blog Queens of Eve, which aims to teach other women about their bodies.
She posts regularly and receives daily messages from women all over the world just like her.
By being so candid, she hopes to reassure others that they should not be embarrassed about their bodies.
She concluded: “Through Queens of Eve, I try my best to be there for other women. It can be so difficult to find an answer for some gynaecological problems.
"I'm happy to share my story because I want to help other women - my Instagram page is like a help hub - where women who have gynaecological issues can speak to fellow sufferers and learn that whatever they're going through isn't a taboo.
“A lot of the help out there seems to be geared towards older women, focusing on things like menopause and childbirth, or we’re simply given some drugs, or a form of contraception that can cause all sorts of other issues and told to get on with it.
“The underlying issue is that women aren’t properly taught about their own bodies. I’ve been on a wild goose chase for a decade now, and had no idea half of these conditions existed.
“I understand that women can have insecurities, or feel a little uncomfortable going to the doctors’ about certain things, but there is no such thing as a normal body, and I really want to help break that taboo.
“Now, I want to put myself out there to show how many women are suffering like me.
"If I’d had read a story like mine a few years ago, I’d have felt far less alone.”
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