Lara Parker, writer and deputy editor at buzzfeed.com has used her experience with endometriosis and painful sex to draw attention to these issues by sharing honestly and vulnerably through her writing. Her latest project, forthcoming book Vagina Problems, will be released October 6th 2020.
We spoke with Lara about advocating for self, the silencing of women's pain and using Cannabis for pain management. We hope you enjoy our conversation with Lara and that it might help with your own Vagina Problems.
Like so many that end up with an eventual diagnosis of endometriosis, it took many years for your condition to be accurately identified. Do you have any advice for women at the pre-diagnosis stage about navigating the medical system and advocating for themselves?
I think the most important advice I can offer is to trust yourself. Trust that you know your body best, and trust that what you are feeling is real. I also believe in arming yourself with as much information as possible. Unfortunately, many people living with endometriosis have found that they can't always rely on medical professionals to have the answers or diagnose things properly. I was criticized by many doctors for "Googling my symptoms" but those doctors never gave me a diagnosis and me Googling my symptoms did.
The silencing and minimizing of women's pain is a persistent theme for so many. How have you learned to effectively honour your pain and/or cope with the psychological impact of chronic pain?
It has taken a really long time, and I think what has been important for me to realize is that getting to a place of being able to be in sync with your body is not a straight path. And even when you arrive there the first time, it takes a lot of work to remain there.
"For me it was all about giving myself permission to feel whatever I was feeling—whether that is pain, anger, or sadness. I didn't have medical professionals or other people in my life giving me that permission and it took me a long time to realize that I could give permission to myself."
You talk about using cannabis daily as part of your pain management routine. Can you speak a little about the relief that cannabis provides and your thoughts on access to and privilege around cannabis use in America?
Discovering the pain relief that cannabis offers has been life-changing for me. It gives my body such a feeling of relaxation when so much of life makes it feel like it's part of utter chaos. It makes me feel happy, it gives me an appetite. It honestly makes me feel whole. I feel more like myself when I have cannabis. It feels like the only time in my life where I am able to peel back the layers of pain and trauma and really break free. The lack of access and criminalization of cannabis in America and many other places in the world makes me deeply, deeply sad. It's such a beautiful plant that has offered healing properties for so long, and because of racism it is treated like the enemy. I believe that cannabis should be accessible to anyone and everyone.
Vaginal physical therapy isn’t widely recommended by healthcare providers for pain management for vaginal issues. What has your experience been with the therapy?
Pelvic floor physical therapy is crucial for so many people with vaginas, and, unfortunately it's rarely recommended as a treatment option. I believe that everyone who gives birth should have pelvic floor PT. It's been really amazing for me in a lot of ways—even though it has not cured my pain. It has helped me to have a better understanding of what is going on with my body and has given me tools that I can use to fight back. It should be much more widely accessible. It's a crucial part of women's healthcare.
Your “When You Can’t Have Sex” video gives insight into what it’s like to date knowing that penetration causes you excruciating pain. For those out there who are coming to terms with this reality, what words of advice or reassurance can you share?
1) You are not alone.
2) You are not any less worth loving.
How has your chronic illness impacted your relationship with your body, your vagina, and your reproductive system? Do you think this impacts your views of your femininity and/or sensuality?
Of course my pain has impacted my feeling of sensuality and what I felt like was my identity as a woman for a really long time. I blame society for a lot of this. Straight women are made to feel as though we are just vessels for men to use for sex and then impregnate—and when you are told that you can't do either of those for various reasons, it's pretty fucking hard not to internalize that.
When did you first realize that your body (especially when naked) could be used as a means of self-expression and that hiding it just because society tells you to do so wasn’t serving you? What advice would you give others who want to create this shift for themselves?
I've always felt very comfortable being nude on my own. When I'm in my apartment, I spend a lot of time lounging around naked in just a robe or just under a blanket. But as I started developing vaginal pain, my self esteem plummeted. It was like I couldn't fucking stand to look at the body that I felt had betrayed me in such a way. So in order to take back the power, I started to experiment with posing and pictures and angles that made me feel fucking powerful. And for me, feeling powerful does tend to come out when I am posing naked and feeling myself. My advice for anyone looking to do the same would be to put on some of their favorite music, light some candles, put on some lipstick, and use that self-timer function.
Tell us more about your upcoming book, Vagina Problems. When/how did you decide to share your story and expand your reach beyond social/digital media into the literary world?
I think it felt natural to try and write a book about my experience because I wanted to write the book that I wished I had had when I first began experiencing my vagina problems.
"I want the book to act like the ultimate friend to anyone living with any kind of vagina problems."