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Your New Sex Columnist is Breaking all the Rules

September 4, 2008

My name is Dr. Strokes, and I’m your newest sex columnist.

Here are some things you need to know about me:

1. I’m a white female who was raised in a wealthy and largely secular household.

2. On the Kinsey Scale, I consider myself to be around a 1.8. Mostly attracted to men, but also substantially to women, although I have very little sexual experience with the latter and that’s something I want to change. Unrelatedly, I’ve always wanted to say that I’m π queer, but sadly π is just a lot queerer than I am. Maybe it’s as queer as you?

3. I survived sexual abuse and a rape attempt during high school, and most recently (seven months ago? is it really that close?) I survived a stranger rape in a foreign country. I also survived the subsequent hospital rape kit and police interrogation. We’ll talk more about that process later, but let’s just say that cutting my own fingernails now reminds me of rape. I wonder if a manicure would.

4. I struggle to some extent with depression and anxiety, although those problems were at their worst during the period I’ll describe in Bullet Point 5. So I’m on SSRIs. Sometimes I worry that this impairs my sexual experience further. Sometimes I worry that I’ll never get off of them. Mostly I’m grateful that they help me function as well as I do.

5. For a long period between Big Sexual Trauma #1 and Big Sexual Trauma #2, I would experience a debilitating pain in my genital region after sexual activity, masturbation, and sometimes just when I got horny. I couldn’t walk, standing up was painful, and hey, lying down and crying was painful too, but at least then my eyes got itchy so that I could focus my self-loathing and feelings of being an inadequate woman somewhere else. Despite going to doctors and psychologists, nobody was ever able to explain to me what exactly was wrong, just that I was suffering from some sort of vulvodynia (literal translation: pain in the vagina) and that maybe it had physical causes and maybe it had psychological causes but yes, yes, it was pain. Oh yes? Tell me something I don’t know. Although this problem has disappeared in recent months, I continue to worry that if I re-enter old psychological habits, or if I get a skin rash, or if I hit my funny bone the wrong way, the pain will return.

Have you digested that?

This isn’t going to be Carrie Bradshaw’s sex column. This isn’t going to be anything like the sex column at Harvard or Yale. This is especially not going to be Dan Savage’s sex column. How do I know that? When I was telling friends about my plans, one said “Well, Dan Savage says the secret to his success is that he never writes about himself, and when he does it’s a lie.”

I am always going to write about myself. And as far as possible I am going to try to tell the truth about reconciling my identities as a (sort of queer) lover of kinky sex, a survivor of sexual violence, and a possibly recovered, possibly relapsed sufferer of a sexual pain disorder.

I am going to tell you what it feels like to be triggered during masturbation and during partner sex. I am also going to tell you what I’ve learned about working through these triggers and towards a more fulfilling sex life, so that maybe if your next partner is a survivor you won’t be scared when they entrust you with that information.

I am going to tell you about what it feels like to think that you’re the only girl in the world with an aching vagina and an inability to reach orgasm. I am going to tell you what I’ve learned about sexual pain disorders, so that maybe if your next partner has one you’ll be willing to work with them.

I am going to tell you about how I theorize my queer identity and my survivor identity, and how one impacts the other. I am going to tell you about how I reconcile my fantasies about violent sex with my lived experience of rape. I am going to complain a lot about the mainstream media and its depiction of sex, and to counteract it I am going to recommend some way sexier and healthier alternatives.

I am going to give you the occasional “Try this position!” or “Wow, this is a good lube!” sex tip to cheer you up after all the doom and gloom, but really it’s not going to be that much doom and gloom: this is a column about working through your issues and learning to love yourself because of what that working through has turned you into.

Why am I spilling out all of my secrets on the Internet, then?

The first reason is selfish: I am still working all of this stuff out. The best way for me to work things out is to write them down. The only times I feel like writing about painful topics are (1) when it’s 3 AM and I’m drunk and kind of on an adrenaline rush and (2) when I know somebody is going to be reading on the other end. So guess who gets to witness my own attempts at therapy, even to be my Greek chorus of therapists who comment useful things in harmonic unison? Yes, that would be you.

The second reason is entirely non-selfish: These are not topics that people talk about, and the fact that we don’t talk about them leaves people feeling dangerously alone and depressingly unsexy.

I know because that was me just a few years ago. The Courage to Heal, a weighty tome of 600 pages which has sometimes been described as the “Survivor Bible” (and yes, I acknowledge the controversies surrounding the book and will talk about them later) has maybe twenty pages on being a survivor and having sex.

But do you know what kind of healing might well take the most courage of all? Sexual healing. And besides the wonderful Staci Haines, who is talking about sexual healing for survivors and how painful and difficult and weird it can be? Certainly nobody in the mass media. And honestly, not that many people in the public spaces of the Internet, the place where you can find porn of anything and good sex advice on virtually nothing.

So who is sharing their personal experiences with all of these problems (and making them highly Google-able, so link, kids, if you want to be an ally, LINK) so that the rest of the people struggling with them don’t have to feel so goddamn useless and frigid and alone anymore?

…I’m looking around, and the only person I’m seeing is Dr. Strokes.

Let me make a few disclaimers before I leave. First, I don’t want anyone to stop reading because they’re not a survivor or they don’t have a sexual pain disorder. I think you’ll find that even the “normals” can identify with (and learn from?) my column. To some extent, we’ve all had to deal with the same cultural trauma surrounding sex, and we all hear media and cultural messages that make sex out to be something very different from what it actually may be for us.

So if you’re reading about my experiences with dissociation and thinking “Crap, this sounds familiar, but nobody ever raped me!” you should calm down, because contrary to what the media tells us, sex isn’t easy for anyone, and when you get into the bedroom, everyone’s got some sort of cultural and individual trauma they’re going to have to stare down and ultimately work through.

On the flip side, I don’t want anyone to assume I’m speaking for all women or all survivors or all people with a sexual pain disorder or all people who are all that, queer, and have mustard on top.

I’m not. Also I don’t have mustard on top. While some of my experiences may be shared by people who share those identities, in this column I’m only speaking for me. Just because I like having my head rubbed and hate it when people talk about orgasms doesn’t mean anyone else feels the same way.

The take-home message here is “This is the unique way that Dr. Strokes experiences sex, and this is how she’s benefited from spelling that out to herself and the entire Internet. Why don’t you ask your partner to think hard about the unique facets of their experience, but maybe in the privacy of their own bedroom, so that they too can reap the benefits?”

Well, OK, there’s a lot more take home messages where that one came from (one: I want more people to describe their sexuality in terms of irrational numbers, because you are not a fraction, dammit, and you cannot be reduced! and two: is mustard sexy? is an important question to ponder) but for now it’s time to end this meta-column with a meta-reflection: Writing this column is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I think that if I do it right it could also turn out to be the best thing I’ve ever done. If you’re in my intended audience, you know it, and I’m really glad you made it here.

Keep on surviving,
Dr. Strokes

  • G

    I have Vulvodynia and I am unable to have sex or even sit for 2 years !

    I have tried tons of treatments and am still suffering :(((((

    Thanks for mentioning the condition in your column we need more media attention and research.

  • M

    I admire your courage, and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.


  • A


    Really, seriously, honestly, thanks. For sharing, for putting yourself out there, for working through your own shit out loud, for admitting that you’re still working, and especially for being there for the many many people who need you to be there – here – right now, including me.

  • Jessa

    Wow, Dr. Strokes. This is very thought-provoking. Looking forward to all the rest of your columns. “good sex advice on virtually nothing”–Glad we will be hearing some honest sex advice from you.

  • Julian

    Dr. Strokes,
    I profoundly admire you and your endeavor here. You are extremely brave! Congratulations on being awesome! I can’t wait to read more! Thank you!

  • Lauren

    I am so proud to know you.

  • Liz McBride

    I’m so glad that vulvodynia is receiving press. It’s been estimated that as many as 18% to 25% of women in the U.S. suffer from this at some point in their lives and for some reason no one will talk about this taboo subject! I am definitely going to read this column. I am a physical therapist in San Francisco and I treat many women with this debilitating problem with great success. Too many women are told it’s in their head and I have heard from too many doctors, “Relax, use some lube and have a glass of wine.” They just don’t seem to get it. A great resource for patients and health care professionals is the National Vulvodynia Association, , check it out.

  • Elena

    Dr. Strokes I love you.

  • glen
  • slogger
  • Mr. Poe

    I’m sorry, but “posting rules” says that I have to “be nice.” I don’t want to be nice. This tumored column must be bashed.

  • SquantumLeap


  • Anonymous

    I just want to thank the Daily Gazette and Dr. Strokes both for publishing this column. I believe it will be useful to a wide audience on campus, and I’ll certainly be reading it. I especially admire Dr. Strokes’ courage in writing this column and in being so open about herself. Thank you again to everyone who is involved in this column- particularly Dr. Strokes for her desire to share her story and to help herself and others on campus in the process.

  • Karla

    There’s a marvelous new invention some of the kids are using when they want to talk about themselves and link to things on the internet – it’s called a blog. Perhaps someone at Swarthmore is familiar with such a thing?

  • Laura

    My goodness… I have to say that a Kinsey 1.8 who refers to herself as queer is a bit mesmerizing… I am not sure I think you have anything to offer to anyone but a rather limited group of people if you are going to focus on sex advice based on your experiences

  • Will

    Yay survivors! It’s great to have survivors and sexual health brought up in the same column.

  • TherapThyself

    So…what sort of questions are you able to answer? Maybe you should tell us even more about yourself so that we can comb through the details and send you questions that are only relevant to you.

  • Amber

    Thanks for writing this. I hope you continue even if rude people keep siccing their readers on you because they somehow feel “threatened” by college gossip.

  • J Pontoon

    Is Strokes your first or last name?

  • Dr. Strokes

    Hey everybody, thanks for the warm welcome, and as for the people who think I’m crazy and need therapy, thanks for the input, but I’m doing pretty well, thanks, and you don’t need to read if you don’t want to.

    Liz McBride: I am totally with you on that one. Vulvodynia sorely needs more press and more awareness, and I will be writing more about it in the future. (And hey, that was a pun! I’m a light hearted kid!)
    Mr. Poe: Tumored? Glad to see I’m pissing people off already!
    Karla: Uh, and there’s a thing called an “online newspaper” which syndicates these blogs?
    Laura: Last time I checked, being attracted to women made me queer. Not just women, and not mostly women, but women. Lots of them.
    TherapThyself: Lots of questions? Like, not just questions about safe sex, contraception, weird positions and strange fetishes (all within my realm of experience), but also questions about survivor issues, questions about vulvodynia, questions about vaginismus? More questions than your average sex columnist? I’m not sure what you’re worried about…
    Pontoon: Neither, it’s just something I enjoy doing. More on that next column…


    VULVODYNIA SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Kid on the Ball

    Hi Dr. Strokes!

    Your first posting offers up some of the most boring, flaccid writing I’ve ever encountered. Such a buzzkill. I feel like I just watched a poorly made holocaust film.

    Much like therapists are not allowed to be crazier than their patients, and sex columnists are not allowed to be more screwed up than the people they’re advising. So I’m afraid you’re going to have to add this sure-to-fail column to your prolific list of disappointments in life.

    Also, 1.8? Please. That’s not queer. It’s a sorority girl.

  • Dan

    This is an interesting take on your typical sex column. After all, a sex column doesn’t necessarily imply in its language that it has to be advice for other people. Thank you for a fresh perspective.

  • virgin

    “sex isn’t easy for anyone, and when you get into the bedroom, everyone’s got some sort of cultural and individual trauma they’re going to have to stare down and ultimately work through”

    Maybe I’ll just join the convent…

  • Dr. Strokes

    Kid on the Ball– I feel like a lot of people here are failing reading comprehension. I am a screwed up person doing an excellent job of working through my issues, which makes me, uh, less screwed up than the people I’m advising.

    And we don’t have sorority girls at Swarthmore. So sorry. If we’re going with 1.8, I’m attracted to women 33 percent of the time. How am I not queer?

    virgin– Please don’t unless the nun lifestyle really appeals to you. Sex can be pretty awesome once you jump over those issues. Not that the convent can’t be pretty awesome as well. Just, uh, don’t let me scare you off, deal?

  • Julian

    Dr Strokes,
    I am really sorry that you have to hear all of this shit from people who have nothing better to do than be mean. You are very courageous and I profoundly respect you.

  • Lauren

    @Laura, Kid on the Ball, etc– yeah, because a REAL queer like yourself would be engaging in more authentic womyn-loving activities, like policing the boundaries of other people’s sexualities.

    or informing people they’re “not allowed” to critically examine their own sexual impulses/experiences. or “not allowed” to subvert the current way of talking about sex.

    idk, i think Dr. Strokes is coming up queerer than your reactionary asses.

  • Sasha

    Dear Daily Gazette,

    Is there a way to let only members of the campus community comment on articles and columns? Everyone else can convey their irrelevant sentiments via email to the DG. After all, isn’t the Daily Gazette a campus resource?


  • Ronni

    Dr.S: thank you for your courage and your generosity. Stuff like this makes me proud to be a Swarthmore alum. Well done, Daily Gazette!

    Some random person on the internet says: “Sexual assault isn’t discussed exactly because it isn’t easy to hear. But it’s a reality that needs public, transparent, honest dialogue. And that’s part of the appeal and novelty of a sex advice column, to say in a public forum, what no one else has the guts to say…. In my opinion, [Dr. Strokes is] accomplishing what a good sex advice column should, helping us become better, more understanding sexual beings.” I AGREE!

  • Genna

    We love Lisa !!!!!!!!!!! Please sign the call letter


    Vulvodynia is a painful chronic vulvar disease with enormous
    discomfort and pain. Complaints range from burning, stinging,
    swelling, itching, irritation and rawness of the female genitalia
    however Vulvodynia pain is highly individualized. The condition
    varies in persistence and location. Pain may be constant or
    intermittent, localized or diffuse. In many cases of Vulvodynia,
    pain occurs spontaneously.

    Upon examination, the vulvar tissue may appear inflamed and swollen
    or it may look perfectly normal. It is common for a woman to consult
    up to 12 doctors before obtaining an accurate diagnosis. Currently
    there is no cure for Vulvodynia. Treatments are only directed toward
    symptom relief. They include drug therapies such as tricyclic
    antidepressants or anticonvulsants, nerve blocks, interferon,
    biofeedback, and diet modification. While Vulvodynia, was first
    described as a syndrome at the end of the last century more than a
    hundred years have passed and the cause of the disorder remains

    Vulvodynia interferes with daily functioning, such as sitting
    walking and most other physical activity. It often affects one’s
    ability to engage in sexual activity. It can impair one’s ability to
    work, and participate in a social life. These limitations often lead
    to depression and thoughts of suicide.

    We need ongoing and multiple approached researchers to learn the
    underlying cause of Vulvodynia. We need proper care and medications
    that help control the pain and discomfort, that helps all forms of
    Vulvodynia patients to cope with their daily lives. We need
    dedicated professionals to start and continue researching this
    disease until a cure is found. We need compassionate professionals
    to join in the fight against the ignorance that engulfs the
    sufferers of the disease. We need dedicated people who are committed
    to figuring out what causes Vulvodynia, and how to treat and cure

    It has been over 100 years since the “discovery” of Vulvodynia and
    yet Vulvodynia is virtually ignored by the medical and research
    community. It is time for the medical and research community to step
    into the 21st Century and recognize and legitimize our disease and
    pain by forming a national research foundation that will continually
    study this disease until a cure is found. It is time to stop our

    Lauren Kunis New York City USA

  • Amalia Tsiongas

    I just wanted to point out that a) thinking someone writes poorly b) not identifying with someone or c) being turned off by something you see or hear are all easy to deal with by turning your attention to things YOU feel are more worthwhile.

    Actively trying to censor another individual should not be necessary, if her offenses are merely those listed above (as Dr. Strokes’ assailants contend). And yet they have resorted to wielding some of their most powerful weapons as peers: intimidation and ridicule.

    Which means the following: Dr. Strokes is not just boring and unsexy, rambling, weepy, a poor writer and a buzzkill, for all these qualities, in and of themselves, are benign. No, there are many whose worldview has been threatened by Dr. Strokes’ writing, and they have responded viciously. Fortunately for them, though they may not know it, is that having one’s worldview threatened now and again is not necessarily a bad thing, and all they risk by reevaluating theirs is that it may change for the better.

    To most, Dr. Strokes’ naysayers would be worthy opponents. Shame is a powerful weapon; it has silenced many. And yet it is clear – and may I say heartening – to see that Dr. Strokes is determined not to join their ranks.

  • Jen

    I’d just like to say, I think this is amazing. I think your average sex column is mental masturbation targeted at people who are sick of constant actual masturbation. I think this is real, necessary, and really interestingly written. I think calling Dr. Strokes crazy or belittling what she is doing is to completely miss the importance of this. Personally, I think Dr. Strokes is an exceedingly rare kind of brave.

  • Guy

    Hey Dr. Strokes,

    What a great article. Pay not attention to the haters. About a year ago, due to either A- riding a bike too much, B- jumping in a ice-cold river, or C- having way too much Swarthmore stress, I developed something called Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome or Prostatitis (I’m a man). The symptoms include erectile dysfunction, pain and aching in the genitals, and any other pleasantness you could imagine coming with an inflamed prostate. Most doctors out there don’t no shit, and have done little for me. I’m much better than I was a year ago, but sexual dysfunction is one of the worst things that can happen to a virile young college student. There should really be more said about these issues!

    Keep doin’ it!

  • Jason’s ship with hint of citrus

    SSRIs…I feel your pain….or lack of sensation.
    But when I want material for lesbian eunuchs captaining harems, Paxil provides it.
    Not that I condone harems.
    Oh…and this Argonaut salutes you most jauntily!
    Hi ho.

  • J.

    I don’t attend this school or read this newspaper, but I just wanted to thank you for being willing to cover sexual pain disorders. I went 5 years before seeking help and it took an additional 3 years to find a doctor who could help me. I’m glad that this problem will be getting attention.

  • 08

    I have to say, while I respect your ability to discuss your problems candidly online, I found this column to be torturously written and its didactic, save-the-world, tell-you-how-to-deal-with-your-hypothetical-partner-with-psychological-and/or-physical-issues-about-sex tone is really off-putting. If you want to write about yourself and your problems, write about yourself and your problems. But the preachy tone and exceptionalist attitude seriously detract from whatever value the self-indulgent content of this column may or may not hold.

    I also take issue with the statement that there is no good sex advice online, but I’m not going to post the massive list of links I could come up with to perfectly good sex advice, sex columns, etc., much of which is written by women who are comfortable with themselves and their sexual exploits.

    Additionally, as a female who likes having sex and talking about sex, I have to say I’m really sad to see that The Bone Doctor’s stint as excellent, frank, sexy, and fun (male) sex columnist has been followed up by two females who would rather whine about their own personal issues while masquerading as sex columnists. This just cements the (false) stereotype that women can’t approach sex without a whole ton of baggage.

  • 09

    Even though I’m a lesbian, I too miss The Bone Doctor. His column was by far the most accessible and relevant.

  • Dr. Strokes

    Guy– That sucks, but I’m glad it’s better. Keep on being awesome.

    Argonaut– Tell me more about this Paxil.

    08– Where did I say there was no good sex advice online? There’s a lot of it, and a lot of it I will be linking to. What I said was, there’s very little advice about sex for people with pain disorders and survivor issues. Which is true.

    I can assure you that I will be toning down the preachiness–I do regret coming across as whiny as I did, since I don’t want to drive people off–but hell, what’s wrong with approaching sex with a whole ton of baggage?

    Some of us got baggage, and we’re tired of being made to feel that we’re less of people for it.

  • Kerri

    Dr Strokes: I think you’re being too hard on yourself to say that your column was “whiny”. I think this column will open up the eyes of many people, sufferers and “normals” alike about sexual disorders, how to deal with them, and how to be a sensitive and caring sexual partner regardless of dysfunctions or baggage – that’s a sermon we could all stand to hear.

    Readers: If you don’t like the writing or subject, there is no need to get nasty – just don’t read it. There are plenty of sex advice columns out there that could be your cup of tea.



    Dont let these negative people make you change you!!

    Yeah VULVODYNIA is a serious problem for women! If this was a PENIS problem the media would be all over it …..

    Yes you were raped! :( Poor woman ….

    This is YOU and your life !! I love the CANDIDNESS!!

    I dont see what everyone is so judgemental about ….

    If they went through what you went through they would have probably amounted to NOTHING in life!!

    Keep on the POSITIVE !!!


  • Jason’s ship with hint of citrus

    Everyone has a different experience with Paxil, so I can only speak for myself, but odd periods of asexuality, where I not only lose interest in sex but forget why I ever found it interesting in the first place, occur now and then. I find them more intriguing than distressing.
    Then there’s lack of genital sensitivity: basically, what was once a nicely functioning set of gears might as well be my foot or something. That’s apparently pretty common. Lack of ability to orgasm, or taking a couple of eons to reach it, is also common.
    Erectile dysfunction in men is a common side effect. Amusingly, Paxil also carries a “if you experience an erection lasting more than 4 hours…” warning.
    The drug is really old, and does other weird stuff, and is probably not as effective as newer drugs, so it makes no sense for anyone to take it.
    I like it.
    But I’m very strange.

  • Jason’s ship with hint of citrus

    Incidentally, you can just ask me stuff about paxil directly at ablack1@swat, if that be your wont.

  • Sarah

    I miss the bone doctor.

  • Jason’s ship with hint of citrus

    I miss Pop-Tarts breakfast cereal and Alex Mack. So it goes.

  • Psych Study Ginea Pig

    If anyone with vulvodynia is interested in participating in a research study, one can be found here: