Last updated: Jul 14, 2008

Deborah (not her real name) finally found an explanation for years of sexual pain when she learned from her doctor that an abnormal hymen was probably to blame. The 41-year-old New York City lawyer was relieved to have a diagnosis; she has had problems inserting anything in her vagina for as long as she can remember. Tampons are hard enough, but a speculum? "It's like I see stars," she says. "It really hurts!"

Deborah is a lesbian, so her problem hasn't affected her sex life as much as it might have. "If I were straight, it would be a huge problem," she says. It has certainly affected her health care, though. "I actually avoided getting Pap smears," she admits. "I would let years go by because it hurt so much."

It was a fertility doctor who theorized, at long last, that the pain might be caused by something different about her genitals. She had never been told she had a physical abnormality; he described it as an extra band of tissue in her vagina, perhaps an especially thick hymen.

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"It was a relief to find out there was some physical weirdness that caused it," Deborah says. "People were saying that I was too sensitive."

For now, Deborah says she is not pursuing treatment, which typically involves surgery. If you receive a similar diagnosis, experts say to get a second opinion from a sexual medicine doctor before pursuing surgical treatment; your pain might be caused by other issues that cannot be resolved with surgery.