My inspiration for writing my script
When I was due a colposcopy biopsy (examination of the cervix) I was given a leaflet to read. The leaflet told me the procedure would be essentially painless. I found this to be the most remarkable way to describe and minimise what turned out to be a particularly painful experience.
This was only one example of my own personal journey through the sexual health system. A few years earlier I had opted for a copper coil as my contraception. I had discussed this with the gynaecologist after some deliberating. I remember feeling reassured by her extensive explanation of each contraception, spending great deals of time weighing up the pros and cons and the effectiveness of each one. This story is not an attack against individual medical workers - she was incredibly sweet and kind but what she had failed to tell me was how painful the insertion of the IUD would be.
Clearly a very effective and ingenious invention, there is nothing medically wrong with the device itself. The problem was that I had been told the insertion would be ‘uncomfortable’ at the very worst. This was the greatest understatement of a century. What is greatly misunderstood by healthcare professionals, is how vulnerable a woman can feel when in these positions. We are incredibly trusting of those who appear to know better. But the pain I felt enduring this procedure will haunt me to this day. Without a shadow of a doubt, if I had my time again knowing what I know now, I would not choose this route. This is not to say that all women experience such pain, but to not offer a sedative or strong anaesthetic seemed to be grossly unfair. The mere suggestion that two paracetamol should do the trick is still advice that confounds me to this day. (NHS site says that "it can be uncomfortable when the IUD is put in, but you can take painkillers after, if you need to").At the very least, women should be given the authentic facts before they are asked to make a decision. Men receive generals when having a vasectomy which, I am told, is only a fraction of the pain - but how can we know?
Despite extraordinary advances in medicine, women’s sexual health still seems to be scattered with tales of overlooked pain. In so many instances, the extent of pain is lessened or left out and when flagged, a woman is not taken seriously or not believed or not even listened to. And trust me, we know pain!
It seems to me that this problem, the problem of the ‘pain gap’ is a societal and cultural issue. There is an archaic expectation that women should be able to withstand pain because they may one day give birth. From misdiagnosed, or undiagnosed endometriosis, to insertion of IUDs without anaesthetic, there are stories of ignored pain everywhere you look.
We are living in a time when the credibility of women is publicly and unashamedly scrutinised. The ‘Hysteria Complex’ seems to be as prevalent in the collective psyche now as it ever was.
Where did my research take me?
When I spoke to friends and family, there was a flood of anecdotes, detailing not just painful experiences but also accounts of unprofessionalism, inappropriate comments and a plethora of awkward one-liners. What unifies us is the humour in these tales, the description of absurd gynaecology appointments that looking back on feels like a weird dream.
At the time of all this research, I had the opportunity to submit a piece of writing into a festival of short plays. I had never written a play before but having a background as an actor, specifically theatre, I felt compelled to get something down on paper. And so I wrote the play Essentially Painless.
I conducted research over several months and found a wealth of information relating to the topic. I was especially fascinated by Caitlin Moran’s article ‘Why we all need pain relief when having an IUD fitted’ which documented her painful experience. I found this a radically reassuring article to read as I myself had gone through a traumatic insertion of an IUD. I felt immense gratification when I read these articles as I had left those appointments feeling totally alone and confused at what I had just been through. To see that Lucy Cohen, Caroline Criado Perez and Naga Munchetty were all committed to bringing about change in this sector, was utterly thrilling.
As Lucy Cohen states on her petition page:
Almost 1500 people have so far shared their experiences with me. On a pain rating scale of 0-10, 43% of respondents rated their pain as a 7 or higher with the associated descriptions of:
- Extremely painful
- Almost unbearable
- Several people have reported the pain as worse than childbirth or broken bones.
IUDs are just one example of minimised or underplayed female pain. The truth is, there are so many accounts of female pain being ignored in all sectors of the medical industry.
Abby Norman (Author of ‘Ask Me About My Uterus’) details in her book that doctors suggested her pain was ‘all in her head’. She later was diagnosed with endometriosis. She is one of many.
How did this become a film?
My original script was written for stage and debuted at the White Bear Theatre in 2022. Thankfully, in the audience of my play was producer and director, Sam. He was inspired by the writing, finding the content to be educational (particularly for men) and also offering good scope as a piece of comedy on screen. Although I was nervous about how the story would translate into film, he assured me the film should really reflect the same message as the play; that women deserve to be listened to and have their pain taken seriously.
After working on the script for several months with the director, Sam, we were able to start thinking about our team and how we wanted to proceed. We have a female led production team and this energy permeates through everything we do. As a company we are continuously sharing anecdotes and stories, thinking of the best ways to represent the female experience. We have been blown away by the support shown by members of our community. Not just family and friends, but also platforms such as ILOH who share the same philosophy as us. We aim to give women more autonomy so that they are able to navigate their sexual health as safely and as informed as they can be.
We hope by telling the story of a young woman’s first gynaecology appointment, with all the awkward, shameful and embarrassing moments included, we can help spread awareness of the failures of the healthcare system in interacting with women on this intimate level.
Our story of systemic sexism in healthcare is an important metaphor for a global denial of female pain. We still have so far to go to understand why women aren’t believed. For us, it’s a really exciting prospect to shine a light on these stories
About the team:
We are a team of young creatives with a plethora of industry knowledge but with our own personal medical experiences to bring to the table.
The film’s team consists of writer Samantha Gray - who’s adapted her stage-play of the script by the same title, director Sam Seccombe - (https://www.samseccombe.com/, accolades include; Best Director at the LGBTQ+ LA Film Festival, Best Film at the Hidden Worldwide Film Festival), and Valentina Novakovic - former Neighbours actress turned producer. We are a very passionate group determined to tell our stories to the world and we are extremely confident that the foundation we have already built for Essentially Painless will lead to the success and recognition of these important themes.
If you are curious to find out more about the film or donate, please see the Kickstarter link below:Producer Email: firstname.lastname@example.org