“We feel this innate need to fit exactly what the movies tell us our lives need to be shaped into – what sex looks like, what relationships look like, how everything should pan out. And when we’re outside of that, we feel as though ‘now there’s something wrong with me’,” says Candice Langford, a pelvic and sexual health physiotherapist based in Durban.
“It’s okay to be unique and it’s okay to not fit the cookie cutter.”
Langford has been practising as a physiotherapist since obtaining her degree from the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2014 and has a special interest in women’s and sexual health.
“I did my community service at Stanger Hospital here in Durban and since then I’ve done a number of courses to increase my knowledge and insight into pelvic health. I’ve done as much research as I can into sexual and menstrual health so that I have a better understanding overall of the way the ‘female’ body works – and I say that in inverted commas because I’m speaking to ‘vagina owners’, because that’s the area I treat,” she says.
“Every assessment and treatment is bespoke. We have all walked unique journeys and despite our gender identity we have varied relationships with our bodies, genitalia, and of course, unique sexualities.
“My pelvic and sexual health training is in the treatment of concerns relating to vulvo-vaginal anatomy, [and] I treat each individual based on their personal experiences and goals, no matter if their anatomy is that which they are born with or that which they have after realignment procedures.
“We must remember that the work that I do is not only internal, treatment is holistic and includes mind-body connection, awareness and educational content, goal setting, breath work, management of body biomechanics (external – jaw, neck, thoracic, lower back, hips), mobility and strength routines,” she explains.
Pelvic floor physiotherapy, Langford says, applies to everyone, from underwater hockey players to expectant mothers.
“[I] treat individuals who are struggling with pelvic floor dysfunction, but everything is connected [and] my assessment and treatment are most certainly not isolated to the pelvic floor itself. I look at you head to toe, depending on your specific concerns, and assess things like your posture, your breathing, your function, the specific moves you might be struggling with. It might be a squat or when you lower a baby into a cot that you feel your dysfunction, so it really does vary. I look at a variety of things.
“The primary thing that we’re trying to do is first teaching you how to let go, and then obtain strength, control and dynamic function. And it extends into so many different areas of our lives: it’s bladder function, bowel function and sexual function. It’s pelvic organ support, lower back pain and coccyx pain.
“As ‘females’, we experience so many different phases of our lives. We’ve got so many fluctuations in our hormones through the different phases of our lives, and our pelvic floors are essentially involved in every single phase and are changing constantly, but we are poorly educated about it.”
When Langford realised how desperate the need was for better sexual health education, she began exploring how she could pass on her knowledge to more people. It was then that her Instagram page, @nurtureyourvagina, was born in 2017.
“I found that in every single pelvic health session I was having to go back to basics. And the Instagram page allowed me to put [information] out there as a resource for people.”
To date, Langford has more than 14,000 followers and about 800 posts dedicated to sharing information, starting discussions and breaking stereotypes. This includes sharing knowledge on menstruation, exercise and sex – topics she quirkily refers to as “normalising saying pee, poo, pleasure and pain”.
“[For example,] you might have always found that sex is incredibly painful, and no one has ever told you that that’s not normal. But if someone has now told you that, no, that’s not normal, you might be that much more likely to seek help, and it might not be with me, but it just might be with someone,” she says.
“I want to empower people through education, I want to break down these taboos. And what excites me is that we really can develop a much greater, [more] beautiful picture of ourselves, a whole different view of your body. We have the potential to change minds just with a little bit of information.”
Langford’s journey as pelvic health practitioner began in an unlikely place, as her love for the ocean inspired her to obtain her first degree in marine biology at UCT.
“I had a passion for the ocean and nature and I just loved the outdoors. In that degree I had quite a keen interest in sexual behaviour in the animal kingdom and that’s something I wanted to dive deeper into. And then, just circumstantially, I ended up doing physiotherapy,” she recalls.
While her Instagram page is full of information, diagrams and “quickies” (short explanatory videos on a range of sexual health topics), Langford admits she has not always been as open and vocal as she is now.
“I grew up incredibly shy. I refused to do school orals, I absolutely hated any kind of public speaking. But when I came into physiotherapy and when I started to embrace and engage in the public and sexual health field, I felt called to share, and it just came so easily to me.”
Langford’s Instagram account is, she says, part of a growing community of South African content creators who are speaking openly about sexual health.
“There’s this generalisation that South Africa is still very conservative, but even in the short time that I’ve been on [social media] I can see it changing. We most certainly are conservative, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing; it allows us to slowly progress and to pay attention to the way we see sexual health and wellbeing as a whole,” Langford says. DM/ML
For more information about Langford’s practice and to get in touch with her, go to her website.
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