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vaginismus

Painful first intercourse is not a given, it's a sign that something is wrong

TrainVirginity
TrainVirginity

 

We hear a lot from people terrified that first intercourse is going to be incredibly painful, and the image above has come up over and over again on virginity tweets (anyone know where it's from?).

That might be because sometimes first intercourse can be painful, but more likely because that idea has been reinforced in our culture and there's not nearly enough conversation about what people with vaginas (and their partners) can do to lessen or eliminate the pain.

Because, guess what, it doesn't necessarily have to hurt! It's just that most people are scared, or tense, or unprepared, or don't take generous amounts of time to relax the pelvic muscles through other kinds of sexual activity. And if it does really hurt, they might have a physical problem that needs to be addressed by a gynecologist. Either way, living with pain is not the answer.

So I was really happy that two stories crossed my radar recently about intercourse and pain:

The first story is from a woman who was diagnosed with vaginismus, a condition that makes intercourse painful or often impossible (you can find other stories about it on our blog herehere, here and here).

It broke up her marriage and caused her a lot of physical and emotional pain, but in this excerpt from  xoJane's It Happened To Me: My Husband Divorced Me After Four Years Because I Was Still A Virgin, she describes how she dealt with it and eventually overcame it.

"I kept at it with the dilators, more determined than ever. I did kegels. I did meditation. I did everything. About a year after the divorce was final, I had sex for the first time. I had been dating a wonderful guy...with a smaller than average penis. I didn’t tell him I was a virgin, but I did tell him sex was difficult for me sometimes.

One night after several bottles of red wine and a lot of lube, it happened. In the two years since that first time, I’ve had sex on a regular basis. I fell in love with the guy with a below average penis and married him three-and-a-half months ago. He loves me for me. It still hurts at the beginning of sex almost every time. We still have to use lube almost every time. But, I guess we are doing it right because I’m five months pregnant."

The second story is from our friend Sa Belle Femme, about how she and her husband-to-be prepared for intercourse without pain. Here's an excerpt from  Virgin Myths: Popping Her Cherry:

"If I hadn't spent so much time reading up on virginity and first-time coitus, I would have just accepted the cultural narrative that my wedding day sex would be painful. Instead, I was able to prepare for the first time Beau and I had coitus, to guarantee that our married sex would be awesome (or at least pain-free) the first time. Long story short, we used lots of lube, and I was on top so I could control both the angle and speed of entry."

She'll be writing in detail about her methods on her blog, including some info about a set of nifty dilators that worked wonders. They also talk about it in our film How To Lose Your Virginity.

V-Card Diaries: Young Lover V-Card Diaries: Young Lover "When I imagine sex, I think of a 120 mph iron train aiming at a mouse hole."

.A little about myself:

I'm a 16-year-old high school junior from New Jersey. I'm really involved in leadership and tutoring programs, and I box in my free time. College applications are starting to become the domineering force in my life, but I'm much more focused on some of my friends and their personal issues considering 2014 has not treated them kindly.

How I define virginity:

I'd define virginity as one who's never had penile-vaginal sex. I understand this can't include lesbian couples but I would say you can have that sort of sex without "making love" so to speak. When I define virginity, I'm thinking in completely physical terms.

Here's my story:

I know in the mindsets of most people, 16 is way too young to even consider having sex and to others it's the perfect age. I can remember naively discussing it with some of my friends. "I'll never do it until I'm 20 at least!" I said at the age where boys still had cooties.

I guess my issue is some of my most "virginal" friends have started losing their V-Cards, and it's made me realize that sex is not this enormous deal as it's portrayed in pop culture. Rather, it's natural, awkward, and–as I'm afraid–will probably hurt.

My mom decided it was time I visited the gyno a few months back, and I was terrified. Most of my friends have trouble believing me, but I've still never masturbated because I don't like the feeling of anything near my vagina. I had no idea what to expect when I spread my legs for the first time in my gynecologist's office, and when I heard her clanking through METAL, I instantly tightened all my muscles in full panic.

It seemed she didn't even know the meaning of consent. When she found the right tool, she dove immediately inside my funhouse, and I began to scream because of the pain. I begged her to take it out, which she did not do for several agonizing seconds. I was crying, and she still had the audacity to ask if she could do the same thing with a gloved finger. I was left alone in there for an hour to de-stress myself, and my vaginal muscles refused to unclamp during that entire time. Even thinking back on it now, it still causes me to clench.

After research, I believe I have vaginismus. The exercises to "cure" it terrify me still, as they involve stretches and inserting objects. Of course this is a self-diagnosis, so who really knows what's going on down there? My friend (17) recently lost hers to a 23-year-old–her old XC assistant coach. It sounds quite messed up, but she's in all the top classes and maintains an excellent GPA, so she hasn't been "misguided" in any way.

I guess the point of this is, I'm afraid. I'm very much afraid to have sex. About a week ago, my boyfriend brought it up (he'd never force anything of course), and was wondering if it was something I'd want to try, as we've done most everything else. I backed off immediately, remembering that experience at the gyno and my inability to even handle a tampon.

I'm definitely not asexual, but I truly can't imagine anyone being pleasured by having a penis inside you. Or how a vagina can even stretch that far for that matter (considering the size of an erect penis). When I imagine sex, I think of a 120 mph iron train aiming at a mouse hole. I don't know what to do, but I don't want him to know how afraid I am.

 Painful sex can sometimes be caused by physical issues that need to be treated by a gynecologist or physical therapist. Read more about that condition here. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here

V-Card Diaries: Distracted Dragon "I'm offended by responses to my vaginismus, when coupled with my “virginity” and queerness."

Today we're highlighting Distracted Dragon in New York, NY, writes that our society slut shames and virgin shames at the same time, speaking out of both sides of our mouth. If you want to tell your story, go to our submission form. You can find all our V-Card Diaries here.

A little about yourself:

25. Queer cisgendered woman. New York, NY

How I define virginity:

I dislike "virginity" and "losing one's virginity" as terms because they are vague and carry negative, gendered connotations. I prefer "making one's sexual debut" over "losing one's virginity" because you aren't losing anything when you have sex, you are gaining an experience, be it a wonderful experience, a terrible experience, or a ridiculous experience. I feel what equates sex, and thus, virginity, is self-determined. Healthy communication between partners should not begin and end at “I’m a virgin”, but should be a discussion of what you have/have not done, what you do/do not want to do with another person.

Here's my story:

I've never had sex because the opportunity has yet to present itself. I have no qualms about engaging in sex, should I find a mutually interested, respectful partner. I resent that our society both condemns sexual debut that occurs “too young,” but also “too old.” God forbid any teenager engage in consensual sex but as soon as you’ve hit 18 and graduated from high school, genital exploration between you and another (preferably heterosexual) partner must ensue, pronto. We slut shame and virgin shame at the same time, speaking out of both sides of our mouth.

I discovered, via my first attempt at a pelvic exam at age 21, that I have primary vaginismus, an involuntary muscle contraction of the pelvic muscles that makes penetration painful. I'm working with dilators and Kegel exercises to treat this but I've been frustrated and offended by responses to my vaginismus, when coupled with my “virginity” and queerness.

I have been made to feel, by self-help sites, online forums, and members of the medical profession:

a) I shouldn't still be a virgin at 25. That in and of itself is indicative of "emotional trauma." I acknowledge emotional and sexual trauma can be a factor in vaginismus but it isn’t always. I have not avoided sex because of my vaginismus, although it will be a discussion to have with future sex partners.

b) Women who desire sex with women don’t have vaginismus. Because apparently painful penetration is only supposed to happen to heterosexual women? I shouldn’t know penetration hurts if my vagina has never made intimate acquaintance with a penis? Right, because the inability to accommodate a speculum or my ob/gyn’s fingers is not indicative of a problem. I don’t need penetration to have sex and even if I did I don’t need a penis for penetration. But I do need regular health exams, so can we please get past narrow views on sexual mechanics and how they relate to my preferences?

As a culture, we need to acknowledge that there are a range of behaviors that constitute sex for a range of sexual identities just as there are a range of medical problems that we encounter relating to our sexuality. Our nerve endings and our attractions do not line up in pre-scripted ways. Sex is a fascinating topic because it is so complex – our desires, our bodies, our motivations, and our practices compel myriad conversations, personally and on a national level. Sexuality will play a part in our lives, whether or not we engage in sex itself, and it is part of our human story. The sharing of stories is the transmission of culture, so let’s talk about sex, baby.

V-Card Diaries: A. "Because I have vaginismus, I often say I'm in Virgin Limbo"

Tell us about yourself:  

I'm a 24-year-old heterosexual female living in the US.

How do you define virginity?

I’m currently rethinking how I define virginity. I used to think the loss of virginity was a clear milestone for heterosexual females like myself-- the first time one willingly engages in penetrative vaginal sex-- but now it doesn’t seem so simple. As someone who made the deliberate decision to have vaginal sex but was physically unable to do so, I don’t know whether or not to call myself a virgin or not. Which matters more, the intention or the act itself?

It also seems a little ridiculous to claim the label “virgin" when I have an active sex life of oral and outercourse and orgasm more frequently than some of my friends who lost their vaginal virginity years ago, but the cultural significance of vaginal virginity is pervasive and hard to just throw away or ignore, especially when it's the standard by which so many other people define it.

I often say I'm in "Virgin Limbo"; I don’t feel right identifying as a virgin OR not a virgin. I think the definition of virginity needs tweaking to account for situations like this.

Tell us your story

Until I was 22 I was a virgin because I was waiting for the right person. My first kiss was at 18 and my first boyfriend at 19, but in college I never dated anyone long enough to feel the comfort and trust I considered a prerequisite. However, just shy of my 22nd birthday, I met him. We had been dating a few months when I decided that our relationship-- and, most importantly, I personally!-- was ready.

The night leading up to it was perfect. There was a rooftop sunset, spontaneous fireworks display in the distance, and making out in the rain; if it had been in a movie, you'd have rolled your eyes at how “unrealistic” it was. We went back to his room with some condoms and went for it.

Except . . . "it" didn't happen. I was more than ready when he tried to enter me, but it felt like he was like he was trying to thrust against a wall-- a wall that felt sharp stabs of pain every time it was hit! I normally have a very high tolerance for pain, so I couldn't believe this was supposedly what every girl feels her first time, especially since he hadn’t even entered me more than a half-inch. I tried loosening things up more with more lube and orgasming first but it didn’t make a difference. I was so frustrated I was ready to force through the pain, but my partner had been with a virgin before and knew it wasn't supposed to be so difficult or painful, so we stopped.

In the following months we sought advice from trusted friends and the Internet alike and were given suggestions from extra lube to getting drunk. But the only thing that actually helped was a name we discovered: vaginismus, a condition in which the pubococcygeus (PC) muscles at the opening of the vagina involuntarily close and painfully resist the entry of foreign objects, from tampons to penises. It explained everything: why I'd always hated using tampons, why I'd cried in pain during my one and only pelvic exam, and why I couldn't have sex. I wasn’t “unusually tight” as I’d once believed; penetration objectively hurt me in ways it doesn’t hurt most people, thanks to muscle spasms I can't control. It’s still a mystery why I have vaginismus, but knowing what it is has lead to information on how to fix it.

Fast forward two years later. I'm still with the same partner and thanks to open minds and a few compatible kinks our sex life is plenty satisfying, but vaginal sex is still a distant dream. I've seen a doctor and gotten advice on relaxation techniques, Kegel exercises, vaginal dilation, and insight on what muscles to move and how, but while things seem to be progressing, it’s slow-going. It’s frustrating that what is so natural and pleasurable for most people is painful and a chore for me, something I have to “work on” in an unsexy clinical way. There’s enough promise in what we have achieved that we haven’t given up and eagerly await the day we can have vaginal sex, but for now, I’m still stuck in "Virgin Limbo."

You can find all our V-Card Diaries here.