See this delighted bride? This is me. Leaving my dreamy, morning wedding with the man I had loved since before time began. Moments later I would have full on tab-A into slot-B sex for the very first time . . . only to find out that my vagina was painfully broken. Little did I know this first-time fiasco would eventually sprout my career as a sexologist.
Moments earlier we had reached our hotel room, and my newly minted husband oh-so-tenderly helped extract me from my e-bay wedding dress, clip-in hair extension, fake eyelashes, full body spanx and two sticky chicken cutlets also known as a strapless, backless bra.
By this time, I half-expected to glance up and find New Husband on the phone with his lawyer, chicken cutlet in his palm discussing the terms of a Bait-and-Switch. Instead, like a true gentleman, he simply smiled reassuringly and handed me a glass of Champagne.
I will spare you the details of losing my virginity. The end result was me, all black mascara-weepy and discouraged in the luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets. What was supposed to be an incredibly pleasurable and intimate first-time, all-out sex experience felt more like a hysterectomy without anesthesia.
I remember strolling around Austin later that day thinking, “My vagina still hurts. This was not how I thought sex was supposed to feel. I waited 26 years…for THIS?! Maybe I waited too long? Are my lady parts just…old and rusty? Surely, this was just a first-time kinda thing. Surely, it will get better with a few more rounds.”
It didn’t. Our honeymoon was amazing, except for the awful sex. We survived our first year of marriage, in which we moved 740 miles away from Texas and everything familiar to Missouri where New Husband could start medical school. The sex was still incredibly painful and it caused me to have resentment, anger, sexual shutdown and low libido. Yay! If you have ever been freshly married, you probably understand that freshly marrieds have no concept of how to handle such things.
Here is what I later learned once I started to study sex while getting my Ph.D. Painful sex is common in women. And, as in my experience, it often leads to resentment, low libido, and sexual shutdown. And there are many things that you can do, behaviorally, to combat these issues. But at that time, during our first year of marriage, I felt there were no options. I felt like a complete and total failure as a wife.
After a year, I scheduled an appointment with an OB/GYN. Following his thorough examination, the doctor explained, “You know, this pain will probably go away once you have your first vaginal birth.”
Now, I don’t have much of a temper. In fact, I’m pretty light on my feet and long in the fuse in most situations. But I had just spent a year of my life routinely having the worst sex ever, living on Ramen Noodles while piece-mealing jobs together to put New Husband through medical school and myself through grad school. I needed so much more than a well-stretched vagina! I needed somebody to say that painful sex was common and I needed to someone to say that it could get better with some intentional behaviors, like focusing on more arousal and foreplay. I needed somebody to hold my hand and empathize that the fabric of my new marriage was getting thin and I was scared that we would never recover emotionally from the damage of painful intercourse, my resentment and my anger. I needed someone to tell me that my pleasure was important too, and that my sexual experience could be broadened to include all kinds of sexual experiences, not just painful ones. I needed someone to tell me to let go of societies idea of what good sex is supposed to look like and create my own, personal definition of good sex.
Instead, this professional’s suggestion to end my painful sex was . . . TO GET PREGNANT?
A baby was the antithesis of what I needed in my life at that moment (not to mention I didn’t want kids at the time). Although it technically could have worked, there was so much more to my sexual experience than pain.
Had I not been spread eagle on the exam table, I might have pecked the physician down onto the cold tile with his own speculum. But I was spread eagle. And young, and naïve, and timid. So instead, I mumbled something close to, “Oh, okay. Well…okay,” and laid my head back on the exam table in defeat, the paper crinkling beneath me.
That was the moment I decided to become the professional that I needed. I had to let go of any pre-conceived notions of what good sex looked like and begin to create my own version of good sex, from scratch.
I will admit, my sexual choices up until that point had been largely based on what others expected of me. I am a born rule-follower because that’s how I feel safe. I had waited to have sex until I was married largely because that was what was expected of me by my community. That was the rule, and I didn’t question why, I just knew I felt safer following the rule. Now that I was married, I was trying to force the rules of what I thought sex should look like based on what little I had learned from society. I was now following the rules of societies “sex”, so I should be feeling safe in my relationship, right? Nope. All I received by conforming to these standards was physical pain, feeling like a fraud, and then emotional shame for not living up.
So I decided to let go of what I thought I should be doing sexually and begin the journey of manifesting my own sexual destiny. I released my preconceived notions of what I should be doing and took the lead on my thoughts. I wanted to spend time getting to know my body again, without the anxiety of painful intercourse. I wanted to start making the connection of sensual, physical closeness with pleasure, not pain. I knew that this could only happen if I wasn’t concerned about the pain of sex.
I began to re-build my sexual confidence. I figured out what hurt less also worked on my thoughts and ideas about sex. I released the negative, limiting beliefs (such as my pleasure was less important) and I fully embraced positive beliefs (such as I was worthy of time and energy).
With lots of communication, education and slow, careful behavior changes, we progressed. In our second year of marriage I had sex for the first time without anxiety or pain. It was like my entire intimate world had finally cracked open. The journey to discovering my own sexual story had powerfully matured me and my relationship, connecting us in ways that would have never happened had I not struggled so profoundly.
Following this new sexual experience, I was again black-mascara weepy. But this time with joy, love, confidence and hope.
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A note about my sexual education:
**The process of sexual renovation was so deeply moving for me that I decided to study sex and discover ways to help other women who struggle in their intimate life. Most of all, I wanted to create spaces for women to talk about what was going on in their sex life without shame or embarrassment. And I wanted to provide sexual help that was based in the science of behavior changes. I completed my Ph.D. in Health Education and Behavior Change then specialized in sexuality through courses from the Kinsey Institute, the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. I spent two years shadowing a sexual health educator while also working as the Health Education Coordinator at one of the largest sex toy companies in the United States. Once I had my twins (via c-section, by the way!) I decided to begin my own practice, helping women one-on-one to overcome their sexual barriers. And here I am, the exact professional that I needed when I was struggling so severely all those years ago. **
Don’t forget…if you are ready to begin your own journey to sexual renovation, check out Elevate, my revolutionary online course for overcoming sexual barriers.