Guest Post by Maddie: Pain and Sex

Here is my first guest blog post!  My dear friend Maddie has written this essay in response to our conversations and my earlier post about sex and secrets and self-definition.  I think it’s really awesome and fascinating.  I hope you enjoy, and are inspired to join our conversation!  Just leave me a comment if you want to write.  And even if you don’t want to write, leave Maddie a comment about her story.  And don’t forget to order Resilience— that’s a conversation, too.  http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/resilience-stories-poems-essays-words-for-lgbt-teens/18821334

Pain and Sex

Growing up in a household of academics, and strongly suspecting I would become the same thing, I rebelled in the only non-destructive way I knew how: I read A LOT of romance novels. I graduated from teen romances to adult romances at 14 and at the height of my addiction (ages 16-20) I was probably reading 12 romance novels a month, possibly more. I was fascinated by sex, mainly because I was sure I was never going to have it, at least not in high school. In reality I wasn’t ready for it and subconsciously knew it, I think. Vicariously living through fictional romantic relationships was safer than trying to discover sex on my own at that time. Plus, I was terrified of getting pregnant.

So by the time I started having sex, at the age of 23, I was well versed in the modern woman’s sexual mantra that sex is fun and sex should never hurt emotionally or physically, except for maybe the first time. Well, reciting isn’t the same as knowing, at all. The first part of the mantra is easy;  sex IS fun; I have always found sex to be fun. However, I’ve found that the not hurting part is a lot harder to follow.

I’m not going to get into the sexual emotional baggage I had. My story is pretty common, pretty harmless, and has a happy ending. The guys who I had less than perfect intimate relationships with are not bad guys, we just didn’t work as more than friends. I’ve worked through that baggage a long time ago and if it ever pops up, I can always talk about it to them frankly. Now I’m engaged to a man who has never hurt me like that and who I can also talk to about this if I ever need to.
Surprisingly, the more insidious and disguised hurt was the physical pain. See, I had always assumed that since I had fun having sex, then sex didn’t hurt, because who likes things that hurt? Not me! Who is capable of massive self-delusion? Me!
The problem is that  no one ever told me that physically painful sex was possible with a partner you love. When people talk about sex hurting, it’s either emotional pain, which I got rid of around the age of 25, or physical pain because you were forced. In all my years of health class, girl talk, reading romance novels and listening to Lovelines (the call-in radio show about sex, drugs, and other young people stuff) not once did I ever hear of any woman without a history of  violent sexual encounters having painful sex. Or if I did, I never connected it to me.

The problem is, no one ever told me what painful sex with a partner you love and trust feels like. Well for me, it feels like initial resistance and pain, like every time is the first time. Like the first time, it gets better after a while, but I need to initially distract myself from the tightness and the feeling of raw friction. Lube helped a little bit, but not much. When I write it out, it seems ludicrous that I ignored this for three years, but I had no idea that this was not normal.

During the time I was ignoring this, I was conflicted and it affected both my sex life and my sexuality to some extent. My willingness to have sex decreased more and more until I just didn’t want to face the pain. It got harder and harder to ignore the fact that I had to literally grin and bear it for at least the first few minutes, if not the whole thing. I wasn’t even lying back and thinking of England, I was focused on the pain because I didn’t understand it. I was so confused because I had never thought of myself as someone who hated sex. I was the girl who read everything she could about sex! I really enjoyed sex; I wanted to have more sex, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was never in the mood when my boyfriend suggested it. I was never in the mood ever. He started to get very frustrated with me and hurt because he felt like I was refusing him every time he tried to have sex with me. While this is a slight exaggeration, it’s not that far from the truth. The worst part is that I didn’t share with him why I was pulling away because I didn’t know why. I knew sex hurt, but I didn’t realize exactly how it was affecting my sexuality. I really didn’t connect the fact that physical pain was keeping me from wanting to have sex.

All this changed two months ago when I read a blog post by a woman who suffered from pelvic floor pain. She described exactly what I was experiencing, how she preferred to cuddle with her fiancé. How her fiancé was loving but hurt by her shunning of sex. How she doggedly went from doctor to doctor and pain specialist to pain specialist until someone diagnosed her with pelvic floor pain, a condition that makes it difficult for you to relax your pelvic floor. She said that she learned some relaxing exercises and did some PT and now sex does not hurt!

WHAT A REVELATION! I read this and I suddenly knew that this was what was happening to me. Suddenly, I had a name and I had a compatriot. I could face what was happening to me now. The next day, I broke down in tears and told my roommate all about it in our shared office and then went home and told my boyfriend. The next time he initiated sex, I didn’t turn him away; I focused on relaxing my pelvic muscles instead. Much to my surprise, it worked! Sex felt better than it had in a long while. I then went to the gynecologist and told her my symptoms. We made a few changes to my birth control and the type of lube, but nothing drastic. This pain is no longer something that just happens to me, I am now in control, something I haven’t felt for a long time.

However, I cannot overstate how much making these little tweaks has affected me psychologically.  As for my sexuality, my identity and understanding of myself as a sexual person, it has taken a blow, but is recovering. The fact that I am now in control of my symptoms and pain has given me back most of that confidence and joy that I lost. The fear of pain still hits me sometimes and it makes me hesitate, but not for long. I am back to confidently defining myself as someone who does like sex, even if my boyfriend is not totally convinced (he might be, I don’t know, I haven’t asked him.) Maybe this hesitance with never go away and maybe (probably) I can make that work for me, but at least I’m not mysteriously stalled anymore. At least I can keep redefining myself in ways that make sense.

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