Warning: This post contains graphic sexual references and descriptions.
It was our wedding night, and we were ready. Tonight would be the first time Josh and I had sex. Not just with each other, but… ever. We had waited 24 and 26 years respectively for this day and it finally arrived. And the best part – now it was considered a GOOD THING for us to have intercourse! We had followed the Christian protocol and got married first.
After the reception, we arrived to our “new home” together. Taking some advice from our marriage counselors, we both showered first…separately. Then we slipped into to bed, nervous, excited and eager to partake in this previously forbidden fruit. Except for us, the excitement turned into confusion and the confusion into tears. We tried to have sex but it didn’t work. We couldn’t seem to figure it out. In my head I blamed it on my poor [non-existent] sex education. Perhaps we were doing it wrong… and just had the wrong angle? Here was something we had waited for our whole lives and now that we finally had the blessing, we couldn’t do it! We went to bed that night frustrated and exhausted, yet hopeful that the next day would bring success.
We woke up and headed out of town for our honeymoon. We called our Best Man and his wife on the way to the hotel. When we mentioned to them we weren’t able to have sex, they seemed a little surprised but not too alarmed and just encouraged us to keep at it.
We tried again – multiple times – on our honeymoon. Each failure more frustrating than the last. We snapped at each other. I cried more. This was our f-ing honeymoon and WE COULDN’T HAVE SEX. I felt shame. I wondered if it was my fault and this was my punishment for messing around with guys before I met Josh. Here’s the deal. I was technically a virgin, but I found ways to bend the rules and did many things that were not traditional intercourse. I feared God was punishing us both because of my actions.
Our honeymoon came and went with no sex. As did the following months. Each time we tried, Josh ended up frustrated and angry and I ended up crying and feeling like it was completely my fault. My struggle to have intercourse was a little alarming, but it was not a complete shock. We knew before getting married there might be an issue…
It started when I was 18. Or, maybe younger.
Up until my early 20′s, I was a real good kid. I mean that in the sense of a girl who makes all the Christian pacts – no dating, no kissing, no holding hands, and definitely NO SEX. I was determined to keep myself completely pure for my future husband. When I turned 18, my Mom suggested I get my first physical exam. I flipped out on her. I do not remember how old I was when I started my period, but I always remember having an “aversion” to penetration. I couldn’t use tampons. Going to the OBGYN for my 18th birthday was hardly the birthday present I wanted to welcome me into adulthood. Since I was not sexually active, I figured I could put this off until I was sexually active. So I did.
But even before that… I was molested by another kid in my church when I was 14. I think he was 18. Because of how that story went down, I came away from the experience feeling dirty, used and like I wasn’t worth fighting for.
But even before that… I have a painful memory from the age of 5 or 6. I was messing around with another boy in my daycare and we had our pants down – you know, like kids do. He had a plastic toy fishing pole and stuck the hook into my lady parts… and it got stuck. He freaked out. I freaked out. As he tried to remove it, the pain was excruciating. After some maneuvering, we finally got it out. Sometimes I wonder if this really happened, because once I asked my Mom about it and she had no idea what I was talking about. But I can still visualize the toy, so I think it happened. This is my earliest memory of trauma with penetration.
Growing up I didn’t really get a sex talk from my parents, and I certainly did not get any education on this in my private Christian school. The things I learned about my body and about sex were from my girlfriends at school and the kids in my neighborhood. Once we all started getting our periods, the cool thing was to use tampons. Everyone was doing it. Except me. I tried a couple times. The last time I tried…let’s just say it was a bad experience and after that attempt, I completely gave up.
Before leaving for college I received a brief sex talk and was essentially told, “You are moving out now. If you get pregnant outside of marriage, I do not know if I can let you back into this house. If you need help, I do not think I can help you.”
After a year in college, I dumped [most] of my Christian morals and surrounded myself with a lot of men. I did many things, but never intercourse. I didn’t do this for three reasons: 1). I still hung onto the belief that sex outside of marriage was wrong. 2). What my parents said to me about not being welcomed back into their house always ran through my head and 3). I had a paralyzing fear of penetration in any form. I used to believe that this overwhelming fear was just God’s way of keeping me from having sex before marriage and then on my wedding day, all this weirdness would cease and I’d finally be a normal woman who could have sex.
This was not the case.
Enter Scene – Josh.
In my last year of college (fall ’05) I met Josh. We became serious very quickly, fell in love and 10 months later, we married. Up until Josh came along I avoided OBGYN exams like the plague. Again, I saw no reason to have an exam since I was not having sex. Once Josh and I were engaged we decided I would start birth control, and to my horror I learned I could not get birth control without having a completed exam! Since I did not have health insurance I set an appointment with a county clinic. I was sick to my stomach as I walked up to the check-in desk that day. The worker could tell I was nervous and she PROMISED me they would get me out of there in a jiffy and everything would be okay. Well, everything WASN’T okay. They called my name. I went back into the little room. I was sweating and my hands were clammy. I immediately gushed that I was never able to use tampons. The doctor seemed alarmed, but said “Okay, we’ll take it slow.” She talked to me for a little bit while I sat in the chair and then invited me to get up on the table. My whole body was tense. She attempted to start the exam and I yelped! I started sobbing so hard my whole body was shaking. She stopped, talked to me for a little longer, then tried again. I yelped again and begged her to stop. She pulled away from me, perplexed. Then she said this:
“Your fear is great. If you don’t fix this, it will ruin your marriage.”
I was horrified. Not only did she just “assault” me with her metal pronged tool, she told me our marriage was going to fail – and when it did, it would be my fault. I left the doctor’s office that day feeling like a failure. I was a coward and now had a new thought weighing heavy on my mind - If Josh knows about this, will he still want to marry me?
I called Josh who was out of town for work (like other side of the country out of town). Through tears I told him what happened and timidly asked if he still wanted to marry me. He said “Yes!” and we moved forward with our wedding plans. I was relieved, but this experience still weighed heavily on my mind. I remained hopeful that God would miraculously heal me on our wedding day.
Our Sex Life Was Brutal At Best.
For months we tried to deal with this on our own. Once married, we tried to have sex every few weeks and it typically ended with Josh leaving the room frustrated and left me alone, crying because it was all my fault. It couldn’t be Josh’s fault. His body was not the one locked up like a vault.
We finally reached out and got connected with a Christian counselor through our church. The best advice she gave us was to stop trying to have sex. She encouraged us to do other sexual things we enjoyed and not make sex a goal. By this time we had endured four months of failed attempts and still had not been able to consummate our marriage.
I was determined to fix this sex issue by talking out everything. I could talk all day long about my issues, fears and anxieties as long as I didn’t have to be touched down there. The first time our counselor brought up the topic of me attempting another physical exam I panicked and literally had an anxiety attack in her office. My throat closed up and I couldn’t breathe. I don’t remember having an attack that severe before or since. Over the next several weeks, she would bring up the topic and we would talk about it in counseling to slowly desensitize me to the idea of returning to the doctor for a physical exam.
After a couple months of counseling, I realized I could not overcome this issue by simply talking about it. I went to a recommended OBGYN for another exam.
I have Vaginismus.
My second exam was successful! It was then I learned I had a condition called
There are two forms of Vaginismus – Primary and Secondary. Primary Vaginismus refers to women who have never had pain free intercourse. Possible causes are: strict sexual upbringing, strong family religious overtones, fears of first-time sex, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.Secondary Vaginismus refers to women who have had normal, pain-free intercourse, but then something happens to cause fear of penetration. The actual cause triggering this pain is often unknown, but may be related to yeast infections, childbirth, trauma to the pelvic area, hysterectomy, radiation or menopause.
I had Primary Vaginismus. I still do not know specifically what caused this condition for me. It could have been the children’s toy fishing hook incident when I was a young child, being molested as an adolescent or even my strict religious upbringing. It could have been all of those things combined.
What I learned – and this certainly became true for me – is that – “Women who have vaginismus tend to lose interest in sex because of the associated pain with intercourse. For many intercourse is impossible. Each attempt reminds them of their inability to function as a woman. Each unsuccessful attempt further undermines their relationship.” [Vaginismusmd.com, causes] While my married girlfriends may have been avoiding sex because they felt too exhausted or it was inconvenient, I began to avoid sexual activity with Josh because I did not want even the possibility of sex to come up. We both knew it wasn’t going to happen and it was utterly exhausting to feel like a failure as a woman and a wife each time we tried. It almost always seemed to end in fights and tears. So, if I sensed Josh making an advance, I would move away from him or immediately blurt, “I don’t want to try to have sex this time. Let’s just enjoy each other.” He would agree and this would take a little pressure and a lot of anxiety off from me. But, overtime, we both lost our sexual desire toward one another.
Realizing I had Vaginismus was only a relief in that we finally had identified the issue. The overwhelming reality was that we were experiencing a never ending nightmare.
I Started Therapy.
Through my new – and wonderfully understanding – OBGYN, I was connected with a physical therapist who specialized in patients with Vaginismus. I started with one physical therapist whose office was located inside a local YMCA. The room was cold and uninviting, and literally located on the other side of the wall from the YMCA lobby. I was going to therapy 1 – 2x per week in the mornings before going in to work. I remember hearing people laughing and chatting on the other side of the wall and just wishing I could be one of them – someone who was normal, who didn’t have this problem.
Part of the therapy was at home work. It was recommended that I do different exercises that to me seemed impossible. I remember telling some of my girlfriends who knew of our struggles that I was making progress! Of course I was THRILLED! They were not. They responded in a way like, “Yay… um, what’s next?” I got the impression they thought it was not a great feat for me and they knew I had a long road ahead of me. It was so difficult to experience such a victory and for my girlfriends to want to understand, but they couldn’t. None of them had been through what I was going through and they couldn’t wrap their minds around the fact that intercourse was so painful for me, and they certainly couldn’t understand why we STILL were unable to have sex. I felt alone.
Over the next few weeks, I quickly progressed. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was overcoming this fear! Then my success plateaued. I did not experience any progression for almost two months. It was now November, 2007. It had been 14 months since Josh and I had shared our blissful nuptials and still. no. sex. I was exhausted and disheartened. Vaginismus had overtaken my life. I was seeing the therapist 1 – 2x per week in the mornings, but then every night I was going home and practicing my therapy. I remember lying in the bed of our one-bedroom apartment, psyching myself up yet again for another round of exercises. Josh was incredibly understanding throughout the time I was in therapy. My goal was to have him be present, and to help me, but I couldn’t do that at first. He offered to be in the room with me and I always tensed up so much when he was there, I would ask him to leave. Then I developed resentment. I couldn’t do my therapy with him in the room, but I resented him for being able to go sit in the living room and play video games while he waited for me to do my exercises. It wasn’t fair. I was doing all the work, and he got to just chill on a couch and enjoy himself. I know it was hard for him too – both not being able to have sex, and also probably feeling helpless. He couldn’t do anything to put me at ease, but it still infuriated me that I was the one who carried the fate of our sex life. This nightmare never left me. I would be eager to come home from work, but I knew that every night this oppressive cloud would be over me again and I’d have to go into our bedroom, alone, to face my fears.
A New Therapist.
In November 2007 I took a new job on the other side of town. In a sense I was relieved to march into my therapist’s office and tell her I could not see her anymore. This would be my escape and a valid reason to not go to therapy. I mean, I was now having to drive the complete opposite direction to work, so it just wasn’t going to work out anymore. Sad face.
Well, lucky for me, she knew of another therapist that was just miles away from my new job! Yay… I reluctantly agreed to meet with the new therapist. Her name was Jen. The day I first met with her, she had lost her voice. So she talked to me in quiet, hushed tones. It was oddly soothing. The other therapist I had been seeing was boisterous and more aggressive in nature. Jen turned out to be exactly what I needed to keep fighting this battle. She gave me an article to read on Vaginismus, she listened to me share my frustrations and her office was so much nicer than the other office I had been in. My new room was warm, comforting and secluded. No more hearing chatter or laughter on the other side of the wall. I felt relaxed, and that is exactly how I needed to feel to be successful. It was my tension that was causing my pelvic muscles to tighten to the point of zero penetration.
I Made New Friends.
One of the best things that Jen did for me was [with our permission] introduce me to other young women who were struggling with the same or similar conditions. Finally. Finally I could talk with other women who would look at me with understanding when I shared how alone and scared I felt. They understood when I shared how I felt like an ineffective wife because I was withholding something so important from Josh. Finally I could share with other women who could genuinely celebrate my success with physical therapy. My therapist introduced me to four couples that were located in our area. Overtime, I connected with them and we set up times to first meet – just me and the wife. Then if we hit it off, we set up a time to connect with the husbands too. This struggle was just not ours alone – as the women – our husbands were suffering too. It created a bond between us to have this oddly intimate common ground. We became very close with one of the couples and still stay connected with them today.
The Challenge from a Stranger.
At this point it had been months without even attempting sex. We transitioned from meeting with a counselor to me working with a physical therapist. After transferring to Jen, I started to experience more and more success, but I was still apprehensive to attempt sex. I think more than experiencing physical pain, it was difficult to see Josh get so frustrated. I continued to feel like I was not holding up my end of the bargain as wife.
Through a weekend conference we participated in, we met another woman who said she and her husband struggled to have sex as well. She reached out to us after the conference and said she’d like to connect with us. We set up a Skype appointment to conference with her, Josh and myself. This woman was bold and direct in her approach. She asked us when it was that we last tried to have sex. We stumbled over our answer as it had been months. She said, “If you don’t try, how do you know you still can’t?” She had a point.
BOOM SHAKA LAKA
We decided to try again… and IT WORKED!!! We were shocked. We laughed and cried. I couldn’t believe it! 1 year and 6 months after our wedding day, we finally consummated our marriage. One might think that since we now could have sex, we had weathered the storm and there were only blue skies ahead, but this was not the case.
Just as we were beginning to experience sex, many couples around us started to become pregnant with their first children. It was so hard for us to finally be able to experience what our married friends had experienced so easily, all along and now that we were in a place we could relate, they were moving on to the next stage in life and starting families. In some regards our feeling of being “left behind” exists to this day.
In September 2013, we will be celebrating seven years of marriage. We are now in a place where intercourse does not hurt me every single time. Most times, it actually feels good. But we wonder if our eighteen month struggle to have sex put a damper on our libidos. We rarely are in the mood to have sex. I know this naturally becomes a struggle as we age, but sometimes I wonder if that prolonged period of no sex brought us to a point where the desire is just… less. However, in the midst of this great struggle, something beautiful arose. Josh and I became strongly connected in other ways and learned how to communicate clearly our feelings to one another. Throughout this journey, we met couples who really did not have the ability to communicate with each other. Some of the wives I met seemed to be afraid to tell their husbands what was really going on. This was not the case for me. Most times, I felt like Josh was the safest place for me to turn. He would listen to me, and hold me or just be near me when I needed it most. I still don’t know exactly what caused my vaginismus, and I still don’t know why I am one of few women who had it. But I am choosing to share this story because I know there are others out there like me, who are going through this right now. Whatever you are going through, no matter what was promised or how many times you fail I plead with you to not give up. It is hard. I know. I understand and I have been there. In fact I am still there at times, but you can do this. YOU CAN! And you are not alone.
Question: Have you ever had an experience where you felt like you were the only one and no one could relate? What was this like for you?