Incomplete Bride

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Question

I have been married for six weeks, and my marriage still has not been consummated. I was (and still am) a virgin because I am from a very traditional culture. Growing up, I was constantly warned that if I lost my virginity, no one would want me and I would be a disgrace to my family. I wasn't even allowed to use tampons.

My husband is from the same culture. He is a loving, patient, gentle man, but I think he is at his wit's end. He feels rejected and angry. So do I. But I don't know how to force my body to have intercourse. We have tried and tried, but as soon as he tries to penetrate me, my legs slam shut, I push him away, and my genitals hurt because they are in a spasm. It takes a long time for everything to relax so the pain can go away.

I went to see a doctor, and she told me I have vaginismus. I was really surprised to find out that I couldn't even get a Pap smear. So it's not just about rejecting sex or rejecting my husband! She described sex therapy but I don't want to get that because my religion forbids masturbation. I don't think I can get treatment if I have to touch myself.

When I met my husband, it was love at first sight. We got married within a few months of meeting each other. We were so happy. I want nothing more than to be a good wife to him, and raise a family together, but I will never have a baby if I can't even make love with my husband!

I feel so angry. Is this the reward that I get for being so good, for denying myself all through my teenage years? I was the only girl in my high school who never dated, because my parents believed dating would lead to sex. I have done everything I can to make them proud of me. If I can't do what I am supposed to do, what good am I? I might as well be dead.

I don't know if there is anything you can do to help me. You will probably make fun of me because I am so conservative. I hope not. I don't know what else to do

Answer

We are not going to have any more talk about dying. First of all, even if you never got married, or if your life differed in some major way from the life your parents want for you, you would not be a worthless person. You are a beloved child of a Creator who does not make us so that we will be miserable or hate ourselves.

Your marital problem can be solved. Let me give you some more information about what is happening to your body, and what you can do to change the way you are responding. I am going to use some plain language. I hope this will not embarrass you. I just want to make sure you understand what I am talking about, so I don't want to be vague.

The term “vaginismus” is used to describe an involuntary reflex that causes the vagina to close up. In order to be called vaginismus, this muscle spasm has to be severe enough to make intercourse (or penetration by an object smaller than a penis) impossible or agonizingly painful. When I say this is involuntary, you have to understand that it is something like a sneeze or jumping if you hear a loud noise. You cannot help it. It happens whether you want it to happen or not.

But that doesn't mean it has to go on forever. It is possible to teach your body to relax, and erase this unwanted reflex.

Most women are afraid to have intercourse for the first time. Even if she grows up in a fairly liberal environment, a woman has much less permission than a man to experiment with sex or explore her own body. Little boys are usually not punished for holding their own penises or for masturbating. It is viewed as a natural response. While it's true that some religions forbid masturbation for both sexes, this taboo is usually enforced more strictly for women.

Even in families that are not religious, sex education for girls usually has little or nothing to do with pleasure. Little girls and teenagers are told about menstruation and where babies come from. They are taught to view their own sex organs as receptive holes for male enjoyment. Nobody mentions the clitoris, which is an organ that has to be stimulated if a woman is going to have an orgasm. (The clitoris is a small bump that appears at the top of your inner lips.)

Teenagers who explore sex usually do it on male terms. Girls learn about how to stimulate their boyfriends. When they first have intercourse, whether it's with a boyfriend or a husband, they are often tense and nervous. The flip side of this is that boys get no education about how to prepare a woman's body for sexual activity. Boys know what feels good to them and to their penises, and they assume that sex is automatically going to feel good for the girl, too.

But the first experience with intercourse is usually not much fun for the female partner. If she has a strong hymen, being entered can be quite painful. If she is not used to the way it feels to have something inside her vagina, the thrusting of intercourse can be uncomfortable and irritating. If her partner's body doesn't press against her clitoris, or if he doesn't touch her clitoris at all, she probably won't have an orgasm. Young men are often excited so much by an opportunity to “go all the way” that they don't last very long, and they aren't very thoughtful or imaginative lovers.

I'm telling you this because I think you are reproaching yourself for not automatically enjoying intercourse with your husband. You sound like you are blaming your religious background and your upbringing for the problems you are having. I wanted you to see that even if you had dated, learning how to enjoy sex could be difficult for you, just because the whole culture is so crazy about sex. Even if you had been dating boys all through high school, you could still be afraid enough of sex to have vaginismus. Many of the women who have this problem did not grow up in conservative households. Blaming yourself will just make you feel inferior and hopeless. But the truth is that this is not your fault, and if you want to, you have as much of a chance to fix the problem and eventually enjoy sex with your husband as any other woman. Don't give up before you seek out a solution!

You are not an isolated “patient” who has some kind of rare condition. You are a normal woman whose body is reacting to a scary experience by trying to protect herself. It is actually quite normal for women to need experience with intercourse in order to enjoy it. Including pressure against the clitoris is very important. This can happen either by using her own or her partner's hand, a toy, or by receiving stimulation from his pelvis. When you are able to relax enough to enjoy intercourse, I hope this information will help to make the experience even better for both you and your husband.

A few lucky women have orgasms from penetration alone, and I don't want to ignore that aspect of female sexuality. Eventually, most women can enjoy intercourse if they are attracted to their male partner and are sufficiently aroused before penetration begins. Men tend to assume that intercourse should begin the minute the penis is fully erect. A few men understand that a woman's vagina needs to be secreting moisture to show that she is aroused. But that is usually not quite enough. Female arousal (like men's) happens in stages. The first stage, which happens after kissing and body stroking with hands or mouth, betrays itself with vaginal lubrication. But it takes about ten minutes after that for the uterus to pull up and out, creating more space at the top of the vagina, so that there is space for full penile thrusting. I suggest that most men approach lovemaking with the idea of teasing their female partner until she is crazy for sex and expresses her intense arousal by verbally or physically urging him to enter her. Don't just push into her as soon as you can feel vaginal lubrication.

Right now it feels as if nothing will ever be okay, but the two of you may wind up having a better marriage because you have to be honest with each other about a topic most people avoid. Some women never communicate with their husbands or boyfriends and tell them they are not enjoying sex. These women wind up avoiding opportunities to be intimate with their men. They feel resentment and distance. You and your husband have a chance to be a different kind of couple. To solve this problem, you will need to start talking to each other about what feels good, when to go further and when to stop.

The therapy for vaginismus involves learning how to feel positive sensations from your vagina. You also need to feel in control of what happens to your body. The ultimate sexual pleasure (orgasm) does usually feel like losing control, but this is only possible when you trust your partner and your own body enough to let go. For now you will get better results by sticking with a predictable plan that puts you in charge.

The worst thing that your partner could do is force you to have sex, or push you to go faster than you are able to go. Reassure him that you love him and want him, and you are working hard to consummate the marriage. Tell him how much you want to be a good wife and raise a family together. I hope he can understand that this takes a lot of courage on your part, and reward you for being so brave.

Therapy will probably begin with letting you look at your vaginal area in a mirror, and gently touch various parts of your genitals to see what feels good. This is not the same thing as masturbation. Masturbation is deliberately stimulating your own genitals to produce an orgasm. What you are doing is more like a doctor's examination. Your intention is to create a good marriage with your husband. You need to be able to show or tell him where and how to touch you. I am not sure what religion you practice, but I do know that any religion that emphasizes fidelity and marriage is based on happy couples who have a reason to remain faithful to each other. If you are doing the sex therapy in order to have sex with your husband, it is not the same thing as selfishly pursuing your own sexual pleasure without him.

This gentle examination is for your information, so the therapist can make sure you know what all of the parts of your genitals are called. It is also important that you begin to have genital sensations that are not traumatic or painful. The only way to make sure you have that experience is for you to do the touching, so that you can tell how it feels. A doctor would not automatically know where or how to touch you so that you can start to feel positive about your female genitals.

This exam is also necessary to make sure that you do not have an abnormally thick, large hymen. This membrane is usually thin and small, so that it is easy for it to part and allow intercourse. A few women have a medical problem with a hymen that cannot be broken by a man's erection. Your doctor can reduce the problem so that you can enjoy intercourse without an insurmountable barrier. It is a medical procedure like getting your tonsils removed, only not nearly as serious.

Once you can feel relaxed with pressure or stroking on the outside of your genitals, you can progress to a tiny instrument for penetration. You insert this yourself to make sure you get the correct angle. Before you do, promise yourself that you will not do anything that hurts. You will not hurry yourself. You are just going to take nice deep breaths and see what a tiny little nudge at the vaginal opening feels like. It will probably surprise you to discover that it feels just fine. If not, back off and go back to external exploration and massage to relax the area. Next time, try a smaller object, and don't go in as deep. Using extra, artificial lubrication can help make this more comfortable.

Patience is key to these treatments. It can take several weeks or months to complete the dilation. Gradually the size of vaginal probes is increased until you are able to tolerate something the approximate size of your husband's penis. Do not worry about losing your virginity. A medical instrument is not the same thing as a man's sex organ. Your husband will still be your first sexual partner.

You will probably be surprised when your therapist tells you that you are ready to try to have intercourse. (Your body belongs to you, but it's nice to share.) Penises and vaginas fit together quite nicely. Nature designed them to be a good fit. You are attracted to your husband so your body will be cooperating with this effort, eager to enjoy the man you love. During the first experience, your husband should understand that it is important to let you have a little more control over the process. If he can partially insert his penis, but has to remove it without having an orgasm, that's still great! It means that you are nearly done with the therapy. Keep on following your therapist's directions for homework and work in the office. Eventually the two of you will enjoy complete intercourse.

I do want to add, for other readers who perhaps have a similar problem, that this answer assumes that there are no other issues that would make it difficult to enjoy penetration. Vaginismus is going to be harder to treat if you have experienced any sexual abuse such as child molestation or rape. If you are not heterosexual or you do not identify as a woman, despite having xx chromosomes, sex therapy is not going to change your body's resistance to having sex with a male partner, or having sex in a female role, respectively. Those who have survived violence need to explore what it means to have safety with a sex partner, and develop the skills they need to seek out the right situation for erotic exploration or romantic fulfillment. Successful treatment might depend on facing some of these other issues and taking time to understand them and grow strong enough to change your life so you can be more honest.

If you have chronic vaginal or pelvic pain caused by vulvodynia, dry mucous membranes, pelvic inflammatory disease, or other medical and genetic problems, you can also develop vaginismus. If penetration hurts, your body can go on strike against it. I have also known women to develop vaginismus after an unwanted pregnancy or if a C-section or hysterectomy has damaged nerve endings in the vulva, impairing sexual sensation.

I am NOT saying that vaginismus is a symptom of lesbianism or transsexuality or even sex abuse. Heterosexual women with ordinary family histories and good-hearted male partners can have trouble with penetration for a variety of reasons.

If you don't understand some of this answer, or if you disagree with part of it, please feel free to write to me again. I want to make sure you get the help or services that you need.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.