For many of us who married before having sex, our primary source of information was movies. Naturally, you hear stories now and then from friends, but in general, movie sex is the only kind we virgin brides are familiar with. Of course, there are several kinds of movie sex. There’s the sweet, starts-with-a-kiss scene in Pretty Woman. There’s the smoldering, starts-with-a-dance scene in Dirty Dancing. There are the awkward pornographic scenes in Love Actually. And other movies run the gamut of sexual unions: ripping-clothes-off sex, spontaneous sex, passionate sex, graceful sex. Somewhere within all those images, the truth was surely lurking. When we married, I assumed I had a pretty good idea of sex, even without having ever experienced it for myself. Furthermore, I expected to innately know how to perform the act, as one innately knows how to smile. How difficult could it be? We had complementary anatomies. No charts or graphs necessary. From the very first time, it would be complete erotic bliss.
Well…you know what they don’t show in the movies? The fish-out-of-water feeling you get when you’re trying to do it for the first time, for one. No physical activity in pre-sexual life can prepare you for the sort of gyrating you do during sex. Not only do you have to know how to move your own body, you have to do so in rhythm with another person. Nor do movies show the hesitation engendered by embarrassment with one’s own body. They don’t show the funny noises that bodies that close sometimes make. They don’t show the array of frustrations caused by condoms or the hormonal mood swings that accompany the Pill. They don’t show how things go hilariously wrong sometimes, and you end up laughing yourselves right out of the mood. They don’t show the post-deed cleanup. And they for sure don’t show what happens when the whole thing is simply not possible.
Sex for me was heartbreaking from the beginning. Perhaps I should’ve expected it: every gynecological exam during the previous four years had been excruciating. Before my first one at 18 years old, I asked my best friend what to expect. She said, “It’s uncomfortable, but it’s not too bad.” Thirty seconds into that exam, I nearly came off the table from the pain. (And that’s saying something because I usually take pain like a man.) I spent the rest of the time crying, wondering if my best friend had understood my question, and imagining revenge on the sadistic nurse practitioner. Four years later, I was in for my fourth exam, and it was the same as always: torturously, tearfully painful. Concerned, I asked if all systems were on go for the wedding night two weeks in my future. She said, “You’re perfectly fine. Sex is fun; you’ll love it. And congratulations!”
Imagine my dismay, then, when after about a hundred tries, my marriage was still unconsummated after four weeks. Sex was literally impossible, and we had no idea why or who could possibly help. The only people I’d ever really discussed sex with were the husband-and-wife team who did our premarital counseling, so I made a coffee date with the wife and stumbled through our story. “I don’t know how to explain it…It’s like there’s no place for him to go,” I described, shrugging in bewilderment. J was the first in a long line to give me this advice: “I know it certainly hurts the first time, but once you get past that, it really will be okay. Your body will relax into it, and you’ll learn what to do. Marital sex is not an option, so you really must keep trying.” Nothing is wrong with this advice, and had I been in J’s place, I would’ve said the same thing to me. The fact is, it does hurt the first few times for many women, and they (we) do have to allow time to relax into it. I left J’s house with renewed intent to power through and just do it. Unfortunately, after another week of “powering through,” sex still wasn’t working for us. Sheepishly, I turned to my mother and then to my best friend for advice. Both gave me variations on J’s counsel. “It hurts in the beginning, definitely. But it’s a vital part of being married. You’ll get there.” Again, I told myself, “It can’t be this difficult. Make it work.” Crestfallen after what turned into two emotionally painful, sexless months, I resorted to crying myself to sleep. My husband and I, who had saved our bodies for each other, could not enjoy the highly anticipated experience of sexual ecstasy. Truthfully, I would’ve even welcomed pain had sex just been possible.
You have to remember, as I mentioned in the first post of this blog, I could’ve been voted Least Likely to Ever Talk About Sex by my graduating class. (Luckily, though, that superlative didn’t exist.) I have always been a private person, and this was the most private of all issues to have to discuss with others. At this point, I had talked about embarrassing sexual issues with not only my husband, but also two premarital counselors, my mother, and my best friend. Little did I know: this list wasn’t even a third as long as it was going to get. Not knowing what else to do, I added a sixth person to the list: my physician. My husband and I sat in his office and explained our situation, feeling helpless and exasperated. Dr. S referred me to a wonderful gynecologist who diagnosed the problem immediately. For reasons unknown, scar tissue had formed quite a literal chastity belt inside me. Surgery was necessary. To a woman who already hated her body and considered attempts at sex nothing more than an exercise in pain and failure, hearing that corrective surgery was inevitable made me recede into an inner web of fatalism.
More to come…