As time went on, sex became somewhat easier: the shock of the pain ebbed because I knew what I was in for each time. But I wasn’t satisfied with that—I had more in mind for my sexuality—so I began reading voraciously. I read The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner, a book Dr. B called “a good starting place.” And it certainly would’ve been, had I been normal. I read Sheet Music by Kevin Leman, a recommendation from a friend that turned out to be really interesting, if not especially helpful in my then-current state. I read Cosmo articles. I read excerpts of The Celebration of Sex by Douglas Rosenau. I read The Act of Marriage by Tim and Beverly LaHaye (skip it). I read excerpts of Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat. I read articles from several websites. I even read a book about kissing. The problem with all that material was that nowhere did it describe anyone like me. Advice for avoiding awkward wedding nights, rekindling the passion for older couples, adjusting to babies in the house, and breaking sexual inhibitions abounded…but there was nothing for me. When I used indices to reread portions that supposedly addressed lack of sex drive and/or painful sex, the most I found was “Try some relaxation techniques,” or “See a doctor.” Once more I felt alone in my struggle and frustrated that I couldn’t seem to help myself. These books were designed for people whose biggest problem was ignorance or a stressful schedule. Mine was all-out dysfunction.
I seemed to be hitting the same wall with Dr. B by that point. I’d tried all the sexy music, sensual massage, glasses of wine, and non-intercourse intimacy I could handle. I’d lit candles, I’d watched romantic movies, I’d read and written some erotica. And don’t get me wrong: Dr. B’s influence was absolutely crucial in my battle for healthy sexuality, and with his help I made some very important strides. But my sometimes-impatient self was irked when the speed of my progress cooled. Even though there were occasional days and nights on which I truly wanted to have sex, it still wasn’t “making love.” It was fulfilling an uncomfortable, frustrating duty. I was nearing the end of my rapidly fraying rope, and unfortunately, that is where the story pauses for the next year and a half of my marriage. Sex was possible but excruciating, and my enthusiasm for satisfying sex was evaporating by the minute. I threw up my hands in frustration with God for not erasing the problem.
The night I ran completely out of patience, two years into marriage, is still as vivid a memory as the chili I ate tonight. My husband and I had another couple over for dinner, and after dessert we decided to play a game (as often happens if you are my dinner guest—fair warning). Although we knew we were at a disadvantage—they’d weathered several more years of marriage than we had—we were up for the challenge of the Newlywed Game. One question the two husbands were asked was, “When was your hottest night of lovemaking in the past year?” They both recorded answers with seemingly little difficulty. However, when my husband revealed his response, his friend said, “For us, pretty much every time is awesome. You must not have had a lot of sex if you can remember a specific night.” Usually I have a great poker face, but that night I sat there stunned, staring at my husband’s friend, with whom it didn’t seem to register that he’d said something deeply insulting. All the feelings of being exposed, of fighting an embarrassing battle of inadequacy, washed over me. Burning, crimson shame appeared on my face. Everybody knows, the sickening voice in my head whispered. Everybody knows.
For me, the problem with all this sexual strife is that it’s the one thing we’re supposed to figure out entirely on our own. All any person or book ever said was, “It hurts in the beginning,” and “Figuring it all out with your partner is so much fun!” Well…what about those of us for whom it was still painful after two years? What about those of us who couldn’t figure anything out, even with a manual like Sheet Music, because it was impossible to make even the “easy” stuff work? Who are we supposed to turn to? Try to talk about sex in your Bible study, and you’ll likely make the room fidget and drop eye contact faster than you can say “scented massage oil” unless you have an unusually open group. I found that very few people, even my closest friends, were able to give me real, honest information, their words being veiled by a sense of propriety. (Not that there’s anything wrong with propriety; it’s just frustrating to hear about it over and over when you truly need answers.)
After my husband’s friend made his comment, it was literally weeks before I was able to face my bedroom frustration again. Everything had simply begun to feel insurmountable.