Living With Painful Intercourse: Am I Just a Sex Toy?

I’ve been feeling very disconnected from sex for a while, as if I’m just the bystander at the party and not a joyful, enthusiastic participant.

I think this must be a common experience among those with my condition. Let’s face it: there’s nothing pleasurable about intercourse for me, not really. Consequently, when husband and I do have intercourse, I am spending most of my time wishing it would end. Some women (I think I can hear you chortling out there!) would say that’s not much different from intercourse for the rest of the female population. I reject that idea. I tend to think that if you’re aren’t enjoying sex, it’s time to try new things and look for ways to make it enjoyable. But how can I do that when sex hurts?

Knowing myself, I think I’m the sort of woman who would and should love sex, who would be an enthusiastic and adventurous partner. During the first months of my marriage, when I discovered I had this condition, the torment of wanting pleasurable sex hurt almost as much as the sex itself. And because I couldn’t really have intercourse, I took pleasure in what was left to me: giving pleasure to my partner. But, you know, even the most generous person gets bored and tired of giving to others what they cannot have themselves.

Don’t get me wrong: my partner offers. He practically pleads with me to let him do what he can for me. But, to be honest, I have so much trouble accepting his offers. For one thing, the orgasm doesn’t really matter to me. I can orgasm any time I want – it’s the one sex thing I seem to do well. And for another, what I crave is intimacy. Look, other forms of physical attention are nice, I guess. But nothing, nothing compares to that moment when bodies are entwined and close, occupying the same space for a window in time. I don’t get that kind of intimacy from other kinds of sex.

The result is that sex is just this chore for me. I love my partner, but I don’t necessarily want to love my partner, or anyone at all, for that matter. I feel more like a sex toy in our bedroom than a participant. It’s not my partner’s fault that he really cannot do anything to please me sexually but that he still has desires of his own, desires that I cannot help but feel guilty about not sating more often. It doesn’t help that something about this condition has lessened rather than increased my sex drive over the years. It’s almost as if I’ve come to associate any sexual feelings with negative emotions: disappointment, pain, fear, frustration. And now, no matter how I arrive at the sexual feeling, that’s all I anticipate and experience.

Nobody wants to give pleasure to someone who thinks as I do, although my partner keeps trying. How can I make myself desire something that has proved to be nothing more than a disappointment to me?

I’m not without hope, of course. I’m always hoping. Hoping the physical therapy pans out. Hoping something within me will click and it will be enough always to give pleasure rather than receive. Hoping that my attitude will change and manual or oral sex will mean intimacy to me, will satisfy me in a way they just can’t right now.

Has anyone else encountered this? I almost get the feeling that this experience is one that everyone can relate to, at least now and then.

 

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Michelle Miller

Michelle Miller is a twenty-something blogger, cook, freelance writer and editor living in Seattle, Washington. She’s a feminist trying ever-so-hard to embrace her spaces, conventional or not. She looks forward to numerous bad hair days, burnt cremes, a soapbox or two, and maybe (just maybe) a yellow polka-dot bikini in the years ahead.

8 thoughts on “Living With Painful Intercourse: Am I Just a Sex Toy?”

  1. Hi! I’ve been reading Persephone Magazine for a while, but I finally signed up because I have to THANK YOU for writing about this, and I hope you’ll keep writing! I’ve been living with painful intercourse for over three years, and I have all the same feelings you have. Plus, I was sexually active for a while before the pain set in, and losing the joy that I used to have with that part of my life has been nothing short of tragic. It’s very hard to feel sexy when sex causes you pain. I absolutely want it less than I used to. And when I do feel sexy, I often shut down those feelings because, in reality, I don’t want to put myself through the pain.

    Other forms of intimacy are an option, but alternatives to joyful, stress-free, pain-free sex can be hard to get excited about. And I want to elaborate on something you mentioned briefly – THE GUILT. The guilt is huge for me. Of course I know that our marriage is not a sex contract, I know that my husband loves me and wants to be with me and wants to work through this however we have to. But it’s hard to stop those nagging thoughts of “this is not what he signed up for when he married me.” That is an AWFUL feeling.

    Well I’ll try to end on a high note. My doctors have not helped me, but my pain is lessening on its own. I’m a married 25-year-old and I am celebrating (!!!) that my husband and I now have vaginal intercourse about twice a month! It still hurts some, especially in the beginning, but not so much that I can’t enjoy it at all. I’m thinking of buying some books, doing some more of my own research, and seeking out a new doctor. It means A LOT to me just to hear about your thoughts and experiences, so, again, thank you!

    1. Wow! How great to hear from you!

      It sounds like our stories align in so many ways and I am so hopeful for you to hear that the pain has started to lessen. I feel really lucky in some ways that I don’t have to live with knowing what I can’t have; I can’t imagine having had fully pleasurable, pain-free sex and then losing that, for years!

      I hope you’ll keep up with me because it’s so wonderful hearing from other women who have similar experiences. This can be such an isolating condition.

      You mention the guilt and I am so with you there. I feel bad not having sex because I don’t want it; I feel bad when he wants sex but says we don’t have to because I’m uncomfy; I feel bad when I want sex but decline his offer of alternatives because I just can’t summon enthusiasm. In short, I just spend a lot of time feeling bad.

      Hearing from you and others really brightens my day, though. I’m so encouraged to hear that other women with this condition have loving, committed partners who are willing to support us as we deal with this problem.

      Thank you so much for introducing yourself!

      1. Again, I feel the same way about all these things! It makes SUCH a huge difference to hear from other women who are dealing with this. Even though you can read the statistics and know that you’re not the only one, the fact that NO ONE will talk about it means it can still feel like it’s just you. I’ve only mentioned it to a couple of girlfriends, but they never ask me about it because it’s so weird and sad. I don’t blame them! But it’s hard to stay positive when you feel all alone in the world. So I’m super thankful that you were brave enough to start this conversation! I’ll definitely keep up with you – we deserve each other’s encouragement!

        When I think about how recently it was that anybody in medicine started caring about women’s sexual health, I feel confident that this will all be figured out. I just try not to think about the possibility that it may not be in our lifetime, or that if I were born 100 years in the future, I’d probably just pop a pill and never have to suffer with this! But I am feeling optimistic and it sounds like you are too, in spite of everything, which is good!!

  2. I think this is a really interesting perspective, and I empathize. Though my experience of feeling that way is extremely limited, I think it’s something that most people can relate to in a small way. It seems like your partner is as helpful and generous as could be, though, which must help a lot. All the best to you guys as you keep working!

    1. I think that many women probably go through times in their lives when they just feel disconnected from their sexuality in bed. I know that I’m doubly prone to feel this way because of my upbringing, which–intentionally or not–set out to inform me that I’m not a sexual creature and my sole purpose is to bring pleasure to some man.

      Thanks for sticking with me and keeping up with the article. It’s nice to know people out there are interested. :]

  3. Oh my goodness. I’ve following this series and it’s just amazing. Certainly your experiences of painful intercourse (and all that goes with it) aren’t something we’ve experienced, but having a … not ordinary/average/normal “sex life” is something we are familiar with. A lot has had to change in how I (and, indeed, the other half) perceive sexual acts (intercourse and otherwise) and intimacy. Really hope things do improve for you. And thank you for sharing your experiences, I had only the most vague of notions about the condition before this series.

    1. I’ve long been inspired by the topics you choose for your own series, Juniper, because of how enlightening it is to see these areas discussed by someone with unique challenges and perspectives.

      Isn’t it funny how circumstances can be so different, and yet so much the same? I’m always surprised when I start talking about this subject that women from all walks of life can relate in some way. Human sexuality is so varied but so prone to universal experience, in many, many ways. The circumstances, the partners, the reasons may differ, but our perceptions and emotions? We’re all so often in the very same boats.

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