Q: I’m recovering from some serious body-insecurity issues which had a bad impact on my sex life with my husband. We take care of ourselves (and help each other with that, occasionally), but we’re both wanting to get the sex back in. Unfortunately, I feel like my insides have shrunk and sex hurts a lot more than it used to, so it ends up being frustrating. Most lubricants seem to sting (I think it might be the glycerin). How can we ease back into things without getting too frustrated?
A: First of all, big kudos and hugs to you for your recovery process; I know that many Persephoneers (including me) can relate to body image issues affecting lots of different areas of their/our lives, and I know that it can be a difficult process, so it’s wonderful that you’re doing better and feel ready to bring some more sex back into your life.
Now, the first big thing that jumped out at us was the stinging lube and your comment that the lubes you’re using contain glycerin. While some women have no problem at all with lubes that contain glycerin, many women do – for some, it’s basically a one-way ticket to Yeast Infection City, and nobody wants to go there, so finding some lubes without glycerin could make a world of difference for you. You’ll also want to make sure that you’re not using lube (or condoms) with nonoxynol-9; it’s a spermicide that can be extremely irritating to the vagina and is definitely something to steer clear of.
Fortunately, you’ve got plenty of options for other lubes to try. There are glycerin- and paraben-free water-based lubes like Sliquid H2O, and there are also silicone lubes like Wet Platinum (our personal favorite), both of which can be used for any kind of sex and with or without condoms. (Lots of companies now make water-based/silicone hybrid lubes, which they say brings the best of both kinds of lube together, though neither of us have tried one of these and can’t attest to that either way.) It can sometimes take a bit of trial and error to find a lube that feels good for you and your partner too; we tried a few different water-based lubes that all stung one if not both of us no matter where we put them, and we immediately fell in love with the silicone lube we tried, but other people find silicone lubes irritating and water-based lubes more comfortable. (For even more info about lube, check out this entry on the Vulvapedia; many online sex stores also have posts about the pros and cons of the different kinds of lube.)
Now, the second thing we immediately thought of while reading your question – is it possible that you have a vaginal infection? If you’ve been using lube that disagrees with you (or just because sometimes our bodies, including our vaginas, don’t behave like we want them to), an infection could certainly be responsible for PIV sex feeling painful and difficult. If you think this could be a possibility and if you don’t have much experience with yeast infections and/or bacterial vaginosis, it would be best to go to the doctor if possible; the symptoms can sometimes be very similar, and you don’t want to treat yourself thinking you have one thing when really it’s the other. Both YIs and BV are very common, so don’t be alarmed if you realize that you’ve got one of them going on, but they also have the potential to make intercourse extremely uncomfortable, so this is definitely something to consider!
If an infection isn’t the culprit, and you find a lube you like, what then? You’re probably really eager to try to get back to the way things were, but you’re right when you said that you’re going to need to ease into it. It might be helpful to go into sexytime situations without the goal being PIV sex; it will probably be on both of your minds, but if you can focus on doing things that feel really good for you, that could help you relax. It will likely also help ensure that you’re as turned on as possible, which is important for easing back into PIV sex since the vagina lengthens and expands during arousal; waiting until you’re unbelievably turned on and can’t possibly wait any longer could help make penetration more comfortable. If you’re the type that can have a few orgasms in one session, getting yourself off or having your husband get you off before you focus on penetration could also help. (And if fingering isn’t ordinarily a part of your repertoire, it could be worth trying that too, as a way of working up to your husband’s penis.) Experimenting with position might help too; you may find that it feels better when you’re on top and can control the speed, angle, and depth of penetration, or you may find some other position feels better.
If you’re still experiencing pain during PIV sex after all of this, it could be worth (another) trip to the doctor. A while back, one of our own Persephone writers discussed her experiences with pain during intercourse and her struggle to find a name for and a cause of the problem; also, one of our very first Frisky Feminist posts responded to a question from a woman who has had a similar problem for much of her life, so it might be worth giving that a read to see if any of the possibilities we mentioned there might be a factor for you. Whatever the cause or causes of the problem, you’re definitely not alone in experiencing it, and hopefully we’ve been able to give you some information that points you in the right direction.
Keep the great questions coming! (Hee.) Got a question to ask, subject you’d like us to discuss, or myth you’d like us to bust? You can e-mail us at FriskyFeminist@persephonemagazine.com or send us an anonymous message via the spiffy new Ask Us! feature here.