Living With Painful Intercourse: Panic Moments

One of the worst experiences of my life was returning from my honeymoon.

No, not because I had to go back to work, clean the house, scrub the toilet, eat sensibly (though all of that was a bummer, for sure). Rather, I dreaded the playful insinuating looks from friends and family on my return and knowing that I had no idea how to respond to them.

I called my mom in confusion and dread the night after, so disappointed and horror-stricken that I scarcely knew what else to do with myself. Locked away in the bathroom of my honeymoon hotel, I cried for an hour while my new husband took a nap, so angry at the cosmic joke played upon me that I damn near threw a punch at the wall.

It wasn’t just the impossible pain of those first few attempts at sex that had me agonizing. It was the anticipation of the days and weeks and months to come. I certainly didn’t make my sexual decisions fodder for discussion, but most friends and family knew that I had decided to abstain from sex before marriage (half a matter of convenience and half a matter of conviction). Now I would be faced with the jokes, the expectations, the eagerness to discuss my wedding night when I returned. And what would I say in those moments to expectant girlfriends and family?

I came to think of these moments as “panic moments,” when I knew I should respond in some way but had no way to do so honestly.

Then there was the fear of judgment. On the one hand, I feared my less socially conservative friends would have a private chuckle at the virgin who found out on her wedding night that she would be stuck with her precious virginity for months, years, and maybe forever. On the other hand, I knew that many of my very socially conservative friends and family would see my experience as some sort of comeuppance for all of my feminist leanings–the very judgment of God. They might make sympathetic sounds to me, but their tongues would be tutting as soon as I left earshot, and maybe well before.

I did encounter these responses, and some others I didn’t expect. I found it easier to play along with the playful grins and winks rather than acknowledge to most of those around me that I was in deep, heartbroken pain. The reality? I was grieving. I was grieving for the sexual pleasure that I felt had been taken away from me long before I’d even had a chance to know it. And I wore a tough, unflinching smile while I did it.

I don’t want to sound like a martyr. My sexual life is my own business and no one is entitled to know anything about it, one way or another. Still, I’m sensitive to social exchanges, to interactions between people. I’m keenly aware of the messages that pass between people with a look, and the thoughts that run through a person’s mind and make only the briefest appearance on a brow or pursed lip. And I couldn’t help but feel terrified of judgment from those around me, and I couldn’t bear their pity. Worst yet, I feared that they would think that any attempt I made to speak of my experience would merely be an attempt to garner pity.

I think I would have locked myself away in a room for life before I would have exposed myself to such a suspicion from others.

So when these panic moments arose, I dodged, mumbled, feigned, and straight-up lied. I did whatever I thought was necessary to save face, appear strong, and betray no indication that my heart and spirit were well and truly broken.

The long and the short of it was that I became an emotional recluse. I was suffering inside, and each of these “panic moments” with friends and family became just another wound. And the sad reality is that I allowed my friends and family to continue unknowingly wounding me in this way; and then I let that hurt drive me deeper into anger and depression.

If I’ve learned anything about living without pleasurable intercourse, it is that these panic moments, these “play-pretend” interludes, aren’t worth the hurt they leave in their wake. Better to shrug, grimace, and speak the truth–even if it makes others suspicious, triumphant, or uncomfortable–than to drive the pain and shame deeper into your body. Your body is dealing with enough. And so are you.

I suppose it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the best response to these panic moments is, like with most other things, to speak the truth–come what may.

By 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.

5 replies on “Living With Painful Intercourse: Panic Moments”

Oh, honey. That is so awful.

It’s also very enlightening. I can imagine myself saying or implying to a new bride, “woooo you had sex!”, having the best of intentions. It’s good to be reminded not to do that, because who the hell knows how the wedding night or honeymoon went? Painful intercourse is really very common, and all kinds of other things can go wrong. If the couple’s inexperienced, they might have had a failure to launch. Hell, the couple might have been so tired and stressed out after the wedding that they had a huge ugly fight that night. So from now on I’ll remember to be tactful.

I know I said this before, but it’s fantastic that you’re writing about this, and writing about it so well.


Thanks, Bryn!

Once I started talking about my experience with friends, I discovered that at least half were so exhausted that they didn’t bother having sex until a day or two after the wedding. Add that to the list of things I wish had occurred to me at the time. Could have saved myself a ton of shame and guilt on that score alone!

Thank you for sharing this. I have been diagnosed with vulvodynia and I suspect I have vestibulodynia but I’ve never had sex.I feel like I’ve had those panic moments when friends talk about what it will be like when I have a partner and a sex life. I’m pretty sure it will hurt but I don’t know for sure. I can put in a tampon or get a speculum exam if I withstand the burning pain. The pain has still caused me problems even without having sex, at one point I couldn’t be in a seated position for long periods of time. I ended up avoiding people when it was really bad because I couldn’t tell them where it hurt. I know that what causes me pain is stretching out the opening of the vagina and not inside the vagina but doctors don’t seem to care. I feel like its because I haven’t had sex yet so I couldn’t possibly know where it hurts. It’s like I have to have sex for at least a year and endure the pain before I’ll be taken seriously. I don’t even know how I’ll tell my future partners that intercourse is probably going to be painful for me when I’ve never done it before.

I’ve encountered that same sort of attitude, Lana, and thank you so much for sharing.

Because I was a virgin on my wedding night, may doctors told me outright that I was just being fearful and to “stop being so afraid of sex” and things would get better.

I’m so glad you have a diagnosis and I’m hoping you can find doctors who will help you transition into sexual activity with as little difficulty as possible. In my experience, sexual difficulties don’t have to make healthy, fulfilling, wonderful relationships impossible. I have a wonderful lifelong commitment with my partner and he knows full well that enjoyable sex may not be in the cards for us. Ever.

Seems like the one who loves you most will want to share your life and experiences with you, regardless of how little or how much sex you may have tgoether; sex is a big part of our lives, but it is by no means the entirety!

These are words I tell myself daily. :)

The truth is, a lot of really happy couples don’t have sex, for a lot of different reasons…health issues, disabilities, age, medications, whatever. Some people are asexual but very romantic and committed. And what’s wrong with that? I think marriage is mostly about loving each other and being there for each other and being close. I’ve been married just about 21 years, and we don’t have sex nearly as often as we used to, and our relationship has never been stronger. I really think sex is over-emphasized in marriage.

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