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.