Today’s email from a reader is short, but packed with issues. This wife has faced several struggles with sex and worries that she’s going to be stuck with these problems forever.
I’ve been struggling through theses past few months breaking down mental and physical blocks towards sex. I guess I should probably start at the beginning. Three years ago my husband and I got married and we were both virgins. The whole time we dated I would shut down any feelings I would get of arousal, I felt a lot of shame for those feelings. By the time we made it to our wedding bed I had essentially made myself react a-sexually. I felt nothing, well, I felt pain. A lot of pain that worsened each time we had sex. Fast forward to a few months ago (I had a baby) and I couldn’t stand penetration, it hurt so bad. Turns out the physical side of my problems was Vaginismus. I’ve been treated and now I’m slowly getting to the point where I don’t feel guilty for having or asking for sex anymore. I’m still breastfeeding but I’m worried that even after I stop my hormones won’t work. I can’t even remember what it feels like to be aroused, I haven’t even had an orgasm (during sex) which has been a disappointment for my husband. Do I need to wait until I stop breastfeeding to see if my hormones are messed up and that’s why it seems like nothing is working? I’m worried I’m going to be stuck this way forever.
Let’s start with the good news. You desire something better, and you’re seeking treatment for one of your sexual issues. That’s wonderful. Because some spouses, faced with deep challenges, simply throw up their hands and give up. Instead, you realize something is missing and it’s worth seeking sexual intimacy for him, for you, and for your marriage.
Anyone experiencing pain during intercourse should visit the doctor, explain the issue, and request a physical examination. There are several legitimate reasons why sex might hurt, but there are also answers. Seek treatment quickly and persistently so you can move toward the sexual intimacy God wants you to have in your marriage.
In this reader’s case, it’s vaginismus — the involuntarily tensing of muscles in the vagina, which makes it painful or impossible to have intercourse. It is a treatable condition, and Sheila Wray Gregoire wrote well on this topic: Wifey Wednesday: When Sex Hurts.
Now let’s deal with the other issues.
Shame about arousal. The reader writes: “The whole time we dated I would shut down any feelings I would get of arousal, I felt a lot of shame for those feelings. By the time we made it to our wedding bed I had essentially made myself react a-sexually.” Unfortunately, some women have received so many don’t-have-sex messages that they mistake their God-given sexuality for sinfulness. Even when they simply feel aroused, they experience shame.
The purity message in the Church can be so strong we end up communicating not only that good girls don’t, but good girls don’t even think about it. That’s entirely unrealistic and unsupported by Scripture. Rather, God created our bodies to respond in sensual ways to the one we love but commanded we express those feelings in the right context — the marriage bed.
The way to combat the shame you’ve felt is to consistently replace it with truth, retraining your thoughts to line up with God’s plan. Reading biblically based blogs and books about Christian sexuality can help, but the Scriptures themselves are the best place to go for ultimate truth. Read the Song of Songs through more than once, and consider that God, the Creator of sex, made sure that book was in His Holy Word. My devotional book, Intimacy Revealed, specifically walks wives through scriptures that relate to sex in the marriage bed, showing how God designed us to experience pleasurable sensations and physical intimacy with our spouses.
When you begin to feel shame or tension, remind yourself of God’s goodness and His generosity when it comes to sex. Purity is no sex outside of marriage, not no sex at all. A wife having amazing sex in her marriage is absolutely pure.
Role of hormones. Hormones definitely affect arousal and pleasure. Certain times of the month are easier to engage than others, and pregnancy and breastfeeding years can be challenging to one’s libido and sexual response.
That said, hormones aren’t everything. Usually, when a woman’s hormones are in the way, it means that sexual engagement requires more effort, but it can be done. You might not have an independent sex drive, but you can get turned on and awaken your drive in the moment. It might take more foreplay to get things going. You might need additional lubrication. Certain positions might be more comfortable than others.
Likewise, breastfeeding can lower your libido, but it shouldn’t keep your body from responding sexually unless something else is going on. I experienced too-low estrogen while nursing, and once that was remedied, I was fine. So if you think breastfeeding is messing with your sexuality, talk to your doctor.
Your marital intimacy shouldn’t have to wait for months on end until everything is back to “normal.” Look for ways to engage sexually now.
Elusive arousal. Who wants to have sex without being aroused? I suspect the answer is nobody, but I can state with certainty — not me and not you. Quality arousal is key to experiencing satisfying sexual intimacy with your husband.
How can you rediscover the sensation of arousal? Some of your issues are indeed physical and you’re addressing them, so let’s talk about other ways to foster responsiveness. I suggest reading my post on preparing for sex, which might help you get in the right frame of mind. With some anticipation and preparation, you can begin to awaken your senses.
You can also engage in foreplay that focuses on the five senses. For instance, ask him to apply massage oil or lotion all over your body, and let that experience relax you. Close your eyes, and let him touch you lightly up and down your arms and legs, then your torso, and moving toward your private areas. He can use his hands, just fingers, or something soft like a feather.
When you’re engaged in sexual activity, try to block out anything other than the sensations your body is experiencing. Okay, don’t block out your husband, but you know what I mean. We wives can have wandering minds, and you’ll enjoy lovemaking more if you attend exclusively to your interaction.
You might also feel more engaged looking directly into your husband’s eyes or communicating verbally during sex. Some wives respond more to these reminders that sex in marriage goes beyond physical pleasure into the realm of intense intimacy.
Feel free to speak up for what your body desires or reposition his hands or mouth where you think it will feel good. If something doesn’t feel good, speak up then too. Make it clear to your husband that you’re learning too, and you want to figure out together what will make you more enthusiastic about making love.
And breathe. Just breathe. One of the best things you can do is when you start having sensations, slowly exhale. That will relax your body and help you lean into the pleasure.
Absent orgasm. You stated you cannot orgasm, then put in parentheses during sex. Does that mean you can reach orgasm through foreplay? If so, that’s great! It’s more difficult for women to climax during intercourse, because it’s stimulation of the clitoris — direct or indirect — that results in orgasm. In foreplay, your husband can hone in on that target and stimulate you into ecstasy. Having him inside may not allow sufficient stimulation of your clitoris to get you to that peak of pleasure.
If you want to orgasm during intercourse, here are some tips:
- Request more time in foreplay, getting yourself very close to orgasm when he penetrates. You might even want to go ahead and have a single orgasm before intercourse. It can be easier to reach climax after you’ve almost-climaxed or climaxed before.
- Try other sexual positions. Angling your hips or having him move up toward your chest can increase his body’s contact with your clitoris. Some wives also do better with rear entry positions. Just give different positions a shot and see what feels good.
- Ask him to continue touching your clitoris during intercourse. This is easier in certain sexual positions, like woman-on-top, where he can easily view the area.
- Stroke your own clitoris while he thrusts. You can apply the right kind of touch and pressure to yourself, and many husbands enjoy seeing their wives so into the experience.
But if you don’t orgasm during intercourse, don’t sweat it. Just enjoy the ones you have and keep trying. If you think you might orgasm during sex, and it doesn’t happen, ask him to continue to pleasure you to climax after he finishes. Many husbands are willing to keep going until their wife is fully satisfied. Over time, you may figure out how to orgasm during intercourse. In the meantime, enjoy what you have.
Eternity feeling. When you’re in the midst of hardship, and it doesn’t abate quickly, it can feel like you’ll be there forever. Just read these poignant verses from the Psalm 44:22-26, as the psalmist pleads with God:
Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Get up! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you look the other way?
Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?
We collapse in the dust,
lying face down in the dirt.
Rise up! Help us!
Ransom us because of your unfailing love.
That sounds pretty hopeless, right? But if you’re calling out to God and both seeking answers, your current situation won’t last forever.
However, you might be there longer than you wish. Actually, you already have.
Still, remain faithful to pursuing God’s design for your marriage. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” God is with you in this journey, and you can nurture your sexual intimacy. Just don’t give up.