Yesterday afternoon, I was wiped out from having gone to the dentist. It was a simple exam and cleaning, but every time I visit the dentist, tension grips my muscles like zipties secured two notches too tight. It occurred to me that some of you might have the same experience with sex that I have with getting dental care.
Let’s talk about ways in which sex can feel a bit like going to the dentist.
You’ve Experienced Pain.
I have a very sensitive mouth, had several cavities as a child, and only in adulthood realized that I have an insensitivity to the local anesthetic commonly used for most dental procedures. All of which means that going to the dentist historically HURTS.
Ask me about the worst pain I’ve ever been, and childbirth doesn’t even come close. It’s either the time I got a root canal retreatment, when the anesthetic worked some but not enough, or when I received a filling with no numbing whatsoever. Dental care is not supposed to hurt that much!
Likewise, many women in particular have suffered pain or discomfort during sex. Sometimes their husband knows, but oftentimes he doesn’t. One review of the 2018 U.S. National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior suggested that half of women don’t tell their sexual partner about the pain they experienced. Reasons for pain include dryness, vaginismus, infection, pelvic floor dysfunction, and many more, but almost every cause can be addressed in some way. Sex is not supposed to hurt!
And even if an encounter is not painful, you may have past pain and discomfort imprinted in your memories that makes it hard to relax. This last dental appointment was only mildly uncomfortable, but I was on edge the whole time—because my mind and body remember. Yet, I believe with several positive experiences, the mental and emotional scripts will shift, my tension will ease, and I might even come to enjoy having my teeth cleaned. Since good sex is way more enjoyable than any dental procedure, couldn’t the same happen for you?
What to do:
- Acknowledge your pain or discomfort.
- Share your struggle with your husband.
- Look for ways to eliminate or address the problem.
- Give your mind and body take to adjust the script.
Your Needs Have Been Minimized.
While no dentist I’ve visited has been like Orin Scrivello, DDS from Little Shop of Horrors, some have been more sympathetic than others. The same with hygienists, who varied in how gentle they were cleaning and polishing my teeth. While my mouth sensitivity and anesthetic insensitivity couldn’t be controlled, it made a real difference in my trust level whether my needs were honored or minimized. If a dentist wants to get on my bad side, they give me lidocaine anyway when I’ve repeatedly said that it doesn’t work on me.
Can anyone relate to this in the sexual arena? For instance, if you’ve repeatedly told your spouse that you need more foreplay or additional lube, but they ignore that request and expect you to just go ahead with it, your reasonable requirements aren’t being respected. Or perhaps the way you get aroused—that is, your particular sex drive—isn’t heeded as an acceptable way to be. Rather, you’re criticized for not being in the mood all the time or having stronger sexual interest in sex than your spouse.
I’m not addressing sins against you here—the Little Shop dentist version of how to approach sex, which should definitely be opposed—but rather ignoring or downplaying what would make sex so much better for you. And that ignoring can come from your spouse, but also from a healthcare provider, pastor, or counselor who doesn’t take your concerns seriously.
It has taken me decades to get to the point where I now speak up boldly for what I need at the dentist. “What is that anesthetic? [Their answer.] Nope, that won’t work. Get something else!” “Yes, I want the nitrous oxide.” “Please pause for a moment while I take a few cleansing breaths.” “Excuse me while I put in my earbuds and turn on my meditation music.” Being my own advocate makes the experience better for all involved. They don’t unnecessarily hurt me, and I feel more comfortable and confident.
What to do:
Be your own bedroom advocate.
Speak up for what you need.
Pause what’s happening if needed and reiterate your reasonable request.
Cooperate with good care, but don’t let your needs be minimized.
You showed up out of duty.
Given my history with dentistry, you’d think I wouldn’t go very often. But other than a few lapses due to other issues in my life, I’ve gotten regular exams and cleanings twice a year and accepted treatments deemed necessary for my health. Nearly every time that I dreaded, despised, and despaired going to my appointment, I still did so—because it was my duty. It struck me as what responsible grownups did to avoid worse outcomes, such as tooth decay or gum disease.
Too many spouses—and it’s almost always women I hear this from—have too long showed up for sex in their marriage out of duty. Maybe they believed that’s just what grownups in marriage do, or they succumbed to pressure from others, or they wanted to avoid presumed worse outcomes, such as a husband turning to pornography or another woman for sexual release.
Is sex an obligation in marriage? We can certainly argue that it is, but that’s not the reason to have sex! You shouldn’t ever schlep yourself to the bedroom to “get it over with” because you “owe him” (or her). Nor should you feel that you must have sex, or your spouse will sexually betray you.*
Even with dentistry, I’d rather go because I want healthy teeth and gums, because I like the look and feeling of cleaned and polished teeth, and because I want to have a mouth that my husband wants to kiss. Continuing to show up out of pure duty has only made me more anxious about going to the dentist. Finally, I’m seeking out ways to both reframe the experience and to make it much better so that I’ll look forward to caring properly for my teeth.
How much more should this be true for sex?! If a sense of duty does anything, it should motivate us to figure out this area of sex, but not just have it. If you continue to show up solely because you feel obligated, then sex will never be something you look forward to doing.
If you continue to show up solely because you feel obligated, then sex will never be something you look forward to doing. @hotholyhumorousTweet
Instead, reframe the experience as something you get to do and work on how to make it better! If sex becomes truly intimate and enjoyable in your marriage, you won’t need anyone to guilt you into having sex. Rather, you’ll want to have sex! And you’ll appreciate how it adds to your own and your marriage’s health and happiness.
What to do:
- Reframe the experience as physical intimacy with your spouse rather than a marital duty for your spouse.
- Don’t let your spouse (or anyone else) guilt you into having sex, because you and your marriage deserve better.
- View any obligation toward sex in marriage as an obligation to figure out your desire, pleasure, and intimacy. (It’s not about the destination as much as the direction.)
- Take concrete steps to make sexual engagement better for you.
You’re Ready to Try Something Different.
My parents long told a story from my childhood that I don’t personally recall. But apparently, they once took me to the dentist and, despite every dangled carrot or threatened stick, could not get me to open my mouth. They finally had to take me home, hoping the next time I’d be more cooperative.
Now that I know about my specific dental issues, I think that was a rather understandable—and even wise—choice on my part. Giving me enticements or ultimatums didn’t change what would happen when I eventually opened my mouth. Rather, my dentist was going to perform his tasks the way he always had. If only he could have offered something different—something less uncomfortable for me.
But the last time I went to the dentist, they cleaned my teeth with something I’d never experienced before. Some dentist reader may correct me, but I think it was a magnetostrictive ultrasonic scaler, which feels a bit like waterpik. Anyway, it wasn’t a terrible experience like teeth scraping has been for me. It actually felt pretty good when it wasn’t hitting a few extra-sensitive spots in my mouth—and the dentist shifted around those spots when I indicated mild discomfort. What a difference it made to try something different!
If having sex has felt like going to the dentist, you may need to try something different. And there are different things to try! I don’t know what your sex version of a magnetostrictive ultrasonic scaler is. (Though I can imagine the sex-toy jokes some of you are now making from that analogy. ~smirk~) But seek out different strategies, activities, ways to communicate, etc.
What to do:
- First, visit your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing pain, discomfort, dryness, or no sexual interest at all.
- Then, consider seeing a counselor if past trauma or mistreatment are a part of your life story.
- Read articles on this blog or others that provide helpful tips to make sex better for you.
- Listen to Sex Chat for Christian Wives, where we cover a lot of practical stuff about sexual interest and satisfaction.
- Get my how-to book for wives, Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design, for lots of ideas!
- Sign up for a sex seminar or marriage conference package through my shop and watch it with your spouse.
Please don’t settle for painful dentistry or bad sex! Especially not bad sex!
Sex as God designed it should be many multiples better than a visit to the dentist. It should make you happy you went there and eager to return. If it doesn’t feel that way for you, don’t just keep showing up, tensing up, and gritting your teeth through it. Discover the physical pleasure and relational intimacy God wants you to have in your marriage! Prioritize it. Pursue it. Persist for it.
Sex as God designed it should be many multiples better than a visit to the dentist. It should make you happy you went there and eager to return. @hotholyhumorousTweet
*If your spouse sexually betrays you, it’s their sin, not yours. Even if you withheld sex, your spouse has many options besides cheating, and God calls your spouse—and all of us—to sexual integrity.
Resources: “Why Do Only Half of Women with Sexual Pain Tell Their Lovers?” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers. Accessed April 12, 2023. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-sex/202005/why-do-only-half-women-sexual-pain-tell-their-lovers; Cedars-Sinai Staff. “What Women Need to Know about Pain during Sex.” Cedars Sinai, September 12, 2018. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/pain-during-sex.html.
18 thoughts on “Is Sex for You Like Going to the Dentist?”
What is a healthcare provider supposed to do about complete lack of interest?
From everything I’ve read, lack of interest is normal if you’re breastfeeding.
My interest fell off a cliff after my son was born and really hasn’t returned.
Less interest is normal. No interest is not. I had the same problem while breastfeeding, but when I look back, I believe there were other factors as well. And a healthcare provider might have some insight about all that. It’s a good place to start.
But also, you may want to look at my posts about my own story and see if you relate to anything there: When My Sex Life Sucked – Part 1 and When My Sex Life Sucked – Part 2.
Oh, and congrats on the little one!
I don’t think I’ve had any interest at all since my third trimester. He’s 15 months old now. And I’m pregnant again.
I’ve read those posts. I don’t have any pain. But I don’t really have natural lubrication or arousal like I used to. I’ll re-read them.
Will a healthcare provider be able/willing to do anything while pregnancy and breastfeeding are ongoing? I haven’t asked but was under the impression that they wouldn’t want to play around with your hormones during pregnancy and nursing.
My interest is low to begin with but I’ve also been pregnant and/or nursing for 7 out of our 8.5 years of marriage, which has made it that much worse. While I have read sooo many blogs and books on the topic and worked on many suggested things, my hands feel tied as far as having a medical evaluation of my hormones. I’m in my third trimester now with baby #5 and my hubby is so discouraged.
It depends. For instance, post-childbirth I didn’t have sufficient estrogen for lubrication, and it was fine to give me estrogen cream for localized use. You might benefit from some other intervention that doesn’t involve your bloodstream or milk supply. I would certainly ask!
Good article using dentist illustration. I go to the dentist out of duty and my wife of 46 years approached sex the same way. Since her cancer 17 years ago, we’ve had no sex! She is happy living a celibate life and forcing one on me too. We are roommates living in a dead bedroom! No hope……
Oh my! How frustrating. Praying for a miracle.
Sorry to hear that. I know couple like that, and the wife basically tells her husband it is OK for him to get it elsewhere, just don’t do it so people in town (small town) will know about it.
Oh, how very, very sad!
“Instead, reframe the experience as something you get to do and work on how to make it better! If sex becomes truly intimate and enjoyable in your marriage, you won’t need anyone to guilt you into having sex. Rather, you’ll want to have sex! And you’ll appreciate how it adds to your own and your marriage’s health and happiness.”
This is what gets me. I believe this is true. In my head. I am so fearful (why?!?) that it will not be true. I don’t actually believe in my heart that it will be true for me.
And my husband is being so patient and so wanting to understand. But I feel like I am asking a lot of him and then that takes me back to the obligation feeling that I know just makes everything bad.
Anyway, great article that is keeping me on the right track. Thanks for what you do.
It takes a while to create new scripts, new patterns, and definitely new feelings. Be patient with yourself too, and celebrate the progress you’ve made (see As You Work on Sexual Intimacy, Be Sure to Do This!).
Direction > destination. Over and over, I hear this from spouses who want more sex with their mate—that the effort to work on things matters so, so much. I of one am proud of the steps you’re taking, even if it feels like two steps forward and one step back. You’ll get there!
“For instance, if you’ve repeatedly told your spouse that you need more foreplay or additional lube, but they ignore that request and expect you to just go ahead with it, your reasonable requirements aren’t being respected.”
I don’t understand why a husband wouldn’t do everything he could to make intimacy as special and enjoyable as possible for his wife. Even beyond simply the love of his wife, there are also (possibly a little selfish) reasons to do so. If she is comfortable, given time to become fully aroused, and shift her mind from all the many things of life to what she is experiencing with her husband, she will likely want to have that experience more often. As an aside, lube was something I felt I often needed to mention, as my wife seemed to think something was off if we needed it. She no longer seems to have that mindset, but it took a while for her to realize that it is OK if we need a little help.
And yet, I get emails about this. Sad but true, Chris. So thankful that many husbands are like you instead—willing to do whatever possible to help a wife enjoy the experience just as much as he does.
I can’t imagine this particular problem. Sure, when I’m sick I’m not in the mood, but being that way permanently? Like I said, I can’t imagine it.
My wife lets life get in the way at times. When kids were in high school it was probably the hardest period for us. We never had a sexless marriage. Typically once a week or two we had physical intimacy. I am one who finds myself feeling less connected after just a few days. Anyway, when kids are dealing with anorexia, suicidal ideation, skipping college classes it takes a toll on things. When military duty, which I am proud of and have zero regrets, means weeks, moths, and even a year away, it has an impact. I don’t know where you are in your marriage journey, but embrace it while understanding that there may be a time when you need to make intimacy a priority and rely on God’s grace for the times when it is difficult. And, hopefully to encourage you, we have both been reclaiming our intimacy, partly through J’s devotional book, not that it is the only resource out there. We typically text each other our thoughts, though sometimes it is face to face. When it is face to face, I get beet red, even though I am secure in our relationship. Wish that was different, but it simply is not. So, if you ever find yourself in a place where being in the mood with your husband is not easy just keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be a permanent state. God has this and wants to bless both of you.
Completely off topic J but your comment about guests on your upcoming cruise buying you a glass of wine was hilarious 😄 If I was going on cruise I’d definitely get you a nice glass of red🍷 Wish I could go.
Thanks!!! And if this cruise goes well, I’ll do another…and maybe another…and another. So perhaps in the future, Matthew!
I resonated with your imagery of going to the dentist. It reminds me of a sign I saw in a dentist’s office a few years ago. It was a simple sign. The words looked like they were hand painted on a wooden canvas that resembled a small broken board taken from the side of an old barn. It was the kind of humorous truth found in an old antique and trinket shop you might find along an old country road. The sign read, “You DON’T have to floss your teeth, just the ones you want to keep.”
I’ve not met anyone who says, “You know, I wake up every day just itching to start flossing.” But we do it for a goal. With flossing and the dentist, the goal is clean and bright teeth. The goal is a fantastic smile that lasts way into our older years. (And I LOVE my wife’s smile.) While sex may fall into the category of maintenance, as you’ve written about in another post, the goal is not that of keeping the rules but, ultimately, something beautiful.
Indeed! Yes! Flossing should not hurt when done right, and neither should sex. Unfortunately, because there is pain in either situation, the temptation is to throw in the towel or, at best, suck it up and endure. But scripture tells us that there is a better option than resignation.
Though it may take a while, we can discover where the problem is coming from and how to address it. If we are flossing and notice that our gums are bleeding, we work to find the issue instead of throwing the whole practice out for good. In the marriage bed (or other location), the cause of the pain can be identified, and a solution found. It may take a while and require challenging work, but you can discover a joyful solution through prayer, patience, and practice.
As you noted, there are times when a husband is not aware of the issue, and the wife is fearful of saying anything. Yet, in my limited research, I have noted that just about every Christian husband wants to change what’s going on when he knows his wife is experiencing pain.
An intimate and honest discussion may be risky, but that may also open a new level of marital bliss. A wife and husband can find a solution, whether speed, position, lubricant, or dealing with some deep and dark emotional baggage.
Yes, sex should be good; no – great, for the wife. It is interesting to examine the Song of Songs in the Old Testament and, from a scientific standpoint, see that the wife’s body is designed to enjoy sex at least as much, if not more, than the husband.
This level of sex builds us physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, and yes, even spiritually, as it is God’s gift. So yes, sex is not to be painful, but Hot, HOLY, and even humorous, many times.
Thank you for your work. It is needed in our day.