It's not that I don't want to...
April 25, 2010 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Will vaginismus kill this budding relationship? (Apologies for the length!)

Hi MeFi,

I have vaginismus. (How's that for an opener?)

I am a late sexual bloomer in general, so it wasn't until last year (at the ripe old age of 23) that I first attempted intercourse and got the vaginismus diagnosis. The GYN can barely insert a speculum to examine me - it's that bad. Fingers and tampons feel terrible - for years, I have equated penetration (even by fingers and tampons) with tear-inducing pain and feel like some kind of freak for not enjoying or wanting to have sex. I'm told that I have a very small vagina, but as far as the doc can see there is nothing physiologically wrong with me (no infections or diseases). The boy was quite supportive of it and me, but the two times we managed to pull off sex were so painful for me (he could barely get the tip in before I'd feel excruciating pain)that we didn't really continue trying. We found lots of wonderful non-penetrative ways to get each other off before we broke up for other reasons.

I am still going through treatment (dilators, exercises, etc.) with a sex therapist and am also seeing a regular therapist. I planned not to date while working through this. I have a ways to go.

Except, of course, that I have fallen for someone. He has been a dear friend for years and is one of the most wonderful people I have ever known. I would dearly love to have good old-fashioned sex with him, but am terrified to attempt.

After three dates, I gave him a condensed version of the story, saying that sex has only been difficult or painful on my few attempts, to explain my hesitancy to sleep with him (even though we are both attracted to one another). To my surprise, he said he appreciated my honesty and that made him like me even more. He wants to stick with me.

MeFites, I hate to drag another person into my vaginismus mess. I feel sexually retarded (literally, as in, slow) and terrible for not being able to just sleep with someone I really like and am attracted to. I feel frustrated and disappointed in myself. I am wondering if I should just cut it off now, since I'm afraid I'll never be able to have the kind of normal, frequent P&V sex he would like, especially in what should be blissful early days of the dating. Except I really really like this person and think this could really be Something. If only.
What would you do in my shoes? If someone you just started dating revealed this, would it be a dealbreaker? (Am I doomed to a sexless life filled with cats, which is sometimes what I'm afraid of?)

Thanks, y'all.
posted by bookgirl18 to Human Relations (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You told him. He said he still likes you, appreciates your honesty and wants to stick with you. And you're thinking of dumping him anyway? Girl. Don't turn a fear of being alone into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:02 PM on April 25, 2010 [22 favorites]

Sorry if this is crude, but if you feel bad about the lack of sex you could just give him a lot of blow/hand jobs.
posted by kylej at 3:11 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

(assuming you want to)
posted by kylej at 3:11 PM on April 25, 2010

Plenty of people who don't have partners with vaginas still enjoy sex. You just don't make vaginal sex the hallmark of your sexual relationship.

It's okay to be slow when it comes to sex. You've owned up to enjoy experimenting with what feels good to both of you. Learning can be fun for both of you.

The bottom line here is that you have a guy who a) understands, b) likes you, c) seems patient. I think this makes a perfect partner for your education.

posted by inturnaround at 3:11 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would suggest going slow with the sexual activity... there's a lot you can do together to enjoy each other AND find sexual satisfaction without starting off with intercourse. It may be that repetitive sexual encounters will help the two of you past the fear and frustration you are feeling. Plus, there is the added benefit that many couples who go slow have a feeling of deeper intensity of the relationship. It's a trust thing.

My boyfriend took me on know that my physical disability often made it so that I was in too much pain to even THINK about sex. And he has a high drive (*sigh* like I had before illness.) But he sticks with me. Because I'm honest about it (and never use it as an excuse when I'm just not in the mood) he doesn't take it personally or as a sign to be paranoid about. We have an AWESOME sex life; getting the rest I need allows me to fully participate more often and trusting I won't be pushed got me past my own fears and frustrations.

Good luck with this. He hasn't run yet - don't push him out the door.
posted by _paegan_ at 3:15 PM on April 25, 2010

"If someone you just started dating revealed this, would it be a dealbreaker?"
It doesn't matter what the rest of metafilter thinks because you'll get 1 million answers from 1 million people. And on top of that, you already know the only opinion that matters here! Just relax. You already know that this won't necessarily sink your relationship for two reasons - one, the guy said so. Two, your last relationship broke up for other reasons. You already know about getting each other off in other ways so do that, keep making progress on the other stuff, and everything will be fine.
posted by amethysts at 3:24 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

After three dates, I gave him a condensed version of the story, saying that sex has only been difficult or painful on my few attempts, to explain my hesitancy to sleep with him (even though we are both attracted to one another). To my surprise, he said he appreciated my honesty and that made him like me even more.

Did you tell him about your diagnosis? Because women who do not have vaginismus sometimes find sex difficult or painful at first, but there's a whole big difference between inexperience and an physiological condition that makes penetration physically difficult. I think you're conflating your own (relative, not particularly uncommon) level of inexperience with your vaginismus, and have gotten the idea that you should be ashamed. You shouldn't be.

You're not a mess, you're not doing it wrong, you're not sexually retarded, and he's not automatically going to think you're any of these things if PIV sex is off the menu for awhile.

Maybe it would help your sexual confidence to do a little research into some of the other ways you two can get each other off? I am VERY MUCH NOT suggesting that you need to somehow "make up for" the lack of PIV sex, but if you're getting complimented effusively on your awesome blowjob technique, maybe it'll help you feel more confident about being good in bed? A good friend of mine regularly gives Lou Paget's books to newlyweds; I know that there have been AskMes for more sex book recommendations.
posted by desuetude at 3:35 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Blowjobs and handjobs are awesome. If this is actually a problem in the long run, then he's not worth it.

Continue with your life and don't let this be a problem.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 3:37 PM on April 25, 2010

As others have said, there are many other options and orifices to consider and experiment with. The fact you engaged your boyfriend on this early and he's okay with it is actually great news. Relax and have fun, there's a word of sexy fun out there for you, even if the vagina's a no-go zone.
posted by rokusan at 3:41 PM on April 25, 2010

There's lots more to sex than penetrative vaginal sex (just ask the gays!). If the boy doesn't get that, then that seems like his problem.
posted by meta_eli at 3:51 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I understand why you "hate to drag anyone into" this, but, unless it's going to slow your progress because you'll be feeling added pressure or guilt or something, it's really his choice to make. He's willing to wait and see how things develop, and there are a lot of other fun things you can do in the meantime. So, yay for that! Enjoy!

On the other hand, the frustration, disappointment, and worries you are struggling with are totally understandable. I'm not in your exact situation, but I have thing(s) that I worry are dealbreakers. Then I remind myself that everyone has issues, insecurities, and complications in their lives. As long as I am honest, then I've done my part, and if I'm rejected, that sucks, BUT would I really want to be with someone who couldn't see past my negatives and didn't think my awesomeness far outweighs those? Hells no, I would not! Not just because of the present, but also things happen and down the road who knows what other complications await. Again, I'd want someone to be able to roll with the difficulties and think I'm worth it.

That's all very easy to say and totally true to boot, but sometimes it's hard to actually feel this way, rejection and loneliness be damned. So, I remind myself of the above anyways, and if it sounds hollow or doesn't stamp out my insecurities and fears at that moment, that's okay, too because at least I know there is an alternative way of thinking about this out there, even when I'm having a hard time selling myself on it. Best of luck to you!
posted by katemcd at 4:09 PM on April 25, 2010

Everybody has some issue. This is yours. It sounds like you are working towards making it better. And remember, this isn't your fault! It's just part of who you are. And you are as entitled to a happy, healthy relationship as anyone.

It makes me sad to think that you think this one problem means you are somehow not worthy of a relationship.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:20 PM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

If someone you just started dating revealed this, would it be a dealbreaker?
It wouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker for me, personally, but for some it would, sure. If I'm not mistaken, you already told him and it wasn't? This is the only opinion that matters.
posted by cj_ at 4:25 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

My first step was to redefine sex in my mind. Intercourse is one thing you can do while having sex but it's certainly not essential.

I have also realized that being forced to be creative can be a good thing.

There are other people are way more sexually dysfunctional than I am! Just read some sex advice columns. If you can communicate well with your partner you will probably have better sex than a lot people, even without intercourse.

I've told a number of male friends that I have vuvlodynia and vaginismus with no intention of being with them later, but lo and behold, about half them expressed interest in me later, so it doesn't seem to be a dealbreaker!

I know that you said you are getting medical help from a few people, but I'll just quickly mention a few things that have really helped me. I see a physiotherapist who uses biofeedback. I found using a mirror to watch myself when I was trying to relax my pelvic floor to be really helpful. I can see the muscle relaxing and this way I could tell that I was doing it right while still being able to feel what the muscle felt like while relaxing. Have you ever heard of using diazepam (valium) locally as a muscle relaxant? I only used a small amount but it seemed to relax me as much as a physio appointment would, which was quite good. Let me know if you want more details.
posted by carolr at 5:07 PM on April 25, 2010

You'll probably have a way more interesting sex life than most people, honestly. I can see it stresses you out, but you got good news! This guy is cool with it! Be creative! You can still have a very satisfying sex life even if you don't find a solution to your issue. Everyone puts way too much emphasis on the whole PIV thing anyway. Go play in your garden of eden!
posted by Hildegarde at 6:28 PM on April 25, 2010

I'm going to be a little stern with you, so first can I say you're doing an awesome job taking care of yourself and I wish you the best of luck.

And now!

I feel like I'm totally missing something in this question! Did he say something else later to you, besides "thanks for being honest, I totally get it, and you're great and I dig you?" Because if not, then you are doing A TERRIBLE BAD THING.

The Bad Thing is: not listening to what people are actually saying. (Disclaimer: unless there's something we don't know.) He was supportive and great, as per your report. And now you're going behind his back, on the INTERNET of all places (kidding), to undermine his decision to BE SUPPORTIVE OF YOU? How self-undermining do you really want to be here? YOU support you. HE supports you. WHY ARE YOU NOT SUPPORTING YOU TOGETHER AND BEING HAPPY? Does the attention--the positive attention--make you that uncomfortable? Girl. If I were there I would give you a hug and then a look that is all like "ummm NO."

You're doing great. Don't go crazy. Listen to what people say, and take that accordingly. Then do what feels RIGHT to YOU and don't try to read anyone's mind. You cannot.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:49 PM on April 25, 2010

"If someone you just started dating revealed this, would it be a dealbreaker?"

No. There's a lot more to relationships than sex and there's a lot more to sex than vaginal intercourse. Stop worrying.
posted by Kattullus at 7:30 PM on April 25, 2010

If someone you just started dating revealed this, would it be a dealbreaker?

Having been in exactly that position - I can safely say no, it would not be a deal breaker. Without going into personal details on the intertubes, the sex we did have was more than satisfying. While I'm not actually with that person today (this was a few years back) - the last I saw her, she was with her fiance, so you're not inescapeably doomed to being an old cat lady either. So chill and enjoy it - he sounds like a good'un.
posted by Sparx at 8:14 PM on April 25, 2010

I have a couple of friends who have varying degrees of this problem and it's never been a huge issue with guys. I can't think of any guy either of them have dated that reacted badly. They actually seemed much more upset about it than the guys they were dating.
posted by whoaali at 9:26 PM on April 25, 2010

There's no need to worry bookgirl18, you'll be fine. I say that having walked around in your friend's shoes before.

From your long friendship and the way he responded when you told him, it sounds like you can trust that he's a great guy. As long as you're into each other and both have a healthy attitude towards sex and sexuality in general, the mechanics really don't matter.
posted by teem at 5:28 AM on April 26, 2010

Well, I had the same problem and my boyfriend is now my husband, so hey, it didn't stop him! :-)

If he's the right guy, he won't care. I understand the angry, frustrated "oh God I'm so broken, I may as well be a nun" feeling, but don't let that get you down. You are not doomed to a sexless life as a cat lady. Don't get hung up on PIV sex as being the only "real" sex--it is totally not. Don't think of yourself as a virgin or sexually retarded--you're not. You CAN sleep with this new guy. You CAN have sex--just not vaginally, but you're working on that. If you're terrified to attempt penetrative intercourse, then don't! There's no rush. Relax and take it slow.

I'm sure you've researched it to death, but what helped me overcome it: topical gabapentin cream + applying lidocaine gel nightly really helped, a lot, as did physical therapy with biofeedback. I also like The V Book as a general reference.
posted by castlebravo at 7:29 AM on April 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Older male here. But I know more about being 20 something than I do about my present age.

If you are interested in a "real" relationship, with a loving partner (as opposed to "frequent flyer" casual sex), I think most males who really care for you won't be put off. In fact, your "condition" and the way you are handling it could prove to be an advantage. Seriously.

Knowing that you wish to be a willing partner means a lot to a man. A real man probably has issues of his own, whether sexually or in other ways. It is HOW you deal with each other's uniqueness that builds a relationship.

With many experiences under (below) my belt, I would not wish to participate in any activity that would hurt the woman I cared about.

You have the opportunity to "grow intimacy" here. I would see it as much my issue as yours. Lots of foreplay, lots of lube, oral, whatever. Gentle attempts at insertion, millimeters at a time. I don't know your anatomy but is sounds like you are anything but relaxed. Sex can be painful for any woman who is preoccupied, afraid, and stressed. That I know.

You must trust that your partner will immediately "withdraw" at the slightest pain. If you fear that he might just "go for it" I imagine that can really affect your relaxation. Develop a hand signal (like a squeeze) that means "I am in pain."

Understanding, caring, and communication will carry you through this. Both of you. From a male perspective I see a lot of advantages. I'd know that I was "special" and not a notch on your belt. A tight one is a delight when it doesn't cause pain.

What disturbs me is that you seem to be "owning this." And it is affecting your self esteem. Again, form a male perspective, I'd see an emotional aversion to sex as far more serious.

One last point. Perhaps the females here might disagree. I simply ask the question: "Would a mutual visit with your gyno be of value?" A sit down? It might add to the sense that you BOTH own this.

Best to you. Aside from your issues of ownership, it would seem like you are doing everything right already. In working through this you will know a hell of a lot more about your man than a lot of women. Best of luck.
posted by private_idaho at 11:57 AM on April 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

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