[Two Pronged] Is first-time sex always this painful?
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
Is it really THAT painful when having sex for the first time? I had several attempts to do it with my male friend but none are successful – even when I was completely lubricated down there.
I wonder: do all women have to go through this suffering before they can get to the enjoyable and pleasurable part of sex? Now I can imagine the kind of physical pain rape victims had to endure. (Ed's note: Kindly see Dr. Holmes' response to this sentence)
At this point, I don’t see why people love sex. And I just can’t wait for my hymen to break so that I can finally find out how good sex should feel. I am 34 years old, btw. No hormonal or biological issues as far as I know.
Thank you for your email.
The hymen has been causing problems since almost the beginning of time. In the era BTP (before the pill) its almost ceremonial breaking when consummating marriage was supposedly proof of virginity which meant that the goods acquired by the husband – his wife – was in pristine condition. This was a problem for 1) non virgins and 2) those who either never had a hymen or had broken it ‘innocently’ e.g. horse riding.
In the era ATP (after the pill) as more relaxed attitudes to premarital sex began to spread, the hymen has lost some of its magic but the link between virginity/purity and the hymen still persists in most if not all conservative societies even if that link and the hymen itself have become an increasingly endangered species in more liberal parts of the world such as Europe.
Your issue, Anne, is your inability to rid yourself of this pesky membrane, regardless of the above considerations. What you need to establish is whether your problem is actual pain or rather the fear of pain. If it is the former, your condition is more likely to be physiological and a gynecologist would be able to establish whether for example you have an unusually thick hymen or some other physical issue which is causing the pain.
If, however, it is the latter, then your doctor may refer you to a psychologist.
In the meantime, to answer your questions:
- Is it really THAT painful when having sex for the first time? Not necessarily to the degree you have described.
- I wonder: do all women have to go through this suffering before they can get to the enjoyable and pleasurable part of sex? Same answer as in 1) above
- At this point, I don’t see why people love sex. It seems that you have chosen a very narrow definition of sex i.e. vaginal penetration. Given our numerous erogenous zones and the availability of hands, feet, tongues, sex toys etc. the joys of sex extend far beyond vaginal penetration to pleasures such as fellatio, cunnilingus, anal sex.
I do hope that you will consider at least some of these not only while you wait to resolve your hymen problem but long after as well.
All the best,
Thank you very much for you letter. Mr Baer, by this one sentence – “is your problem actual pain or rather the fear of pain”— – hows he’s taken into account that your hymen is not necessarily the problem, and I agree with everything he writes.
You also write that “No hormonal or biological issues as far as I know,” which implies you have not had yourself checked and is further reason you cannot presume your hymen is the culprit (in addition to your fear of pain).
In her thoroughly researched book, Virgin: The Untouched History, Hanne Blank comments: “If the hymen is substantial, relatively inflexible, and attached around much of the circumference of the vaginal opening, then yes, it’s fair to say that the hymen is at issue. But not all hymens meet these criteria, and women without substantial hymens can also experience painful penetration. The truth is that research has not told us with any particular specificity why it is that this discomfort happens, or why it happens for some women (regardless of hymen type) and not others.”
Should you have residual hymenal tissue which may contribute pain, (even if for the vast majority of women, hymen issues play a minor role), a simple surgical procedure snips away the excess tissue.
I realize convincing you to love sex is beyond my remit. However, here are two things you might consider.
You are, what cognitive behavioral therapy calls, catastrophizing. An example: equating sex to rape is a bit over the top.
In the final analysis, sex is still more emotional than simply physical. It is possible that a mere friend, gentle though he may be, is not enough for you to relax enough for sex not to still be a wee bit (or a lot) painful but with a guy who is more than (or different from) a mere friend taking the risk may be worth it.
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.