If Sex Feels Terrible…How Can You Look Forward to It?

by | Jul 10, 2020 | Sex | 22 comments

So sex feels terrible. You feel nothing–or maybe even some pain. So how do you look forward to it?

That’s the question that one of our frequent commenters was asking this week, and I feel for her, because I’ve been in her situation. She’s a great commenter (and some of her comments even made it into our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue!). But I think she touches on something here that many of you might feel, and I’m glad she was so honest.

She writes:


Built-in assumption that sex is fun. It’s not.

Men, if your wife does not enjoy sex and is only doing it for the sake of the marriage, don’t complain about who initiates or about her lack of enthusiasm.

Sorry, bitter. I did all of these things early in our marriage, only to have my husband assume that sex was actually good for me. The reality is that men look at actions and not words, so if you initiate sex, they think it’s amazing for you and don’t understand the magnitude of the changes that need to happen.

On Fridays I like to highlight some of the comments that came in this week and talk more about them, because a lot of people only read my posts, and not the comments, and so they can miss some of the best discussion!

But what I replied to her was this:

I’m truly sorry, Jane, but can I also say that I’ve been there? I really have. Didn’t orgasm. Wasn’t aroused. Suffered from vaginismus.

But I did get through it, and it largely came from getting help for my physical problems, but also thinking about sex differently and prioritizing what I needed.

I completely understand if your husband isn’t making any effort to make sex good for you. But can I suggest, then, that the problem may not be with sex itself, but instead with the sexual dynamic in your marriage? That can actually be a hopeful message. If it’s the dynamic, it can potentially be fixed. If you really think you’re incapable of feeling good sexually, then that’s a really negative message that’s hard to recover from. What if the problem is not sex being terrible, but the way that sex is being done isn’t doing anything for you at all?

Sheila Wray Gregoire

When I got married, sex really didn’t feel very good.

I thought that everybody was lying to me–that all the people saying how great it was were just deceived. Either that, or else I was just broken, and it worked for everyone but me.

But here’s the problem with believing that: sex really will never feel good if you’re sure that it’s going to feel bad. 

As I said in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage:


9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage

Keith and I had both waited for marriage to have sex, and we both assumed that it would be wonderful, mind-blowing, and perfectly natural. But it wasn’t. It was awkward, it was messy, and worst of all, it hurt. Whenever Keith wanted to make love, I felt rejected, because he wanted something that made me miserable. My frustration finally grew to the point where I wondered, Why can’t he just love me for me and not for what I can do for him? I accused him of selfishness. Of not loving me. Of being a Neanderthal who couldn’t control his passions.

The more we fought over sex, the more certain I became that he didn’t value me. I felt so lonely, and yet instead of being sympathetic and wrapping me in a bear hug, Keith lobbed accusations right back: “Why don’t you care about my feelings? Why don’t you want me?”

After I had prayed for two exhausting years that he would start caring about me, a thought entered my head: Do you believe the only one who can fix this relationship is Keith? Don’t you have something to do with it? I didn’t particularly like that thought, and so I vehemently argued with myself about why changing was impossible. Even if we only considered sex, how was I supposed to enjoy something so gross and uncomfortable?

Then another thought hit me even harder: If God says that sex is good, and the whole world says that sex is good, maybe you should start figuring out how to make sex good.

I was stunned. If that thought was right, then the responsibility fell on me to do something about my struggle. I had to stop thinking sex was awful and start thinking, Sex is great—I just don’t have it all figured out yet. The problem may have started in the bedroom, but it wasn’t a problem with sex. It was a problem with how I was thinking.

The next few years in our marriage became my big research project into this thing called Us. I decided to conquer this sex issue once and for all, because if God created something this great, no way was I going to miss it! I read books and talked to friends about how to make sex work. I talked to wise mentors about how to deal with past issues that held people back. I studied Keith to glean what made him feel loved. Slowly but surely, I fell madly in love with Keith again. And thankfully, he with me too.

Of course, changing how I thought about sex also meant research into how to make sex great, and it meant a lot of communication, and a lot of work.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think sex gets better, no matter what we do, if we’re still thinking that sex is terrible.

And thinking that sex can be good is actually a matter of faith. When it’s always been terrible, you have absolutely no experience that tells you that it can get better. It’s logical to hate it.

To think it will be good, you have to get back to the idea that God is a good God and He loves you, and He didn’t make sex for everyone but you.

You are not broken.

You are not bad.

You simply are having more challenges than others do.

I’m sorry about that. I’ve been there. But please believe me when I say that it can get better!

Maybe it means seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist to deal with pain, or him seeing a physician to deal with premature ejaculation or other dysfunction.

Maybe it means doing some big relationship work because you’ve felt so distant in your marriage.

Maybe it means speaking up and telling your husband that things aren’t feeling good and that you need to go back to the beginning and figure out what feels good.

But you can get there!

I do believe that 31 Days to Great Sex can help highlight some of those problems and give you ways to talk about it with your spouse, and i highly recommend it! It doesn’t just work at how to spice things up, but also helps you have conversations about how you feel about sex, helps you uncover what might feel good, helps you get to the bottom of some of these issues, and then slowly, step-by-step, builds up your sex life so that it isn’t only physical, but emotionally and spiritually close, too. Check it out!

And if you just can’t see sex in a good light, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex can help you understand what God made sex to be–and it’s on sale this month, too!

Sex is a journey of discovery in marriage, and for some it’s a much rockier journey than others. I’m glad you’re all here as I try to steer you towards your goal. I know it can be rough. I know there are obstacles. I know it’s tough. But I also believe that you can get there, and I hope and pray that you can believe it, too.


Have you ever given up hope about sex, and then it HAS gotten better? Are you stuck without hope today? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Ina

    What you don’t mention, though, is that your body actively remembers that sex isn’t good and works against you. You can speak positively all you want, but if your body knows sex is horrible, it won’t react positively no matter how much you mentally choose to believe that sex is a positive thing. If I had known that it would be this difficult, I’m honestly not sure I would have gotten married, because it feels so unfair to both me and also my husband.

    • Ina

      Though, in further thought, if we hadn’t experienced these problems, we probably would never have grown to be the expert communicators we’ve become. I hate that there has been little improvement in our sex life, but if anything, our actual marriage is stronger because of it. Though it sure would be nice for any small hint of progress!

    • Becky

      This is exactly my issue, Ina. I’ve tried so many things to convince my brain that I can look forward to sex, but when it comes down to it, what my body remembers and anticipates is discomfort and pain. I have to focus so much of my attention on forcibly relaxing the muscles that want to spasm, that there’s no room for anything else. I don’t know how to make it feel good in those circumstances. I can’t say that I wish I’d never gotten married, but I often wish that sex wasn’t supposed to be part of it.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I honestly don’t know if you can get to the point where you’re actively looking forward to it UNTIL the pain is dealt with, Becky, and I do hope that eventually these treatments work for you. I really do.
        I just want people to understand that sex itself is not the problem; it’s just a pelvic floor issue (or relationship issue; or whatever). When we see sex as something awful, it makes it hard to want to work to get better, and it makes people give up hope. I know this has been SUCH a long road for you, though, and I’m so sorry.

      • Ina

        Maybe you already do this, Becky, but if I know I’m going to be getting intimate with my husband, I will take a few minutes to stretch first. Some deep belly breathing in child’s pose, some pelvic tilts, and lying down with my legs up against the wall helps relax my pelvic floor so that keeping it relaxed during sex doesn’t take as much exertion. Unfortunately I have not figured out how to feel anything good after that…. but at least the relaxation is easier.

  2. Anonymous for now

    Hi Sheila,
    Sometimes sex isn’t good but not because of anything she is doing or experiencing. I am a high drive spouse. I absolutely can not talk to my husband about anything related to our sex life. Frequency, positions, feelings, nothing. I have tried he refuses. He enjoys it (it seems don’t know for sure because he won’t talk about it) but I do not. We have very limited positions etc not because I don’t like oral etc but if I give him oral I will not orgasm only he will and if I try to suggest finishing me after he finishes conversation over. I have had so many people give me good suggestions (and they are really good). However, at the end of the day I have realized you can’t make someone talk or care about something if they don’t want to. He even knows that this could mean the end of the marriage and so far his stubbornness and pride is worth that to him. So, it could be Jane doesn’t enjoy sex because quite frankly he isn’t good at it and won’t listen to her when she tries to talk so she has stopped trying.

    • Doug Hoyle

      I really appreciate the honesty and vulnerability of this post, not only in describing your own feelings and struggles, but also in pointing out Keith’s very human response to what he perceived as rejection.
      I can’t help but wonder tho, how much his behavior played into your own motivations either in a negative or a positive way. Rhetorically speaking, had he not made waves, would you have ever been convicted to change. I’m not trying to put you on the spot, but this is an important dynamic. Sitting quietly waiting for change seldom works out, but pushing too hard has it’s own risks and downsides.
      Personally, where my wife was concerned, I never was very good at standing up for myself. If I had to explain that I would say that I didn’t have the vocabulary needed to talk about emotions, so things built up.
      I know this post targets women, but do you have any advice for the men who are hanging on waiting for their wives hearts to change.

    • Emmy

      Dear Anonymous for now, itsounds almost like us. Some details are different but the over all picture is the same. And eved though my husband says to me I need to tell him what I want and what I need…WHEN I muster the courage and tell him, he closes like a clam or says something that makes me feel sorry I ever started the conversation.
      It is not that he does not care about my pleasure. Rather, he takes it for granted. When he enjoys sex he takes it for granted I automatically and “naturally” enjoy it too. Trying to convince him something needs to change is like trying to wake him up from a most pleasant day dream.

  3. Em

    That was me! It was terrible.
    I wondered if things would be different if we had started having sex when we were engaged during the times we were really turned on.
    These were my contributing factors to painful, awful sex: intense athleticism/working out, small hymenal ring, INTJ personality (not naturally inclined to “feel”), naïveté, and no good experiences to build on! It hard to build up from that.
    My stepping stone journey included 25+ helpful tools/books/doctors/resources that helped recognize and overcome those factors. It took three years to have a major breakthrough.
    I’m still rarely “in the mood” BUT I am willing to start having sex and have learned to enjoy the process and orgasm pretty easily.

    • Marie

      Could you explain a bit more about your journey what do you mean by 25+

      • Em

        Hope some this helps, there can be so many factors involved. I can point to over 25 things that specifically helped me. Most are listed below. Before I even knew the term “vaginismus” I was just trying to find solutions to painful sex. That led me to learning about hormones, hormone disruptors and the importance of supporting your hormones. I wasn’t satisfied with the “take Xanax and relax” advice I got from OBGYN. Found a product called “Vagiwave” from the UK that I started using. Confided in a nurse friend who recommended an NP who confirmed vaginismus. NP prescribed Valium suppositories and recommended Sex Therapist who set me up with a Woman’s Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist (through another OBGYN). Began sex therapy, dilators/deep breathing and PT for the next 8 months (each session meant 4 hours in the car and a half day at work). We completely stopped trying to have PIV sex and found other ways to be intimate. Dr. Martha Tara Lee’s resources were helpful until I found Sheila’s blog. I started having faith that I was on the right path trying to experience what God created to be good. Sex was for ME also not just my husband. Sheila’s Boost Your Libido course changed my attitude about libido, Thirty One Days to Great Sex book gave us things to try that weren’t PIV and the posts about thoughts changed my thought patterns. Worked through Becoming Orgasmic book (felt so silly but it actually helped) and Come as you Are. We started having sex, not painful but not fun yet! Got pregnant, started prenatal yoga/stretching (youtube) and learning to prepare for labor which is all about relaxing and opening up!! I could have used that at the beginning! Finally, on a weekend anniversary trip (3 years), change of scenery plus some second trimester hormones and I finally had a good experience that I could use to build on. Post partum journey included learning more about pelvic floor health (via you tube).

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          YAY! That’s awesome, Em. I want to dedicate a month soon to pelvic floor health at all the different stages of life. This really is so important, and we’re not taught it! I’m so glad your journey is turning out well after such a rough start.

  4. Ar

    Sometimes I think the church is mainly at fault for this. They tell people to wait for marriage so now they go into it with no experience not knowing what to expect. At that point they are in a legal commitment so it’s hard to walk away but at the same time, it’s difficult to deal with the problem in the marriage. Both society and the church give people these high expectations and don’t prepare for or acknowledge the difficulties that end up happening in most relationships.

  5. Jane Eyre

    Eh, our specific problem isn’t just the pain and lack of anything good; it is/was my husband’s insistence that sex is good for me.
    I started off as enthusiastic, supportive, communicative, feeling like we would get there eventually. All that did was to tell him that we had small, ignorable problems and I was playing hide the ball with how good it felt.
    Now, it’s clear that my choices are to be gaslighted, be a complete screaming shrew for months get my point across, or just give up and use a numbing cream so I at least don’t have to feel it.
    It’s just been so absurd. I hate being intimate because communication does. not. matter. I hate that anything under the volume of an air raid siren is taken as “no, she doesn’t really mean it.” Basic things like letting me shift into a better position so that sex is less painful? Nope. Months of asking, trying, begging, crying, talks before sex, talks in the middle of the day when we aren’t being intimate, nothing. I may as well have been asking to travel at the speed of light, it was so impossible. Now that numbing cream has made an appearance, NOW, he thinks this is doable.
    Now, now that I would rather be numb than even try, now that I hate foreplay, now that sex is so miserable I don’t sleep properly for days after. What’s the point?

    • Lindsey S

      “Basic things like letting me shift into a better position so that sex is less painful? Nope.”
      Oh Jane, I am so so sorry. That’s not normal. I honestly DO enjoy sex, and my husband knows it, and he would still never dream of refusing to let me readjust so that I didn’t hurt in a certain position (sometimes some positions are a little painful). Please know it is 100% NOT ok for this to happen to you during sex. And it is 100% ok for you to to stand up against this sort of unacceptable behavior. It isn’t being a shrew to demand that you be treated well.
      My heart is really breaking for you. Please, know that you are worthy of love, compassion, understanding, and respect. You deserve those things, especially from your husband.

      • Elizabeth

        How can you get your mind in gear for sex when it’s never been a good experience? We had trouble from day 1 of our marriage. I saw doctors who said there was nothing wrong with me, so I figured it was relational problems that we could fix. My experience with sex ranged from unpleasant to painful. Thankfully, we were able to have three children, but sex never improved even after counseling and trying to work on the other aspects of our marriage. 13 years into marriage I started seeing a chiropractor for a back injury and wow! Within a couple months of frequent adjustments, the sexual pain went away and sex felt slightly good for the first time. I had pelvic and spinal injuries from a car accident before marriage that I thought I had recovered from but really hadn’t. It was very helpful to know that the sexual problems weren’t all in my head after all. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to maintain all of the improvement, 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. We are now at 20 years of marriage and still haven’t figured it out. I know we have a lot of relationship issues to work on, but it’s hard not knowing if sex can ever be really good, apart from a miracle, considering my physical injuries.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, Elizabeth, that’s so tough! I’m so sorry. I can just imagine the frustration. I had it, too, but mine was only about 5 years. I can’t imagine 20.
          I totally agree that you can’t get your mind in gear when sex isn’t pleasurable. Completely.
          But that’s why I think it’s so important to remember that there’s a difference between “my experience with sex has not been good” (which is true, and you do not need to deny) and “sex itself is not good.” If you can remember that it’s just your experience so far, then you can see that there may be ways to improve it later. And if you can keep that hope alive. And then you can work towards whatever you need to do to make it better, whether it’s chiropractors or pelvic floor physiotherapists or therapy. But at least you have an idea that “at the end, something good is possible.” I just think that if we get in this negative headspace where we tell ourselves that sex itself is bad, you can’t ever really fix it.

          • Elizabeth

            Thank you for the encouragement. I’ve been working my way around your website for helpful information. This is really the first place I’ve found that understands the situation that I’m working on. So, thanks again for your ministry.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Wow, that’s so, so tough. And honestly–I was there. I really was. It hurt terribly. I hope you can see a pelvic floor physiotherapist who can help, because you’re right–it SHOULDN’T be like this. It really shouldn’t.

  6. Hanna

    I just need to say that this is the second time in a few months that I’ve been casually reading your blog, when BAM! your words suddenly jump out of the page and right into my life, giving spot on encouragement to my heart. My situation isn’t about sex, but God speaks through you anyway. And I really needed it today, so thank you, and thank you Jesus ❤

  7. Emily Shore

    My husband’s and my first collective thought : why was the big research project labeled US only “your” project. You listed good practical examples like him seeing a physician and you seeing a pelvic floor therapist. But in your personal testimony, it sounds like YOU did all the work and not Keith.
    For example, my husband, Kevin, is a problem solver. He works through things maturely and rationally and investigates what my passions are, what my likes and dislikes are, what makes me come alive, what my mind loves, what my body loves. Just like what a lot of couples do in the dating process. So, why does that process end after marriage? We explore this together because that’d what marriage should be. Not one partner doing all the work on their own.
    Was your relationship for two years horrible where he pressured you to have sex despite knowing you didn’t like it? instead of him seeking to communicate with you and work through your problems with Mutuality and togetherness?
    If there is a problem in our marriage, my husband comes together WITH me to work on the problem. He doesn’t get aggressive or pulls away because that’s not what being my partner and teammate is all about. He wouldn’t do this with his boss at work or with any of his coworkers. SO, why would he do it with his true life partner?
    I don’t believe you would condone or enforce one person doing all the work in a marriage. I love your mental load posts. But it’s sounds like this was the case for your personal testimony? Was there a time where Keith joined with you during the process of studying you? Reading books himself? Talking to wise mentors and friends? Gleaning what made you feel loved?
    If you have any of these examples in other posts, please excuse this message or feel free to include links to those. I’d just love to see that part of the testimony acknowledged in posts like this vs just expecting wives to bear the full spiritual and mental load of how to better their sex lives (which is also hard work!) on top of the normal mental load. My husband is an avid reader and scholar, so I register that I am spoiled in this area. But he also advocates for husbands doing the work in marriage in this area as much as their wives.


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