SEXUAL CONFIDENCE: Knowing that Sex is For You, Too

by | Oct 12, 2021 | Uncategorized | 25 comments

How to See Vaginismus as a Shared Loss
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One of the reasons women often struggle with sexual confidence is that we think that sex is something that we give to men.

We think that sex is primarily a male need (after all, in Love & Respect, Emerson Eggerichs said, “If your husband is typical, he has a need you don’t have.”). And if we think of sex as something that he needs and we give, then it’s hard to speak up for what we want or need to feel good. Our needs are secondary. We’re being selfish if we speak up.

But knowing that we matter just as much–that sex was created for us too, and that sex is supposed to be mutual–that helps get rid of those weird guilt feelings when sex isn’t working well and turns it into a shared issue to be learned from.

When we see sex as something he needs, then when sex isn’t working well for whatever reason (you can’t figure out orgasm; sex hurts; you rarely want it), it becomes a problem that you need to solve. It’s your issue.

But when we see sex as a shared thing where both of us matter, then when there’s an issue, the solution is shared and the responsibility is shared. It’s not one person letting down the other; it’s an issue we address together.

I received a letter recently from a woman who is dealing with vaginismus that illustrated this perfectly, and I’d like to share it today.

I’ve changed some details so she can’t be identified, but she writes:

I was a virgin when I got married. Before getting married, many friends told me how much it would hurt “for a while.”

So I went into our wedding night totally freaked out.

No surprise, I was not mentally ready and yes, it did hurt. No surprise, I developed vaginismus. Fast forward of years of doctors and friends telling me I was making it up, nothing was wrong.

Years into marriage (5-6?)I self diagnosed myself with vaginismus and found a resource on the internet of women who had gone through the same stuff. I sobbed when I read their stories because someone finally understood.

I still didn’t get better though even with the resource, carrying all kinds of shame and it was shoved down my throat that sex was for men and I was depriving my husband. Not a great motivator. Especially when you are already wracked with guilt. Too much mental damage and no idea how to deal with that.

One of the women in my church I went to for advice told me if I didn’t get over myself and give my husband sex he’d leave me for “someone prettier than me.”

Anyway- Christian resources around this didn’t exist, no one acknowledged this and made it even worse. I didn’t know who to go to and what to do.

Through a very painful conception after  years of marriage, we got pregnant. After extremely painful vaginal and cervical checks, I had my baby. But then I had horrible back pain. No surprise: my pelvic floor was completely screwed up.

I heard about pelvic floor physiotherapy. She validated my vaginismus self diagnosis and helped me a ton. I finally understood about those muscles and learned some control. She referred me to a sexual health gynecologist (after almost a decade of marriage!). She diagnosed me with vaginismus, extremely thin vaginal tissue and eventually lichen sclerosis. For who knows how long I had LS! I had massive fusing and cut vulva skin. Gosh, validation! And explanation!

We still have some pain, but having validation and help has really really helped me be able to work through it.

I also started trauma therapy for some other things, but we did cover all this trauma around my sexual history.

Nowadays I read your stuff and I’m so so so thankful you’ve taken up our fight and story. Me and my husband feel championed and heard by the things you post every day. We both were so hurt by Christian resources which we desperately read when we were hurting.

Even recently I was at a small group and we told our story at a high level.

One man said “your husband must have been a saint not having sex that long!”

Years ago I would have agreed with him. But now I’m like “listen, if that’s your definition of sainthood, then we both deserve it. Sex was made for man AND woman! We were BOTH robbed! You are really approaching sex completely wrong if you can only think about what he was going through.”

My husband was so upset. Cause he was like “and I wasn’t in pain every time I tried to do something that was supposed to give us pleasure and connectedness! She went through way more than I did physically and saying anything else is completely missing it.”

Again, the guy was shaming women. Like I was choosing to withhold from my husband cause I was…unwilling? Not wanting sex? No, sir, you are just wrong. Go repent to Jesus for how you approached this.

Anyway- I just want to thank you. I know you guys take all kinds of crap and hate. And I honestly don’t get it. Your message is that in marriage, sex is awesome and wonderful and should be enjoyed by all! So let’s stop pointing fingers or saying “I need it worse than you” and just try to figure out how to make it a time of connection, love, and pleasure as God intended for BOTH parties. Even secular people get this right more often then Christians. I got WAY more compassion from non -Christians than I did from my trusted Christian friends. How sad.

I just love how they both realized that HER struggle with vaginismus was even worse than his.

They were BOTH missing out on sex, which was something that God created for both of them. But she was also having to see doctors; have really invasive procedures; and experience the pain!

I know when I had vaginismus at the beginning of my marriage, the people that I sought help from were mostly concerned about Keith. How was he going to get through this? We have to fix Sheila so that Keith doesn’t suffer. That made everything so much worse.

But this couple has realized that she matters just as much as her husband, and that sex was created to be for both of them. And that has freed her to seek help both from trauma counselors and from physiotherapists and sexual health experts.

When you’re seeking help because you have to fix this for your spouse’s sake, there’s a guilt and desperation associated with it. But when you’re seeking help because you’re missing out on something too, then the guilt dissipates. And guilt is never a healthy motivator.

Instead of seeing vaginismus (or other problems) as his loss, see them as a shared loss. That perspective changes everything!

Even if you’re not dealing with problems this extreme, realize that your sexual satisfaction matters too.

Sex is not just for the man. When we start valuing our own sexual experience, then it’s easier to speak up and ask for what we want–even if it’s just more foreplay and help for orgasm!

 

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Also, in chapter 4 of The Great Sex Rescue we talk to several women who experienced very similar wedding nights to this reader, and discovered they had vaginismus. We show how certain teachings we grow up with make that more likely, and what to do to make it less likely. Throughout the book, too, we put a lot of emphasis on sexual pain, since Christian women suffer at twice the rate of the general population. In fact, our findings on sexual pain are so significant that we’re speaking at the American Physiotherapist Convention in February with them!

So if vaginismus is part of your story, you’ll really appreciate The Great Sex Rescue even more!

How to See Sexual Pain as a Shared Problem

What do you think? Is it hard to prioritize our own experience during sex because we’ve been taught it’s less important? How do you speak up? Let’s talk in the comments!

Other Posts in the Sexual Confidence Series:

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

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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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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25 Comments

  1. Anon

    It is so hard to reset the mind after decades of false teaching. I know that sex should be mutually pleasurable, but it is so easy to default to thinking about ‘his needs’. I’m blessed to have a husband who has a rock-solid belief in OUR sexual relationship and OUR difficulties. He has had to remind me of this every time (and that is a LOT of times) when I apologise for not being able to go as far as we both want to (I have a couple of auto-immune conditions that both impact on our ability to have intercourse when they flare up). The crazy thing is that I know pushing through the pain will actually make my condition worse, meaning I take longer to recover AND will increase my chances of developing vaginismus too…but there’s still this little voice inside telling me that I should be able to cope.

    If I had a husband who had absorbed the message that only the husband requires sex or that the wife is supposed to ‘work through’ her pain to please her husband, I dread to think what our marriage would be like. And the weird thing is, I don’t think anyone ever directly taught this stuff – it’s just the constant drip, drip, drip over the years – women are inferior, women don’t need sex the way men do, if a wife doesn’t keep her husband happy she can’t complain if he strays, it’s selfish not to give him what he wants… If I’m finding it hard enough to shake these messages off, I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must be for those who have been openly taught this stuff in their marriage prep etc.

    Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      The secular world gets in on it, too. Young people are told that sex is a basic expectation of dating after a couple of weeks or maybe a few months. Every single time a man I dated complained about not getting sex, another brick got added to ghat wall. Every time I was told I was a prude, unreasonable, and destined to be alone because I dodnt believe in premarital sex, another brick.

      The message from many Christian authors seems to be “of course that is wrong – only your husband gets to treat you like a penis receptacle!”

      Our society also has this toxic idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The constant “drip, drip, drip” chips away at women, leaving us less able to cope.

      Reply
    • Katrina

      Yes! It is so hard to reset our minds!! I’m so thankful that you also have an understanding husband. Even though my husband is understanding, I too feel the need to push through the pain although I know it will hinder my healing journey. But, somehow those wrong messages I was taught that I thought didn’t affect me because I don’t believe them really do affect me.

      I hear that intercourse is wonderful and awesome and amazing. I’ve never experienced that and I hate that for my husband. I know his desire is to pleasure me. I want to get to the place that I hate it for me too, that I want to feel that pleasure that was meant for me, but at this point in my life and with all that I’ve experienced, I feel like I will never get there. And if I don’t, that’s ok.

      I just pray that even still somewhere along my journey other women can be helped and set free by hearing my story and taking action quickly and listening to the right messages about how God truly intended sex to be. He never meant it to be one sided.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, Katrina, I’m sorry that you’re enduring this. That’s really, really tough. Yes, I think the more we speak up and normalize this and tell other women that this condition exists the better, too. So many suffer in silence for years (as you did) because we don’t even know pain during sex is a thing. I do hope you are able to be pain-free one day.

        Reply
    • Stefanie

      I have notes from a marriage conference that my church put on that if you’re dealing with sexual pain you can employ lamaze breathing techniques. Like, basically, just push past the pain, because pain is not a reason to deprive your husband.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, dear. And no recommendation to seek help either? That’s so sad.

        Reply
      • Anon

        Did they not mention that sexual pain can be a symptom of many serious physical health problems? Telling people to ‘push past’ pain is not only horrible marriage advice, but it could end up making someone seriously ill (or even dying if the pain is caused by something like cancer)

        Reply
        • Stefanie

          They didn’t mention any of that. I think what’s sad is that in my church, none of the speakers giving the married women talks ever mention seeking help for sexual pain.

          **BUT I emailed the leadership team telling them they need to read TGSR and the last time I spoke to them, the lead minister was halfway through, and one of the elder’s wives had finished it, and we’re going to set a time to sit down and talk about it!!!**

          But anyway, the sermon where she said that, it was titled “The Princess and the Ps” and it was all about the different things that could get in the way of you serving your husband, and they were all P words: your past, pain, feeling pooped, preoccupied, etc. So on the point about pain, it would have been a wonderful opportunity to talk about different medical issues and what kind of help is out there. Nope. It was “I had horrible pain, and I went to the Dr and he didn’t know what was wrong with me, and so I used Lamaze breathing techniques, and then after I had my first kid, the pain went away.”

          I share this so we can all laugh hysterically. 😉 Because otherwise we’ll cry. (And obviously how sad for this speaker that that was her experience, and she hadn’t been able to find help at the time she needed it, which I would estimate to be the late 1970s. But this sermon was given in 2012, so by that time the speakers should have had more medically sound help for people.)

          Sheila, can we have a post where we all just share the worst, horrific sex advice we’ve received so that we can all get a good laugh? Like the kind that are so bad they’re hilarious? Because I think it would be therapeutic. And I have more!

          Reply
          • Anon

            Oh Stefanie, that is horrific – for her to put up with pain unnecessarily, but also to advise others to do so. And it DOESN’T always go away if you have a baby – it could get worse, depending on what it is (or what about the women who can’t have children?!!)

            And never mind that ignoring some kinds of sexual pain could result in permanent injury or even death… Ok, so her experience was maybe before these things were widely understood, but if you are going to speak about these things, you need to make sure your knowledge is current, not based on your own personal experience of 40 years ago!!! (Like the idea of the ‘worst advice ever’ post too – although I think it might end up being so long it would break the internet!)

  2. Katrina

    I am so happy that she sought help and eventually got answers and diagnosed so that she could begin her healing journey. I tell you, if there were such a thing as penismus, pain in the penis during intercourse, I feel like there would be so much more compassion, medical research, counseling, and talking about it.

    For one who has lived the nightmare of vaginismus and is still trying to get healing at 53 years old, it is so degrading because of the treatment you receive. The advice I’ve received over the years has been lacking and accusatory causing me to think it was all my fault. Therefore I’ve just dealt with painful intercourse for many years feeling like I was just a failure. That somehow I was getting it all wrong.

    I’ve only been actually diagnosed for about 5 years and that was self diagnosis later confirmed by my gynecologist. Thank God I have a husband who is compassionate and understanding, though I still feel guilty for not being able to have intercourse every time we have sex.

    I too am seeking true healing. Sometimes I feel like I’ll never get there. But stories like this gives me hope. And Sheila and her team and their efforts to bring truth and healing has been a tremendous help for me. The Great Sex Rescue was a God send!

    Reply
  3. A2bbethany

    When I mentioned that you had found, Christian women have 2x the sexual pain as non-believers, she laughed in disbelief. She just couldn’t believe that the common Christian beliefs would impact that. It was a fairly short conversation.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yep. It’s actually very well known in the literature. Talk to any pelvic floor physiotherapist and they’ll tell you that many, if not most, of their clients are religious. We talk about this all wrong.

      Reply
  4. Rachael

    This hits me hard. My wedding night was awful. We were both virgins and he didn’t try any foreplay because he didn’t understand that women need it. It was excruciating and when my husband saw I was in pain I was in he said “it’s okay it’s supposed to hurt” and kept going. Things didn’t get better from there, and I didn’t tell him how much it hurt every time until months later. Turns out I have a pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. I remember telling my pastors wife how much I hated sex because it hurt so much and she told me I had to do it anyway and I should just disengage like women do in childbirth so I could endure it.

    Reply
    • Anon

      I’m so sorry you had to go through that – were you able to get help in dealing with the pain once you had a diagnosis?

      It makes me so mad that Christians have this flippant attitude toward sexual pain. I was researching it pre-marriage because my gynaecologist had warned me that sex would be painful for the first few times due to some physical abnormalities – and all I came across from Christian sources was ‘if it hurts it’s because you’re not fully trusting your husband’ or ‘ignorance breeds fear and fear will make you tense up and cause the pain’. Absolutely NO acknowledgement of the fact that there are many physical issues which can cause pain – just putting the blame on the woman for not being ‘prepared enough’ or not having better control over her ‘feelings’.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow, Rachael, what horrible advice! I hope you’ve been able to get over that and get help for your pelvic floor and get help with your husband so that sex is for you too. I’m so sorry!

      Reply
      • Rachael

        Yes, I was able to fix my issues with a book by a physiotherapist I think it’s called “healing sexual pain”. It took months of work and was compounded by my husband, when he realized he was hurting me, developed ED so he couldn’t hurt me anymore.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, I’ve heard of that happen with a lot of men. It’s really devastating for them as well. I’m so glad you were able to get help!

          Reply
  5. Thankful Reader

    Holy moly. This. Before my husband and I read the Great Sex rescue we were having sex once a month and that was 100% just because we were trying for baby #2 so we had sex one day during my fertile window each month.

    Anytime I brought it up (complained), the response was ALWAYS “Oh your poor husband!” But nobody ever considered the fact that maybe *I* was also suffering, and maybe it was actually worse for me. Nobody realized we had actually discussed what our ideal frequency would be and I said 3 times a week would be fun. Nobody realized we had been married for YEARS and I had never once even had an orgasm. The only reason we were having sex at all was because we both wanted another baby.

    Boy I’m so glad we’re in a much healthier space now, but holy cow. Not one single person ever said “Once a month, you poor thing!” Or “Once a month! Something isn’t right with that! Is everything OK with your sex life?” Just “That poor guy!” 🥴🥴🥴

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, it’s so sad that we don’t consider women sexual, isn’t it? That’s such a huge part of the problem. I hope you’re doing better now!

      Reply
  6. Kevin

    I must have missed all those “manuals” about what Christian love is all about although I grew up in the church. Even being in the military didn’t sway my convictions. I was and am a firm believer that this is a mutual respect and love for each other. Since day one, I have never insisted that my wife is responsible for keeping me happy and satisfied. To me, it always has been and always will be a two-way street. Women need to educate each other, but men also need to be educated and understand that it is through mutual respect for each other and not insisting that one or the other partner must perform regardless of what they are going through. Instead, clear communication must be achieved and go both ways. I know, for a fact, that my wife and I constantly communicate and if neither is in the mood (for whatever reason), then we move on without dwelling on nor losing any love or respect for each other. Maybe I’m too simple of a man but I don’t understand why this is so hard. Men are not some sort of beast that has to have sex every waking hour. Hell, I stayed a virgin until I was married (and so did she) and although the temptations were great (hence why I mentioned the military), I wanted to ensure I was totally committed. Does this work for everyone…no it doesn’t and I respect their decisions. What I don’t respect is men (or women) treating their opposite member like some sort of “slave” for their pleasure. Anyway, sorry about the rambling but this really gets to me because the solution isn’t that hard to figure out.

    Reply
    • Stefanie

      Kevin, I agree 100% and I think most men feel as you do, but they don’t realize what their wives are being taught.

      For instance, you said “if neither is in the mood.” I was given advice before I got married to “never say no,” and being the good Christian that I am, I followed that to a T. So if my husband started something, I wasn’t free to say, “Not tonight honey.” I was not allowed to NOT be in the mood. How was my husband ever supposed to know if I was in the mood or not if I was operating under a gag order? And once I made the mistake of giving my husband an affectionate kiss, not meaning to start anything, but then he started getting more passionate, and in my head I was like, “Now look what you started!” and I had to follow it to its conclusion. And I didn’t make that mistake again. I couldn’t be affectionate because if my affection was mistaken for more I wasn’t free to say no.

      And when you said men are not some sort of beast, I agree with you, but women are taught that men need sex constantly and we can’t deprive them or we’re in sin.

      AND JUST SO YOU ALL KNOW, my husband is not a monster. He’s a good man and we have a good marriage. He was horrified to learn the truth, and he’s been a big advocate of TGSR, sharing it with all our married friends.

      Reply
      • Stefanie

        Oh, and btw, I’m really sorry if that description of me not saying no was triggering to anyone. I can see how it could be triggering. Thankfully, in my case I don’t have an abusive husband and I don’t feel like I was ever raped by him. And my point is THE ADVICE IS WRONG. YOU HAVE AUTONOMY OVER YOUR BODY. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO SAY NO AND YOUR HUSBAND NEEDS TO RESPECT YOUR NO.

        Reply
        • Stefanie

          Sorry, one last thought…what’s ironic is that my husband is big on consent. He asked me, “Is it ok if I…” several times on our wedding night. And even before we read TGSR, he would advise husbands-to-be to make sure they get consent, and not just assume.

          Reply
  7. Margie

    So many good comments I too agree that it is very difficult to reset the mind but with God it is possible because that is what he is doing in my life right now and I am very grateful, it’s very unfortunate and sad that sometimes the secular world has better advice than the so-called Christian world what’s even worse is some are just so tired of the wrong advice and wrong teaching from churches that they have walked away from having a relationship with God.

    Reply
  8. Bitter Betty

    Plus the absence of pain does not automatically equal pleasure. Intercourse is generally guaranteed to feel great for men and for a lot of women it’s boring at best. It literally feels like nothing for so many of us which is obviously an improvement over pain but it’s all such a scam. The clit is lit but pretty freaking inconvenient. Women put up with so much physically and get so little it’s a joke. “But what about multiple orgasms?!!” 🙄 People do not listen. Read these comments, plenty of women aren’t even finishing once in YEARS of partnered sex let alone multiple times a session. Definitely wanna be a man in my next life 😂

    Reply

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