Reclaiming Healthy Sexuality When Sex Hurts

Michon Neal
Oct 3, 2016 · 7 min read

Up until three years ago, it seemed I could barely go a year without being raped or molested. The rate slowed down after I met my longest-term partner to every few years but of course when people hear you are polyamorous they perceive that you are ‘still on the market’ they tend to lose their minds. In any event, simply being in a relationship is not protection against those who would seek to hurt you. I’m not here to address sexual abuse. No, today, I simply mention it to discuss my reclamation of healthy sexuality.

There’s so much advice out there about how to have a satisfying sex life, what to do when sex hurts, about how to make your partner happy, and — in open relationship circles — about how to successfully carry on several relationships. Rarely does any of this seem to overlap, at least in my experience. Perhaps there are handy little guides out there. I don’t know; what I do know is that I can speak to my own experience. How exactly do I navigate fulfilling relationships, explore my sexuality, and manage illnesses that would seem to interfere with the first two? How is it possible for me to have a satisfying sex life when so often the sex can literally hurt?

There are three things that can cause painful sex: past sexual abuse, health issues, and psychological issues that may or may not have anything to do with those (hello, stress and anxiety!). I happen to have experience with all three of these.

All tragedy aside, the very practical matter of having been raped, assaulted, and/or molested can cause very real pain during sexual intercourse, even if it’s with someone you want to have sex with. Assault changes the body’s physiological response as the body tries to protect itself (by having the mind shut down and the body enter a state of arousal to lessen the damage). This doesn’t always occur, and it doesn’t always prevent physical damage to the reproductive organs and tissues. In my case, I did not have physical damage. But I did have internal scars on my mind. Those psychological scars-whether originating from being triggered about my past, from stress, or from anxiety-caused my body to tense up and caused very real physical pain.

On top of that, I also have several ailments that affect my reproductive organs. They cause pain nearly across my entire body but most notably in the regions one normally pays attention to during sex. As you can imagine, this made sex fairly awkward and sometimes incredibly painful at times. And whether I’m currently in overall pain from any of those conditions or not, I have an extremely sensitive cervix. If anything touches it and isn’t gentle, it hurts like a bitch. For someone who enjoys rough sex, this can pose a number of problems.

With all of this, one may wonder why I’d even bother having sex at all, especially with more than one person. These things make sex a bit different for me but I haven’t let them hold me back. Obviously the first thing to do is inform partners about it beforehand. Just as you’d negotiate what you like and don’t like or if you were going over kinks. Except this one has to do with your physical or psychological state. I know a lot of people may feel embarrassed or ashamed of their disabilities and that so many people are awkward talking about sex to begin with but it is absolutely worth it to ensure that you can be sexually satisfied. One of my long term partners and I regularly talk about it.

He stops and checks with me every so often while we’re, ahem, engaged to ask if he’s hurting me or if we need to change positions. He used to mistake some of my pleasurable cries for pain and then would smile when I nearly yelled at him not to stop. We’d try different positions to better avoid sore spots — I find doggy style works quite nicely. Avoiding pain during sex does not have to take away from the fun. It’s not all bad and boring; the vast majority of the time I get off first at least once before we even start into the other stuff. He’s quite a pro now and never lets me down. Also, massages are always fantastic for fully relaxing the body and getting into a calm head space. And when you have a body that is in pain so much of the time a massage can become a necessity.

In so many ways, having pain either from stress or disability can invite the participants to be more aware of each other. There have been a few times when my partner would try to have lazy sex but I never let him. Lazy sex is a luxury for many people but I can’t be one of them. Having to navigate around the pain had us communicating more honestly, more clearly, and more often. It helped us discover alternate ways of being intimate or having sex that sometimes didn’t include that iconic penetration. In that, our sex life is something that is always actively built. We’re more engaged with one another and build trust, sensitivity, and joy.

Sometimes no matter what we do it’s just not happening. Whether a trigger (though thankfully that’s rare nowadays) or my conditions set it off, there are times when we simply lay together. There have been times I’ve cried. It’s hard when you have a sex drive as high as I do and you discover that you can’t get off that day. It can be hard when you feel guilty for not being normal enough to give your partner what they want. It’s hard when the pelvic exercises you’ve been doing aren’t helping. And don’t get me started on how nonsexy touching someone with eczema-inflicted hands is… Sometimes it happens but that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. You take a deep breath, you cuddle and talk through it, and you start again the next day.

And when I meet anyone new that I think might want to take it there I go through the same process. I let them know upfront just as I let my other partners know up front: I’m poly, a bit kinky, a little crazy, and my body sucks. One beloved partner sat with me after the surgeries I had. He provided a safe, peaceful place for me to rest and though one time he did ask for sex, when I told him that would probably loosen my stitches and hurt like hell he accepted it and simply held me. When I spent time with him without having had surgery we still had to be careful because he was rather…large. That presented a whole set of other kinds of pain to avoid but it was great fun learning how.

And then there’s women. Unless I’m currently doubled over in rib, back, and pelvic pain sex with women is much easier and much less painful in general. Obviously, nails can be a bit of an issue. And fisting, well, I’ve never done it and am not sure I’d want to so I can’t speak to it. Plus, when I’m with a woman (when I manage to find one, they seem to be awfully rare) I tend to be paying her a lot more attention than she’s paying me, just because I’m so excited. I usually wear them out before they can attempt to do anything to me. Let me not get distracted…

Where was I? Oh, yes. My point is that you shouldn’t be discouraged if you have a painful disability or a painful past. You deserve the sex life you want and you deserve people that can respect that. If you don’t want any sex that’s fine, too (hello, asexuals and fellow demisexuals!). You deserve people that respect that. Pain with sex doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. It doesn’t always mean your partner(s) have to be gentle (I do get to have rough sex sometimes and it is such a treat! I like a little pain from time to time but it is markedly different from pain you have no control over). There are hidden treasures in even the darkest of places.

There was a time when I nearly lost hope. When I thought it would always hurt (and medicine doesn’t help mine, unlike with some physical conditions for pain with sex). When I thought no one would ever want to take the time and put in the effort to have sex with me that was enjoyable for me.

But whenever I see all these latest articles talking about how so many people are dissatisfied with their sex lives, how the majority of women don’t have orgasms during sex, and just generally seeing how much people suck at talking about it, it makes me grateful. I love that I know my body. I love that I could get back in touch with my inner slut even after being hurt. I love that I found at least a few people who listened well and were happy to be with me and had fun with me. I love the sex that I have. I love my sensuality. I love that I’m not focused on the pain. I love that I didn’t give up. I have a wonderful sex life and I fuckin’ love it.

Postmodern Woman

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