Having Sex Is Too Painful. How Can I Have a Relationship?

Having Sex Is Too Painful. How Can I Have a Relationship?

Dating has always been a struggle due to some physical limitations. Namely sex has always been acutely painful (vaginismus). This concern has been the root cause of many relationship and self-worth ills. I have been sexually active since my late teens and simply thought it would get better as I got older. These issues make intimate personal and physical relations not only unpleasant but disheartening. Especially since no one in their right mind would sign off on a lifetime of their partner not enjoying their intimate company and since sex is important to most people and relationships. My physicians, though supportive, have not been that helpful. 

This whole thing puts a damper on many relationships (understandingly) and because of it I have not dated much and feel sexually left behind experience wise for many years. Everything I have read about dating with this condition treats dating unrealistically. 

I am at a cross roads on how to move forward with this. Is there a tactful way to bring something like this up while dating? If so how can a person pursue a relationship with these issues? Or should I just make myself comfortable with the idea that perhaps a romantic long- term relationship is not in the cards for me?



Thanks for calling attention to an issue that affects between 5-17 percent of women.

Thanks for calling attention to an issue that affects between 5-17 percent of women.

And because I’m not qualified to answer your question myself, I turned to friend of the blog, Dr. Patti Britton, a sexologist here in Los Angeles. She replied at length:

“Vaginismus is treatable with the right combination of information, dedicated intention on the part of the client/helping professionals, positive support from a well-trained sex therapist/sexologist/sex coach, and tools for opening up the spasmodic vaginal opening, if it is truly vaginismus.

 Often MDs are not familiar with this condition and toss it off to “it’s all in your head.”

 It’s not! In fact, it can be the result of a psychological condition related to a past trauma or fear of penetration for a variety of reasons. If so, a form of talk therapy or coaching can alleviate any misplaced thinking or help to diminish troubling emotional states. Some therapies that engage the body, such as Somatic Experiencing for reducing bodily held trauma, or use of EDMR or Brain Spotting, may also address the initial trauma and alleviate its effect in the brain itself.

 However, usually a series of behavioral steps works best, in conjunction with good sexological counseling/coaching, such as dilators that are graduated in size being inserted into the vagina along with conscious breathing.

 Another spectacularly successful approach is to work with a Surrogate Partner Therapist, someone trained and certified to work in tandem with a competent clinician and the client him/herself to train the client experientially to allow touch, sexual expression and ultimately full capacity as a sexual person without distress or pain. 

 For more information, contact: [email protected] or peruse aasect.org for a certified sexuality educator/counselor/therapist near you or check out the Worldassociationofsexcoaches.org international online directory.”

I would listen to everything Dr. Britton said – and also try to reframe things from a less catastrophic and fatalistic perspective. I have a cousin with MS who is in a wheelchair. She has a husband – who met her after she was diagnosed. I have a deaf friend who was recently married. I have clients who have fallen for men with erectile dysfunction and others who stayed with impotent men suffering from prostate cancer.

Is your vaginismus problematic, both for you and the men you date? Sure. But it is not a death sentence.

Take the necessary steps above and try not to let your condition beat you, okay?

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  1. 1

    As a former fellow sufferer, let me be the first to whole-heartedly agree with the advice in the post. For those who are dealing with this, you are not broken and this condition does not mean you can’t have a very satisfying sexual relationship. I’m very happily married and have a wonderful sex life. The dilators mentioned in the article were the winning solution for me. Very inexpensive and simple. For others I’ve known, there were more emotional or trauma related issues that also required more talk-therapy. The most important thing is to seek out solutions and try the therapies that exist with an open mind (and vagina). There is plenty of hope!

  2. 2

    Look into botox for vaginismus. I had it done and it changed my life.

  3. 3
    Donica Robinson

    If you get to the point of intimacy, tell the man then. Also be sure to tell him that most men don’t have the patience or skill set to give you pleasure so you completely understand if he is no longer interested. Men. Love. A. Challenge.

    You can bet your life that a man will slow down and give you exactly what you need if they can lay claim that they’re the only man that was able to satisfy you. But first, you really need to explore satisfying yourself so you know what you like. This has nothing to do with your condition. Every woman should be the master of their own bodies and should be able to teach a man their own inner workings.

    1. 3.1
      A Random Guy

      “Also be sure to tell him that most men don’t have the patience or skill set to give you pleasure so you completely understand if he is no longer interested. ”

      In other words, be sure to insult him and lay on the guilt-trip by implying that he’s a bad guy who’s bad in bed if he decides he wants intercourse to be a part of his love life.

  4. 4
    Malika with an L

    Also a former fellow sufferer. I had great difficulties with forming relationships due to this condition. Vaginismus isn’t properly understood by most GP’s and therefore it is often difficult to find the right treatment for you. The breakthrough came when i started reading and taking part in a Vaginismus reddit board and found the dilators i started training with a year ago. Another breakthrough came when i found a lovely man i was slowly but surely able to develop a sexual relationship with. It is very discouraging having vaginimus in this hyper sexualised society and it can leave you feeling inadequate and broken. There is hope though and there are wonderful men out there who have the patience and willingness to help you as you navigate your way to the solution. I believe in you and hope that this advice will help you on your way. If you have any questions, you can leave them here in the comments, so we can help you further.

  5. 5
    Malika with an L

    Evan, thank you for tackling this question. It is so heartening seeing it spoken of in a mainstream channel such as yours. When i was in despair and seeking answers, years ago, i would have loved to have seen this blog post!

  6. 6

    When I had issues due to menopause, most doctors just blew it off and told me to use lubricant. (not helpful, there was more going on due to menopause than that). I did NOT want to try mainstream hormonal replacement therapy, because my mom had terrible side effects from it, which doctor’s dismissed. Then I found out about Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy and it really did the trick for me, with NO side effects. (Unless younger looking skin is a side effect 🙂 ) Now, I know BHRT is “controversial” because big pharma has made it into a controversy, but as far as I know, it is still on the market, but you have to hunt and peck for a practitioner who will prescribe it. If you are willing to give it a try, I feel it is safer than mainstream HRT, I highly recommend it.

    Also, consider “rounding the bases” without intercourse until you can resolve the issue. You still have your hands and your mouth, you know what you can do !

  7. 7
    Michelle Williams

    Thank you OP and Evan for highlighting this important issue. I would like to reiterate that “sex” and intimacy is not restricted by the narrow definition of a “P in a V”. Having worked with people of various physical abilities as well as those who don’t fall into strict gender/biological sex boxes there are many ways to be intimate, sexual, give and be gratified. I hope you arrive at a place where you are experiencing sex the way you want to, but no one should be denied a sex life due to any physical or mental limitation.

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