Should I Tell The Man I’m Dating I Suffer From Sexual Dysfunction?

I am a 40-year old divorcee who’s started to get my life back on track again. I have been seeing this new guy who I met through a common friend. We get along in many ways and are getting closer all the time. There’s one thing that’s been bugging me, it’s that I still haven’t overcome some psychosexual anxiety issue. I just began seeing a therapist who diagnosed that I suffer from vaginismus, a kind of female sexual dysfunction issue (pain during intercourse, difficulty with penetration and not lubricating, some anxieties, etc.). This is also what created some problems in my previous marriage and relationships, which was regarded as a minor problem but turns out to be an important one and relates so much to trauma, etc.

According to my therapist vaginismus is quite a common problem in women and it’s highly treatable but it takes a while. Vaginismus doesn’t affect sexual desire so that’s why I can still be turned on and wanting sex but can’t perform and things get messy when it comes to intercourse. It affects self-esteem, creates miscommunications, misunderstandings, and sexual repression and awkward situations. I used to think there was something wrong with me but my therapist said that it’s a common problem, mostly psychological and curable. I just have to allow myself some time.

I want to take my time overcoming this problem to be fully ready to have more fulfilling new relationships. My question is if things are getting more mutually intimate with this man I am seeing now, should I tell him about my condition? And if so, when and how?

Your thoughts will be much appreciated,
Best
Sarah

Sarah, sorry to hear you’re suffering from this. You suggested that you suffered from trauma, so hopefully, your therapist is trained to help you work through that. Alas, I am not.

What I can tell you is that – as you probably know – there are plenty of resources for women who have this condition. One glance at Wikipedia or Vaginismus.com and you have a wealth of information that can help you create and maintain a healthy, normal, sexual relationship. Unfortunately, the jury is out as to the ideal treatment –

You can not put your deepest stuff, front and center, too early on.

For those who aren’t inclined to click links to do their own research, apart from the biological reasons one might experience vaginismus, psychological reasons include:

    • Fear of losing control
    • Not trusting one’s partner
    • Self-consciousness about body image
    • Misconceptions about sex or unattainable standards for sex from exaggerated sexual materials, such as pornography or abstinence
    • Fear of vagina not being wide or deep enough / fear of partner’s penis being too large
    • Undiscovered or denied sexuality (specifically, being asexualor
    lesbian

“The three most common contributing factors to vaginismus are fear of painful sex; the belief that sex is wrong or shameful (often the case with patients who had a strict religious upbringing); and traumatic early childhood experiences (not necessarily sexual in nature).

People with vaginismus are twice as likely to have a history of childhood sexual interference and held less positive attitudes about their sexuality, whereas no correlation was noted for lack of sexual knowledge or (non-sexual) physical abuse.”

That was mostly for our readers, Sarah, so they had a little background on what you’re dealing with. As to how to handle it with a new man; I think it’s very similar to most skeletons that we keep in our closets.

You deal with it only when necessary.

This is the main mistake most people make. They are so anxious about their “thing,” they blurt it out well before the other person is ready to deal with it. Guess what? Nobody wants to hear about your suicide attempt on the first date. Nobody is ready to hear that you’re a recovering drug addict after a few flirty emails. Nobody is ready to handle the fact that you were sexually abused as a kid and it’s scarred you ever since. I’m not trying to be callous about the experiences themselves, just clearminded about how most people date.

Your confidence is what the man is going to respond to.

People go out on dates to have fun, to flirt, to connect, to see if there’s enough there to come back for a second date. You can not put your deepest stuff, front and center, too early on.

You make sure he’s emotionally invested in you before you bring it up.

If you’ve been dating for a month. He’s taken you out 7-8 times. He’s calling/texting every day. He’s talking about taking his profile down. He’s hinted about a future. He’s rounded the bases and is headed for home… well NOW it’s time to have the conversation with the guy. He likes you. A lot. This gives you a lot more leverage than if he’d just met you 20 minutes ago.

You handle it in a matter-of-fact way that indicates that you have this under control.

This is a big one and I’ve written about this in before in a post about herpes. If you make a HUGE deal about this, you’re sunk. “Brad, sit down. We have to talk. I know you’re going to hate me for this, but…” You’re not dying. You’re not breaking up with him. You’re not any different than the woman he’s been falling for. You just have one relevant piece of information that he should know before you go any further. You tell him in 20-30 seconds and you move along. That’s it.

“Brad, I’m so attracted to you and yes, I do want to be your girlfriend. But before we sleep together, you should just know that I have something called vaginismus. Basically, it’s a tightening of the vagina. I know that may sound good to you, but it can make sex a little bit tricky. You’re a great guy, so I didn’t want you to be alarmed if you found that my body wasn’t entirely responding. As long as we communicate, I’m sure we’ll be fine. Any questions?”

No, it’s not a perfect script, but it accomplishes your job. It respects him. It informs him. And it doesn’t make you sound like someone who is perpetually freaked out by her condition, nor fearful that her guy will be freaked out by it. The point is that you can have a condition and still remain confident.

Your confidence is what the man is going to respond to. Good luck.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Michelle H.

    Fantastic tips, excellent advice.  Thank you Evan.

  2. 2
    pw

    I basically had this problem before and lack of foreplay and being ready down there was the issue. Foreplay is super important.

  3. 3
    NoraB

    For the first time, I actually disagree with Evan.  I think she should tell him ASAP, and here’s why…  I just started dating an alcoholic man who has been dry for the past 5 years.  He told me on our first meet within 10 minutes of sitting down at the table.  I appreciated his honesty and his bravery.   Yada yada… We’ve had 6 dates so far.  Another reason why I disagree with Evan is that I unknowingly married a man who was sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest when he was a child.  My ex-husband had trouble performing during our first sexual encounter together, and concocted a story to hide it out of shame and fear of losing me.  Yada yada… After years of tolerating his unnecessary prescription drug usage and not knowing the underlining reason why he was taking them, our 7 year marriage came to an end.  So Sarah, the longer you wait to tell him, the harder it’s going to be.

    1. 3.1
      Lina

      Erm…so it worked out for you but that doesn’t mean everyone will be so appreciative of disclosing a personal fact early on.

      As for your ex-husband, I’m sorry what you went through but that isn’t the advice that was given. Evan recommended maybe a month in to tell your partner, not several years.

    2. 3.2
      Still-Looking

      NoraB, I have to agree with Evan.
      Dating involves getting to know someone and forming a connection. Both take time.
      If someone discloses something very personal too quickly, many people will view it as a red flag because it is outside the social norms. The red flag pops up, not because of the issue, but because it was revealed too quickly.
      I imagine most people also want to wait to disclose their “secrets” until they feel comfortable with the other person and also out of a feeling that the “secret” will not be a deal-breaker if a connection and budding relationship has begun.
      BTW – I’m an alcoholic and quite willing to discuss AA and my recovery but I prefer to wait several dates before doing so.

      1. 3.2.1
        SMC

        I completely agree about the earliness of the disclosure being the red flag.  My ex was a recovering alcoholic, and I’m pretty sure he disclosed that on the third date or so, which was fine, but I wouldn’t have wanted to know it on the first date.  There’s enough to deal with on a first date just getting to know someone without having what amounts to extra baggage being dumped in the mix.  We all have issues that we hope will be understood and supported, but it makes sense to figure out if the date’s even going to go any further than one or two times out.  Being a rather private person myself, I’m not into sharing personal information with what amounts to a near-total stranger.  He at least needs to know if he’s somewhat interested in me (and I in him) before he needs to learn of any special circumstances associated with knowing me, especially if those circumstances involve anything of a sexual nature.

        Great advice, Evan.

    3. 3.3
      Buck25

      Nora,

      As a man, I’m going to disagree with you here. I think Sarah should tell her boyfriend, if and when things are getting close to intimacy, not before.

      My reasoning is as follows; first of all, while some guys are knowledgeable about issues like this that women have (difficulty achieving orgasm, painful intercourse, and so on), many more are not.  A not-so-knowledgeable man who’s not yet really emotionally involved with a woman may just cut and run from something which is actually not a difficult issue to deal with, where a guy a bit more emotionally invested, just might care enough to stick around, try to become informed about his girlfriend’s condition, and work with her to help her overcome, or at least deal with, the issue. Sometimes, a caring partner can be a pretty powerful adjunct to whatever psychotherapy and/or medical treatment is indicated. If the guy in question is already knowledgeable about the issue (some of these things are really pretty common, vaginismus being one of those, so it’s entirely possible that a man may have dealt with this with a previous partner), he’s going to understand that in most instances, time, patience and caring along with appropriate treatment, will usually minimize the problem, if not eliminate it entirely. Men, good men anyway, are not so insensitive and uncaring about things like this as you might think, especially if we have some real feelings invested in the woman in question.

      Should she tell him before having sex? Absolutely. My bet is that if she doesn’t make a big deal of it, handles it something like Alice did above, he’ll stay, work on it with her, and very likely be rewarded with a very happy and fully functional partner in time. Tell him on the first or second date? I don’t think so (though Sarah’s letter indicates it’s probably beyond that point anyway).

      I don’t think this is equivalent to your ex-husband’s situation as you describe it. The comment about prescription drug use/abuse, indicates that this was affecting other areas of his life besides intimacy; that’s qualitatively different from Sarah’s problem, which seems to be strictly a sexual issue. That’s not a “tell on the first date” issue either, IMO, but he should have told you before intimacy.

  4. 4
    Elly Klein

    Great advice!

    1. Speak up at an appropriate time (like, not on the first date).

    2. Be cool about it, and get the message across that it’s manageable.

    3. Offer some solutions (like, for instance, if intercourse is completely off the table at this point in time, there might be other intimate things you can do together).

    4. Ask him what he’s thinking and feeling, and if he has any questions.

    I basically just summarised what Evan said. 😉 All the best!

     

  5. 5
    NoreB

    Thanks everyone for your input. I understand where you’re coming from. I guess, for me, I’d want to know upfront.

  6. 6
    JB

    I would say I have a bit of experience in this in the reverse way being a man of 50 something. I’ll try and make a long story short. 20 yrs ago suffering from male pattern baldness a large drug company figured out by accident that a drug intended for enlarged prostate also grew hair and Propecia was invented/marketed. It actually works in that it keeps a lot of hair from falling out etc… What they didn’t realize is the side effects that especially older men end up with with prolonged usage. Yep, you guessed it because it messes with testosterone levels a bit of erectile dysfunction may occur. So of course many of us take the “little blue football” to stay in “the game” which works wonderfully. (Sometimes too wonderfully as in 2-3 hrs!) For 10 yrs I’ve never had to tell a woman anything and had great control over my plumbing. More recently though I’ve noticed that it numbs my “member” too much to the point of making it almost impossible to orgasm. So I’ve had to explain the whole thing a few times and while I’ve never done that in the first few dates I usually just get the feel of a situation and use my judgement. It also makes spontaneous sex virtually impossible as I need to ummm “warm up in the bullpen”(take it 45 minutes in advance) before I take the mound. Which means lots of foreplay!. 🙂 Evan is correct. You wait to have a little deeper connection with someone before you trot out your imperfections of any kind. Why would anyone tell anyone something so personal if you’re not sure they’ll be a 3rd or 4th date?

  7. 7
    Buck25

    Nora,

    Given your experience, that’s understandable. In the particular instance Sarah described in her letter, it’s not so much that her issue is likely to be a really big deal (my sense is that it’s not). Women with sexual issues can be terribly self-conscious, and embarrassed about them, often in a way that’s disproportionate to the actual problem. These things aren’t that uncommon, but a woman who has such an issue can feel very alone, feel that she is somehow diminished or “damaged goods”, and fear that a man won’t understand. It can be similar for a woman dealing with a past history of sexual abuse/sexual assault. Unfortunately, that’s all too common as well. Reality is that a man who dates a significant number of women  likely will eventually run across a woman with an issue of a sexual nature; as men, we have to be prepared for this, and prepared to deal with it in a kind and compassionate manner, which includes understanding that a woman will likely need to build some trust with us before she’s ok with making the revelation, and her need for that outweighs our immediate “need to know”. The last thing I want, as a man, is for any woman in that position to feel compelled to reveal it to me, when she really doesn’t even know me that well yet. It can wait.

    1. 7.1
      HollyTx

      I respect your situation – but a big difference to acknowledge is that her symptoms can improve in time and with getting comfortable with herself and her partner; whereas the blue pill situation is likely going to worsen as time goes by and isn’t as dependent on bonding with the other party. I would want to know something like that sooner rather than later.

  8. 8
    NoraB

    Wow. Everyone has such great feedback.  Very valid points.  It will take me some time to rethink this topic. I’m starting to wonder if it depends on the situation and how the person approaches the subject.

  9. 9
    Adrian

    Sarah,

    I think you should dump this guy!

     

    In situations like this, most people will stick around for 2 reasons

    1. They don’t want to be perceived as a bad person

    2. They actually DO like you

     

    So, you tell this guy, and he says, “thank you for telling me, but it doesn’t matter”.

    So what’s the problem?

    Why do I say dump a guy who would be with you in spite of  vaginismus?

    Because walking the walk, is different from talking the talk!

     

    Sarah you said that this has greatly contributed to many of your past relationships failing.

    So now you and the new guy are doing fine, he is okay with

    trying harder or just waiting for you, and

    that’s good. But what happens when it is now 6 months into the relationship and

    you two are still not having

    much sex or you are having lots of sex with him, but he feels he isn’t satisfying you sexually.

    Consciously he will know it is not because of his own shortcomings,

    but subconsciously he will doubt his abilities in the bedroom.

     

    Men crave feeling like they satisfy their woman in the bedroom.

    So now does he be honest with you and tell you it is a problem for him, NO!

    Why? Because of points 1 and 2.

    He will suck it up and suffer, slowing growing distant emotionally from you, or he may just

    break up with you, and you will be left wondering why,

    thinking the relationship was good.

     

    The reason I suggest you dump him is because, it takes time for you to  heal even with

    the help of a psychiatrist. I think it is better for you to emotionally

    heal first, then date, instead of

    dating while you are still struggling to understand your problem and simultaneously heal,

    emotionally, but make him feel like he is a champ in the bedroom

    at the same time. It just seems like to much to me.

     

    There is so much more to a relationship than “just” sex, but

    read any post on just this site alone and you will see, both men and women saying they

    let otherwise good partners go because

    they weren’t receiving any sex or good sex. The point is, you will have to

    look past what he says and decide for yourself if he can truly handle this type of sexual relation.

    Again, it is not about him having an orgasm, it is about

    him being confident enough

    to not take it personally if you aren’t enjoying the experience when you both have sex.

    Is he patient enough to endure have very little sex or having no sex

    at all until you feel comfortable enough to actually enjoy it, which could be months or years.

     

    Personally, I think any man who likes you would

    say yes, but just because a man says he can handle something, doesn’t mean he actually can.

    If he dumps you a few months down the road because of this,

    Sarah do you have the confidence not to take it personally? Can you not allow it to

    hold you back from seeking love in the future? Will you continue  seeking

    psychiatric help?

    1. 9.1
      Adrian

      Sarah read,

      Do Men Need To See Other Men Desire Their Partner? Or Is That Just a Woman Thing?

       

      Specifically the last three paragraphs where Evan quotes the article from Psychology Today. Men “get off” as they say, sexually by being able to “get a woman off ” in bed.

       

      Putting colloquial speak aside, basically, we men crave the idea of being able to give our women an orgasm more than we desire to just have our own orgasm.

       

      You need your boyfriend to understand that your vaginismus has nothing to do with him. He may say he understands and he can handle it, but saying that now verse 6 or 8 months into the relationship after some awkward or uncomfortable situations in the bedroom is a different thing.

       

      This is the only reason I suggest working on yourself first, before dating. But, who knows he may be that rare exception, in which case, don’t worry about my advise.

      1. 9.1.1
        Rlgt

        Obviously, Adrian, you can’t handle it. Doesn’t mean Sarah’s dude can’t either.

        Jeez… Why do some people always think everybody sees the world from the same eyes as them?

        Sarah, please, don’t listen to Adrian. He’s way off base.

        1. Callie

          Indeed. I’ve been dealing with the issue for a long time myself and have had nothing but understanding from logical and empathetic men who are secure in themselves enough to truly know it’s not them, who are considerate and understand the issue while at the same time being more than capable of getting me off without P in V intercourse (I feel like Adrian doesn’t fully understand the female anatomy if he thinks a woman cannot orgasm without his penis inside her). If men truly do get off more by making a woman orgasm than by their own, then he can easily conclude that men truly should not have any issue at all with vaginismus because a woman doesn’t need penetration to get off.

          Now then . . . I think the issue that’s really at hand of course is that MEN enjoy penetration and I think Adrian isn’t nearly as noble as he pretends to be in his “Getting off” assertion. The good news is there are many ways to get a man off as well. And the other good news is with patience even the classic P in V way is not completely out of the question.

          But this idea that only a rare exception would tolerate her situation is fallacious and based little more than on I believe his own personal insecurities and desires. Sarah, I second Rlgt’s message, he’s way off base, don’t listen to him.

        2. Buck25

          Adrian’s usually on target, but this time I really think he’s missed the mark. See my comments above. I hope Sarah and her guy hang in there; there’s no reason for them not to hope for a wonderful and fulfilling relationship (yes, including the sex!)

          You, too, Callie; sounds like you have a good handle on this, and hopefully it’ll get better with time and treatment, and/or you’ll keep finding ways to work around it. Good for you! 🙂

    2. 9.2
      Adrian

      This really isn’t worth arguing over.

      Time will tell if I am wrong or right.

      Okay, I shouldn’t allow myself to descend into the pettiness, but

       

      Rlgt,

      Where did I show that I could not handle it?

       

      Callie,

      Where did I say only a rare type of man would stick with her?

       

      So basically you both are projecting negativity onto me because I offered a “possibility” of what this guy could do or be thinking?

       

      So… you both came to a site for understanding men, just to reject things about men you don’t agree with? Okay.
      Buck25,

      you honestly shock me more than these two women. How many times have you seen or read a woman say something such as “that can’t be true because I know a guy who did this or didn’t do that, so men don’t think like that but like this…”

       

      How convenient that all three of you only focused on one point I made about the man getting off and nothing else I said such as how he will stick around because he likes her or how “if” he had to wait 6 months without sex, “Then” he may want to leave.

       

      I repeatedly said, If, If, If…

       

      It is also interesting that my only goal was to prepare Sarah for the “possibility” of this new relationship not working out.

       

      While the goals of Callie and Rlgt were to attack me… Yup two are definitely the noble ones here.

  10. 10
    Adrian

    Buck25,

    When you get a chance, check out these 3 short videos.

    Because they happens a lot on this site in the comments section with emotional subjects, not just against other commenters but also against the main point of Evan’s posts.

     

     

     

  11. 11
    Adrian

    Sarah,

     

    If you are reading this, for clarity sake, I want you to know that I am in no way attacking or blaming you or your boyfriend.

     

    I hope things workout, I am just offering a possible look into how “some” men may react in that situation.

     

    They are not bad men, they just are human.

     

    Go look up the few post Evan did about porn or men wanting sex too soon, or the post about making men wait for sex, in each the women were crying foul play! Men were wrong for their actions to get sex. “The person should be more important than the sex” They all said.

     

    But

     

    Next go look at all the post on the guys who are virgins writing in to Evan, and how the women commented that they couldn’t be with a guy who wanted to wait for sex, or they couldn’t be with a guy who wasn’t experienced in bed, or how many of the women actually said, “they Needed to try the cow before they bought it”. Why weren’t they all saying, “The person should be more important than the sex” this time?

     

    The point is that is easy to see the other gender as being wrong, selfish, or bad for their actions if you disagree with it, but when it is your turn to be in the same situation, we don’t  consider it as being anything but practical and realistic.

     

    You are human, the men you date are human,

    Some will not care about your vaginismus and some will.

    Some will think they don’t care, only to find out that they do and it does affect them.

    Some will think it is a big deal, only to contact you months later begging for another chance after realizing that it is not a big deal.

     

    None of these guys are bad, if they do lie, it is themselves they are lying to, not you.

  12. 12
    Liz

    I had vaginismus going into my relationship and we.didnt know I had it until it came to sex, I was a virgin at 24 and he was 32. He actually asked me to be in a relationship with him before we had sex. There was no sex on dating. I gave him the option of ending it when I told him I was a virgin and unsure about sex. It took 9 months for us to have penetrative sex. And now we have a child and are a happy family.

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