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,
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
“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.