Here’s how we’ve normalized painful sex and why it’s problematic
We have some pretty messed up ideas about female sexuality across the board.
From the belief that women without their hymen intact are “not virgins” to the imaginary connection between vaginal tightness and number of sexual partners, all of these myths mean that women are often engaging in penetrative sex that does them a disservice. For a long time, we didn’t even believe women were capable of orgasming, which is probably why the female orgasm is seen as elusive and difficult to achieve now.
Perhaps one of the most dangerous myths we’ve been socialized to believe is that a woman experiencing pain during penetrative sex is normal or acceptable. We do this in a lot of ways: by turning a woman’s initial sexual encounter into something she should expect to feel pain from, and by promoting a narrative where women are encouraged to “take dick”. Both of these are incredibly odd ways to talk about a mutually beneficial experience.
First of all, sex isn't supposed to be painful
Like many women, losing my virginity was uncomfortable. I walked in expecting to bleed but definitely not expecting to enjoy it, and when I didn’t bleed at all, I wondered if that meant the experience wasn’t genuine in some way. Wasn’t my hymen supposed to pop or something?
I’d accepted the common idea that the hymen existed as a magical bubble wrap over my virginity. Which is totally false. While a lot of women do experience the sensation of their hymen stretching when they first have sex, which may cause bleeding, a lot of women stretch their hymen out by using a tampon or fingering themselves for the first time. Some women are born with so little tissue there, it appears that they don’t even have one at all. Plus, hymens don’t usually cover the entirety of the vagina -- after all, there needs to be space for menstrual blood to come out. Women who are born with a hymen that covers their entire vaginal canal typically get surgery to remove the extra tissue. All of this is to say that virginity and the hymen are both highly misunderstood. As I lay there, on my back, without even a drop of blood gushing out of me, I was having as genuine an experience as anyone else.
I had also understood that a painful first time was the price you paid to be a sexual woman. In retrospect, I wish both me and my partner had understood the reality of virginity. Maybe I would’ve asked him to go slower, or I would’ve relaxed into the experience more. Even the second time we had sex was a nightmare. Even the third or fourth times were difficult to enjoy.
Tell him to slow down if he needs to slow the eff down
As a woman, I notice that being encouraged to “take dick” has also played into my role in the bedroom. The implication there is that regardless of my level of discomfort, there is skill in enduring without vocalizing. Conversely, I’ve never heard it suggested that men should keep going if they’re in pain. During so many of my experiences, I allowed men to jackhammer at my cervix even though the pressure felt uncomfortable. Now, I tell my male partners -- “go slower” or “not that deep”. Even if I have to say it repeatedly, I deserve sex that feels good. Duh.
We have to treat pain as an indicator that something isn’t entirely right. And while this could mean making edits in how you have sex, it also means acknowledging that pain can point to larger concerns. Health issues like vaginismus and vulvadynia exist and without taking women’s discomfort seriously, they can go undiagnosed. And if we’re so eager for women to “take dick”, there can be a sense of shame in exploring female sexual dysfunction. It has the capacity to make us feel like failures for existing in our bodies.
Women are supposed to enjoy sex just as much as men
Sex isn’t supposed to be painful. It’s just not normal to view it that way, and the normalization of it is weird and problematic. Our pleasure is just as central to sex as that of the men we are sleeping with. Hopefully, by unlearning some of the myths surrounding female bodies, we can encourage sexual experiences that are mutually satisfying.
Image Source: Tony Futura