Q: Sex has always been painful for me. Right after I started having sex, I had an extensive yeast infection that resulted in vaginal nerve damage. Pelvic floor therapy worked wonders, and I learned a number of exercises to do on my own and with my boyfriend before sex, which included everything from massage to dilators. My then-boyfriend was very supportive, but we’ve since broken up. I’m hoping to start dating again soon, but I’m not sure how to approach sex with a new guy. Despite the progress I’ve made, sex remains difficult. The exercises I’ve learned are really helpful before the act, but I’m afraid they’ll scare a potential beau away. –Lost in Boston
A: If you had some other chronic-health issue and a new flame gave you grief over it, you would likely realize before things went too far that he was a jerk. A partner’s unwillingness to respect your challenges is simply a deal-breaker. This is the sort of potential beau you want to scare away. Instead, think about how and when to communicate what you need.
People shouldn’t wait until they get their pants off with another person to say, “Oh, by the way, I probably ought to tell you….” Whether it’s about an STI, safer sex boundaries, or bringing dilators to bed, it’s a vulnerable time to learn what someone’s reaction will be. Enjoy new connections and the getting-to-know-you-and-lust-after-you process with potential partners; if feelings seem mutual, sit your new fella down and tell him it seems as though you might be moving in a bed-ward direction. Ask if he feels that way, too. Then let him know that you have a history of health issues that impact your sex life. If you are matter-of-fact and comfortable, it will also put him at ease.
Look at it this way. You are asking a potential lover to engage in medically necessary foreplay, and it can be as sexy and pleasurable as the kind engaged in by people without chronic pain. In fact, most women have pain issues if not sufficiently aroused before intercourse. You’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to healing and learning what works, and the right partners will want to help you have sex that’s as good as possible. Communicating clearly about your needs lets one of those good guys step up and play doctor in just the right way.
You might find Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma by Staci Haines useful. While originally written for people who have had abusive or nonconsensual sexual experiences, many of the insights and exercises may be helpful to you, and might even be something to share with a new partner.
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Carol Queen is a staff sexologist at Good Vibrations
Illustration by Marcellus Hall
This article originally appeared in the Aug/Sept 2015 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!