How I Have Sex: “I Hate it When People Say Vaginismus Needs to be ‘Fixed.'”
In How I Have Sex, we bring you candid retellings of people’s sexual lives that explore the multidimensional nature of this human experience. In this installment, 26-year-old M.F. recounts their experience with vaginismus and masturbation.
My parents never talked about sex with me. It’s the sort of thing where you turn the television off if there’s kissing on. I didn’t even know penetration was a thing until I was 15. I was in Catholic school one day, and they showed us a birthing video. When they told us the penis goes inside the vagina, I was just like … this can’t happen. It completely freaked me out. But a lot of my friends started having sex around 13, 14. Everybody at my school was quite obsessed with losing their virginity.
I was even scared of masturbation. When I was young, I used to do it in chat rooms, when one day I got a message saying my wording was too vulgar and the local police had been notified. I never masturbated again. I had my first boyfriend at 17, and we tried to have penetrative sex, but whenever he tried to penetrate me with his fingers or penis, it would feel like a pinching, or someone trying to poke a needle into my skin. It was like a wall, nothing could go in. I could never talk about it with my friends though. I was never comfortable telling them my vagina doesn’t open. Nobody really talks about abnormalities in sex.
With my first boyfriend, we were doing other things constantly — oral, massage, making out. But at the time, feeling like sex only happens through penetration gave me a deep amount of shame that I carried with me. I chalked it up to me not being ready for sex. After we broke up, I didn’t sleep with anyone for four years. I always thought penetration would be an issue so I didn’t even try to get into any sort of relationship. At university, I had a community of women of color, who were feminists, who helped me unlearn the concept of virginity and that was a big thing because I was raised Catholic and believed in the whole no-sex-before-marriage thing. Then for a while I thought maybe I was asexual. But now I know all these were just reasons I was telling myself for why I couldn’t have sex, because I was scared. I now realize I was living in denial about vaginismus.
One of my friends is gay and I told them the issues I was having and they literally told me penetration is not sex, that they barely ever get penetrated. That whole conversation opened up my mind, reframed everything for me. I thought, ‘Holy shit, I’ve been having sex for a long time. I’m probably good at it,’ which was always an insecurity as well. I always thought to myself ‘you can’t get a penis inside you, you’re not good at sex.’
But I finally started sleeping around via Tinder and people I’d meet out. I was doing a lot of one-night stands — it was funny because they never involved penetration. I would get in and get out, no pressure. But I started seeing myself in a sexual light, for the first time. The first few hookups I had, I was anxious about it. The first guy I hooked up with told me when we were in bed together that I should get it ‘fixed.’ I hate it when people say the vaginismus needs to be ‘fixed.’ It’s just something my body does. Some people can’t touch their toes, I can’t stretch my vaginal opening. Eventually, I started being more open about it — I would say I have this condition so penetration isn’t going to happen. A lot of them were like ‘can I try?’ A lot of them also felt emasculated, I think. With one night stands, they would become obsessed with making me cum, like they couldn’t penetrate me so they felt like they had to work really hard in other ways. It was almost cool.
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But then I met my boyfriend, and that meant having to come clean and possibly face rejection. And then if he was okay with it, having to have continuous sex with someone. I hadn’t ever done that knowingly. The thought of being intimate was incredibly frightening, but when I told him, he didn’t mind at all; in fact, it didn’t even faze him. We have really great sex, doing everything but penetration. We have intimate sex. Our bodies are up against each other, entwined, hands go places. My favorite position is when I sit on top of his penis, the tip rubbing against my clit. Just that makes me cum. We were shocked at first that such a position could be so exciting. Just thinking about it turns me on.
I’d also say in this relationship, there’s no real emphasis on cumming. For either of us, it’s not about the orgasm, but the experience we have together, being there for each other. But of course, we do have orgasms too. We go down on each other a lot, a lot of the sex happens in the shower. If he wants to cum, I often give him a handjob.
I’m a part of a support group now, which has been really amazing. It’s reframing everything for me, giving me a deeper understanding of my body and me. It’s how I understood how my not masturbating since I was a child may have suppressed my hormones or feelings of arousal. I still don’t know how to masturbate. Before this group, I had only looked at my genitals four times in my entire life. People with penises do so much with their genitals. Even when they pee, they have to literally hold it. But people with vaginas don’t have anything to do down there. And if you grew up not masturbating, and nobody around you talked to you about masturbating, and women don’t make it a shared activity like men often do, then it’s difficult.
My partner is very supportive but it’s like I know our relationship could get better. I’m living this life and this life is good, but if I can address these things I would have a better quality of sex, and it doesn’t even need to include penetration. What I’m trying to do now is develop a better sexual relationship with myself. But as of now, I love sex.