“The Moment I Had Penetrative Sex For The First Time”

How a long-time vaginismus sufferer practised her way to painless intercourse

It’s a weekday afternoon and my boyfriend Nate and I are lying in bed, trying to be extra quiet because my roommate just got home from work. We aren’t very good at being quiet. Nate is kissing my neck and I’m rubbing my hands over the muscles in his chest, shoulders and back. Nate always likes to get me worked up before we start working, and after a little while, I feel ready. We pause, breathing hard, so he can find a condom.

This is the afternoon I’ll have penetrative sex for the first time. I say “first successful penetration” and not “losing my virginity” for a reason. I have vaginismus, a chronic spasm of the pelvic floor muscle that makes penetration both deeply painful and physically impossible; one former boyfriend (kindly) compared my vagina to a wall. Until I was diagnosed, I enjoyed other kinds of sex – oral, manual, kinky, group – but still felt shame that I hadn’t experienced something which seemed so fundamental to being human. I cried when the pelvic pain specialist I finally saw last year told me she was proud of me for maintaining a healthy sex life and pursuing love. Many women with pelvic floor disorders decide sex just isn’t for them, she said. She was glad I wasn’t one of them.

I was, too. Nate was my first partner post-diagnosis, and I nervously “came out” to him after a few dates, afraid my limitations might be a deal-breaker. Luckily my worries were unfounded. Nate told me he thought of sex as a category of ways people can make each other feel good, rather than one specific action. He actually found my vaginismus treatment interesting – and kind of hot. During my treatment I came around to his point of view, and the shame evaporated. I began by using special dilators (absurdly pink dildo-like contraptions in progressively larger sizes) that slowly stretched my pelvic muscles. I also went to rehab at a pelvic pain clinic. There, my physical therapist Brenda helped release the bunching muscles in my thighs and hips and digitally penetrated me to massage my pelvic floor. Letting a stranger do that definitely felt weird at first, but it also helped me progress.


Brenda emphasised that trust and communication between Nate and I was essential so that I’d know how to speak up when penetration hurt and he’d know how to listen. She suggested I let him “drive” the dilator sometimes as I practised. He was determined that the process should feel sexy: undressing me and kissing me softly, he’d ease the dilator in gradual intervals, pausing each time I asked. We even made a couple of attempts at penetration, but I always had to ask him to pull out after a few minutes when the pain became too intense. That became our goal: not sex to orgasm yet, just penetration without pain.

This afternoon, fumbling for the condom with my roommate outside, I’m hopeful today might be the day we meet that goal. Brenda was really happy with my progress this week, and I’ve successfully inserted the biggest dilator in my set a few times. After a moment, Nate slides on top of me, the muscles in his arms and abs tensing as he fights to control his movements. His expression is one of intense concentration, replaced by deep sensation, as he eases incrementally inside me. I concentrate on the feeling of my muscles releasing, waiting for the pain to come. Instead, our pelvises touch, and there we are, nose to nose. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Nate murmurs. I do a mental check and discover to my surprise: yes, I am.

“I can feel every muscle inside you moving,” he breathes in my ear. “This feels kind of incredible.” Later, he will clarify what I already knew: that he didn’t just mean physically. That every twitch and jump, every deep breath, meant something to him because he knew how much it had cost me. Now, he kisses me again, and we stay like that for a while, him touching me where no one has touched me before.

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