If you missed the introduction to Melissa Jones of the Sexology Institute and Boutique, you can find it here.
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About thirty percent of Jones' clients experience painful sex. All women? I asked. Single? Couples?
Usually clients experiencing painful sex are women, but occasionally men with a history of prostate or testicular problems might have pain issues as well. About half of the women experiencing painful sex she sees come alone - either because they are single, or because they want support alone, without their partners with them.
The causes are varied; some women have vulvodynia or another gynecological diagnosis and are experiencing pain throughout the day, others only experience pain with sex. Pain only with sex may be due to a particular health issue, or it could be a simple lack of arousal and lubrication; it is common for menopausal women to experience pain because hormonal changes have made it harder for them to lubricate properly. Some women have mild pain, but Jones has also had clients with severe, debilitating pain.
"I think more people have painful sex than we realize," says Jones. "It's just that we don't talk about it."
Jones has a variety of health professionals in her network to refer these clients to, to make sure that they get appropriate medical treatment. But doctors can't help with building or re-building a fulfilling sex life, and that where Jones steps in.
In a case where the woman is partnered, she said that it is common for her partner to feel incredibly frustrated and powerless to help the woman they love. With one partner in pain and the other feeling powerless and disappointed, there can be a host of communication issues. The woman in pain may start to shrug away from hugs, for instance, fearing that any touch will lead to painful intercourse.
The first step Jones may take with such clients is to take intercourse off the table so the couple can reclaim their trust and intimacy. Without fear of pain, they can snuggle naked while watching a movie, and go back to hugging, kissing, and hand-holding. This builds to further exploration - how can we enjoy each other without pain? They can proceed to learn all sorts of ways to pleasure each other that don't involve creating pain. This way they can maintain pleasure and intimacy through what can be a stressful medical process and beyond.
Interestingly enough, the work Jones does with couples who do not have pain with sex is similar.
"There's a difference between having sex and making love," she says. Sex lives tend to wane under the pressures of modern-day life, and are reduced to brief mechanical interactions. The cure here, as with v pain, is to re-establish connection and pleasure. An important part of this is setting aside time, turning off phones and laptops, locking the door, and giving partners the gift of 100% of their lover's attention.
Jones observes that women with and without v pain again face a similar challenge with sex: they often tolerate something they don't enjoy in order to make their partner happy, or to avoid being or being perceived as critical. While women supposedly do this for the benefit of their partners, Jones notes that in the long term it does neither partner any good. Men can tell when women fake pleasure, and over time the gnawing sense that they are not "doing it right" eats away at their own self esteem and sexual confidence.
The solution is for people to learn how to communicate honestly from the get-go. Yes, that means learning how to deal with the discomfort of speaking up for yourself despite (and because of) your vulnerability.
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I have seen so many women within the v pain community get the idea in their head that they are broken and unloveable, especially our sisters who have undergone a divorce or break up in part due to v pain. I found it very heartening to hear from Jones that while her v pain clients may have additional medical things to deal with, in her office they learn the same skills everybody else does: how to slow down, communicate, and connect.
V pain or no, many couples struggle to create and maintain a fulfilling and healthy sex life.
That makes a lot of sense given how little quality information we have available about sexuality, no?
The takeaway? If you think that you are broken and unloveable due to v pain, or have been dumped due to v pain, try this on for size: "I live in a society with limited access to high quality sex ed. Our relationship fell apart not because I have v pain but because we couldn't find good communication tools and excellent sex ed fast enough." or "I'm struggling not because of my v pain, but because I live in a society where sex ed and communication tools are not widely available, and I still need to find and learn about them."
In short: Ladies with v pain, you can totally pleasure a partner and be pleasured in return! Your lack of skill in this department has very little to do with you as an individual and a lot to do with the society you grew up in.
Time to shake off those shame-shackles and get yourself the knowledge you need to thrive!
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"But wait! Not all women suffering from v pain are in relationships!" you say. I hear ya. We'll talk about how Jones works with single women in the next post. See you then!
PS Wanna talk? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments below!