Relationships

“We Talked to Hundreds of People About Sex, and Two Things Struck Us”

Every Body sex book by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg

Shaina Feinberg and Julia Rothman — friends and collaborators with a bimonthly illustrated column in the New York Times — just published a book called Every Body. “It’s a book about sex, and bodies and being human!” they say. Here are two things they noticed…


Every Body sex book by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg

To make this book, we collected hundreds of stories from people — on a website we built and on the street. Yes, we hit the streets with a giant sign that said, “TELL US YOUR ANONYMOUS SEX STORIES.”

Every Body sex book by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg

This was before Covid, of course. It was incredible how many people shared with us. As we gathered stories, two things struck us:

Every Body sex book by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg

When we sat with people on benches in parks and recorded what they said, we didn’t offer advice. We just listened. Here’s what they said.

Every Body sex book by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg

“A few years ago, after a long dry spell, I started dating a new guy. And sex was painful. I kept hoping it would get better — that maybe I just had to get more comfortable with him, or that it was all in my head. But it didn’t. After we broke up, I went to the gynecologist, but she said everything looked normal. I thought I would be doomed forever, that I would never be able to make a relationship work.

A while later, listening to a podcast, the narrator started talking about pelvic-floor-muscle problems. After doing some research, I made an appointment with a physical therapist. Basically, my pelvic-floor muscles were tensed up, and she put her fingers inside me and pressed on the different muscles to help them relax. My homework was to get a set of vaginal dilators of increasing sizes. A few times a week, I had to insert one and leave it in for 10 minutes while doing deep-breathing exercises. As the therapy progressed, I moved up one size every few weeks. And when I finally started dating someone new, it had worked: sex was no longer uncomfortable.

It’s upsetting that a highly recommended gynecologist didn’t know about this. That if I hadn’t randomly heard about it, I might have gone my whole life with this problem.”

Every Body sex book by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg

“Suddenly, I was in my thirties and still hadn’t had sex, and it was something I didn’t discuss even with my closest friends. Finally, I met a great guy at 34. He barely blinked when I told him it would be my first time… and then we discovered I had vaginismus. So, if he got remotely near my vulva with any part of himself, everything would clench up tighter than, I don’t know — what’s the analogy? — Thor’s fist. (Does Thor punch people?) Early attempts at penetration were extremely painful. It took months until we were able to have sex successfully. That lasted a year and a half. It was great! It makes me wonder how common this is.”

“Through therapy, I’ve been able to get to the point where if I’m on an app for dating, I can have my preferences set to only ‘Women’ without feeling that sense of fear and panic. I told my friends and my mom that I might start dating women — but I still haven’t. Due to my lack of experience, I often don’t feel queer enough to say I’m queer, and I’m still learning what being queer can mean.

After having mostly terrible sex with men, and after being assaulted by a man, I want my first time having sex with a woman to be special. But the fear of ‘What if it isn’t any different?’ has kept me from making any moves.”

Every Body sex book by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg

“I’m 28, dating guys I meet online, and every time a guy tries to kiss me and I decline, I say, ‘It’s been a long time.’ Actually, it’s been no time; I’m a kissing virgin and a virgin-virgin. I’m just now getting all my 17-year-old firsts in: hand-holding, cuddling, masturbation. I grew up Catholic, and I always blamed it on that. But that’s not quite it. Something in my body feels excruciatingly vulnerable when it comes to being physical with another person, and I’m still not sure what that’s about.”

Every Body sex book by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg

“I am turning 42 this year, and through a mixture of choice and circumstance I have never had a sustained intimate sexual relationship with another person. And yet with genuine honesty, I feel pretty great about my life. I have dozens of beautifully fulfilling relationships, a loving and supportive family, and lots of time to pursue multiple passion projects and create positive contributions to the world. Plus, I can give myself a sparkling orgasm in the time it takes to hit the snooze button in the morning and wait for the next alarm to ring.”

Every Body sex book by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg

When Shaina wrote about her miscarriage last year for this site, it felt empowering to share something so personal, something that has so much shame associated with it. Talking about it freely felt like breaking the rules in the most awesome way. It also made her feel less alone. And that’s exactly why we made this book — so that people would feel less alone. We hope reading these little stories will help you feel like you can talk about whatever it is you and your body are going through.

xo Shaina and Julia


Find the book here, if you’d like to read more.

P.S. “I didn’t have sex for the first two years of marriage,” and who initiates sex in your relationship?

(Illustrations by Julia Rothman.)

  1. Alexandra says...

    This is great, thank you. If pelvic PT doesn’t help and your hormones are balanced look into vestibulitis— a vestibulectomy helped me so much. X

  2. LD says...

    Yup, I tick all the boxes:
    ✅ a “virgin” until I was 31 (but honestly, I hate that label because he prioritizes PIV sex over all other types of sexual intimacy). This was Dec 2019.
    ✅ realizing the pain I was experiencing was not normal, voiced it to my bf at the time who totally diminished my pain and said “you just don’t have a high enough sex drive”
    ✅ went to my gyno who said to have a glass of wine and relax
    ✅ fast forward to Oct 2020. In a new relationship with a kind man, started seeing a pelvic floor PT, pain has been greatly reduced.

    For anyone going *through it,* it won’t feel this awful forever, it will get better ♥️

  3. Audra says...

    This is such a great post, and the comments make me feel less alone! I started having vaginal pain in my mid twenties, and was misdiagnosed for almost a year with things like chronic yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. I finally saw a pelvic pain specialist (it was hard to find one near me). He diagnosed me with pudendal neuralgia, a pelvic nerve pain condition, put me on medication, and within a few weeks my pain was almost non-existent. Unfortunately, the meds make me gain weight and cause other side effects, but not having that pain is non-negotiable. I’m thankful that I can still have a healthy sex life with these treatments, but I worry about my condition worsening over time. I have to sit on a donut cushion at work to reduce pain flares, which is embarrassing. I’ve seen so many medical professionals, including the one who finally helped me, who just have a terrible bedside manner when it comes to women’s sexual pain. I had a panic attack in exam room after an invasive vaginal procedure, and the doctor told me I should have “warned him that might happen.” It’s so heartening to see the community of women here share their stories. We can learn from and support each other.

    • Tere says...

      Do you mind if I ask what medication you are on? I believe I have a similar problem, although it is so hard to get a correct diagnosis!

  4. K says...

    I’m 32 and I lost my ‘virginity’ to my at the time boyfriend when I was 18. It was painful and very bloody and I’ve never had sex full penetrative sex again. In my twenties it used to really bother me. I still felt like a virgin, and it was a source of constant anxiety. I was always worried that if I did have another relationship that they would know that I was inexperienced and I wouldn’t know what to do.
    In my late twenties I came to the realisation that I was queer and for me that calmed a lot of my anxieties. I’ve never had sex with a woman either, but I feel so much surer in myself now.
    Reading everyone elses experiences has really helped me understand that we are all living with our own worries, and that lack of sexual experience is so much more common than I realised.

  5. Long hair don't care. says...

    For starters, I am so glad I came across this book. I feel a lot better knowing I am not the only woman in the world with an uneventful sex life. Do not get me wrong. I am no virgin but it as been 4 long years. I am 26 and my sex life is currently nonexistent. To be tottally honest It has a lot to with what I chose as a profession. I have been a stripper for 5 years now and after 2 failed relationships I figured it was impossible to find a man who wasn’t judgmental of my hustle. I figured no man would respect a woman who dances and being that I only enjoy sex when I am emotionally invested I decided to shut the door of the dating entirely. Telling myself, “I’ll start dating when I stop dancing”. I got comfortable being alone and minding my business. My reclusive behavior isolated me into a pit of loneliness. Will I ever have a family? I’d like to date but where do I even start? I am now embarking on a new journey. Hanging up the heals and picking up my scrubs. Hopefully on this path to my BSN I find the love of my life, have great connection and make beautiful children live happily ever after. Wish me luck y’all!

    • Corina says...

      I wish you a life that fulfils you on all levels and good luck on the new path that you’ve chosen! Also, your past is part of you, but it is not you, so don’t let anyone tell you something different!

    • Megan says...

      Good luck!! You can do it!

    • Rags says...

      There are guys out there that truly don’t care what your hustle is. At your age, I suppose it may be a bit harder to believe, but if a guy is judging how you make your money, he is viewing you through the lens of his insecurity and he would be judging how he might perceived. A truly secure man doesn’t let others dictate who or what he chooses. Unfortunately, that makes things harder for you because it means being willing to accept that those boys are going to be more common than one would like, and reminding yourself that the problem is theirs, not yours. But hopefully they’ll grow up.

      Don’t let that change you though. If you own who you are, and are walking your authentic path… Then enjoy it and share it with whoever is willing to share that path with you for however long they are willing to be with you. Don’t shortchange yourself for the immaturity and insecurities of others. None of us are meant to be alone and all deserve to be loved..

  6. Anonymous Vagina-Haver says...

    Thank you for posting this! I also discovered that pelvic pain isn’t just a given through a podcast (Ladies, we need to talk). I was a virgin until I got married in my early 30s, but I was pretty comfortable with my body, educated myself thoroughly, and felt like I had a balanced set of expectations. But I’d also absorbed some toxic messages from my religious tradition, where so many of the women I talked to before marriage emphasized how painful sex would be (including someone giving us marriage counseling!). This emphasis on painful sex=normal (especially for a virgin) meant that I endured excruciating sex and bleeding (even with wine, lube, foreplay, etc…it didn’t matter) for most of the first year of marriage before mentioning it to my doctor. I thought I just needed to “work through it.”

    Turns out my pelvic floor is super tight, the muscles around my vaginal opening are tight, and trying to grit my teeth through the pain was actually compounding the problem (my muscles only spasm more when there’s pain). My gynecologist calmly explained to me that when you first have sex pain for a couple of days is normal, but pain for months is not. My mind was blown! Same deal when my doctor switched me to a smaller speculum after I told her it hurt. Suddenly the exam didn’t feel like I was being torn apart—every exam prior I thought I was experiencing an expected level of pain!

    I’m still doing pelvic floor PT and dilators, and since my muscles are strong and resistant the next step may be botox. But all along the way my doctors have reinforced that 1. sometimes bodies are just this way even without trauma 2. it’s a real physical problem and not “all in my head,” and 3. there are things we can do to bring relief, even if they take time. I feel really lucky to have found practitioners who took it seriously!

    • Amelia says...

      I am so happy you have found what you need. A of my friend of husband’s has a practice called Women In Motion Physical Therapy and while she may not be in your area I highly recommend her website and her Instagram page. She is SO NICE and very informative. She’s amazing. I’ve learned a lot from her just online. https://www.womeninmotionpt.com/
      :)

  7. Laura says...

    I could cry. In my early twenties I saw several doctors and urologists for painful sex and UTI-like symptoms. I had so many misdiagnosis, rounds of unnecessary antibiotics and even a (male) urologist telling me it was “all in my head.” It wasn’t until I stumbled upon “pudendal neuralgia” in a google search that I found a compassionate urologist in San Francisco (Jerome Weiss) who made it his life’s work to treat this illness (in both women and men!) and increase awareness of it in the medical community. When I was pregnant he wrote a letter to my OB and included research papers to inform him of the condition. Thank you COJ for brining this to your readers! Awareness is power!

    • WK says...

      Same! I had chronic UTIs for as long as I could remember. If one more doctor asked me if I was peeing after sex I thought I was going to scream! I had been to urologists and gynecologists and they would always say the same thing. A doctor even prescribed that I take a low-dose antibiotic every time I had sex. Finally, at 28 I switched gynecologist after getting a new job and new health insurance. I was on the verge of tears in her office with my second UTI that month and yeast infection because of all the antibiotics. I couldn’t have sex with my new boyfriend (who I’m now married to) because I was in so much pain. She asked if I’ve ever been diagnosed with pelvic floor dysfunction and I’d never even heard of that. Pelvic floor therapy has been life-changing!

  8. Anon for this says...

    What a great post! Thanks! One thing that really surprised me about sex is how huge of an impact getting pregnant and then breastfeeding had on how it felt. Like, for a full year after birth, it was *dry* down there. Like, Sahara desert dry. Sex was super uncomfortable. I went to the gynecologist and she said my cervix looked “red and raw” and recommended lots of lube, which honestly only helped a little. Then, right around a year, a switch turned on and my estrogen came back. I’m pregnant again and this time I’m going to be a little more proactive to try to find someone who can prescribe something helpful (estrogen cream, maybe?). Also, I’ve found that with the added pressure of the pelvic floor of being pregnant, things that used to feel good now just feel like being poked and prodded. Not enjoyable. It’s a constant journey trying to figure out what feels good and how to communicate that to my husband without giving him any feelings of guilt or anxiety.

  9. Alexandra says...

    I’ve been reading “Come As You Are” by Dr. Emily Nagoski and I cannot recommend it enough!! I have struggled with various things getting in the way of enjoying sex (pain, sexual trauma, etc.) but this book makes me feel so informed and empowered. I’ve already decided I’m buying it for everyone I know this year :)

    Here’s a quote from the book that I underlined:
    “You were born entitled to all the pleasure your body can feel… Your pleasure belongs to you, to share or keep as you choose, to explore or not as you choose, to embrace or avoid as you choose.”

    • Thanks! This is so helpful. ♥️

    • Liz says...

      I love this. Does it strike anyone else as discordant that we are encouraged to seek treatment to override our bodies’ painful rejection of intercourse? Because it’s what a man wants? There are other ways to connect and have pleasure, and pain doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Work on it if you want to, but your body is yours and you are not less-than for not enjoying penetration.

  10. A says...

    The timing of this is perhaps a sign? I had an in-person doctor’s appointment scheduled this morning for this very reason, but cancelled it out of fear.

    I am newly 34-years-old and any attempts I’ve made at penetrative sex (years and years ago, with my last boyfriend) were unsuccessful because of the pain. Pap smears are extremely painful and I’ve only had one for that reason. I do wear tampons but it can be uncomfortable inserting them. I remember seeing a kind gynecologist in my 20s post-breakup who said that anatomically, I am fine, and she also asked if I have a history of sexual abuse (no). Her intentions were good but she never gave me more information. This has led to YEARS of anxiety, shame, and avoiding relationships and intimacy. Because I’m in my mid-30s, I have questioned whether I’ll ever be able to have a happy relationship or children. And because my family and friends don’t openly discuss these topics, I have been alone with this for years.

    I am so relieved to hear that so many other women have experienced this, and that it’s treatable. I’ve just gone ahead and scheduled a call with a doctor this afternoon. Wish me luck.

    • jane says...

      It is amazing to me that it is 2021 and we live in a first world country yet the average gyno has no clue about what sounds like basic mechanics. Are there any gynocologists in the comments who care to comment? I mean, what is the excuse for this kind of neglect?

    • S says...

      I’m 45 and just finally saw a PT for my pelvic floor issues. It’s not nearly as awkward as you imagine it’s going to be. Good luck!

  11. Anonymous says...

    I believe I’m not unique when I say that I have been so many people when it comes to sex: in pleasure and discomfort, desire and apathy; creativity, liberation and prudish reservation. I have been so many bodies: high round breasts and taut stomach to the baggy, saggy, almighty giver of life; (to the failure of losing a life, for that matter). Amidst good health have been UTIs and pelvic floor weakness. A body beholden to it’s physically-emotionally disruptive monthly cycle, and one who almost forgot what a period was like from a stretch of baby-making and breastfeeding. I have explored sexuality in first love, mature love, self love, not-love edification, holy matrimony, in dreams and in therapy. I’ve felt confidence and I’ve felt shame, perhaps for right and wrong reasons each. I’ve confided and celebrated, and withheld secrets. I’ve had a few #metoos. What I am getting at, I’m not sure…is this my sex story? Maybe. Except, I find that this project appeals because inside each of us is a full collection of stories about sex and humanity, and so much relatability can be found simply in the diversity of its compilation.

    • E says...

      Beautifully written

    • ER says...

      This was astonishing to read. Thank you.

    • This reads as an essay, desperate to expand into a memoir. It’s beautiful. ♥️

    • Annie says...

      Not only is this excellent writing, but also a good reminder to be aware of the story you tell yourself about yourself- we can give ourselves freedom to have a multitude of experiences and phases throughout our lives.

  12. J says...

    Thank you for this post!
    Does somebody know whether trans* people are included in this book? I am a cis woman and my partner is at the very vulnerable point pre-transition (transman) where his body still looks female – and some parts of that will stay with us for a long time. There is also a lot of shame connected with feeling “wrong” and “different” and like the only person on earth experiencing certain feelings/problems connected with sex. It’s not easy for both of us. We both never had any other partners and are in a long-term relationship (7 years this spring). We don’t really talk with friends about this, only very vague – none of them are queer and we were already very much not the norm when we were “two women in a relationship”. Would be happy about anyone who understands this!
    (Sorry for any mistakes, English is not my first language.)

  13. J says...

    SAME story here. I struggled with vaginismus for as long as I can remember (but didn’t learn that was the name for what I was experiencing until a few years ago). I had been on birth control pills for pretty much half my life – went on them at age 14 due to very painful cramps, acne, etc. I finally opened up to a new PCP, she spoke to a few colleagues, and then suggested I try going off the pill. I did last May. I was able to have painless sex with my boyfriend 3 months later. The first time in my life. It was clearly the pill. This side effect VERY MUCH needs to be talked about more. I feel like I missed out on a whole lot of fun but mostly I’m just relieved to have finally figured it out.

  14. Katie says...

    Reading all the comments, it made me wonder – what are the rare/untalked about concerns men have? Is pelvic floor imbalance a thing?

    • Angela says...

      ED and premature ejaculation?

  15. Katie says...

    I was about to turn 27 when I had sex for the first time. Now as a 32 year old I’ve still only been with a few people and often feel like I’m suuuuper inexperienced for someone my age and “will I ever be good at sex oh god what if the next guy who dates me thinks I’m a freak because I’ve never even been on top blah blah blah”. I think I’ve come to realize (especially through purposely abstaining from sex since 2017) that good sex for me is about being with someone I care about who cares for me too, and that’s always good enough! Anyways I am so glad this book exists and I want to read it!

    • Aga says...

      Thank you so much for writing this, your experience is mine experience.

  16. Calla says...

    Reading all these comments about women struggling for years with medical professionals and having to find out information from the internet or through the grapevine is so frustrating!

    I’m in biology (but not medicine) and it really seems like one of the problems is a lack of data. It seems like the field of women’s health could really be advanced if we just had some good prospective longitudinal studies focusing on all aspects of vaginal and reproductive health.

    Without that it seems like so often we are at the doctor’s office and they kind of throw their hands up. But the answer is out there! It’s just that no one is recording it.

    • Chloe says...

      There is a fantastic book about that lack of data about women’s health, needs, behaviours, etc. (because men are deemed “universal”, and women “niche”) and the dramatic consequences for women and society in general, called Invisible Women from British author Caroline Pérez Criado.

  17. Katie says...

    I could have written the first story word for word after the birth of my first child. No fun, at all. Luckily things were much smoother after my second.

    Ladies, get thee to a pelvic floor PT, stat! And if you’re in the Bay Area, I cannot recommend Liz Miracle highly enough.

  18. LouLou says...

    I am so thankful for this community and its ability to bring so many hard-to-disclose topics to the light. Since we are sharing here, I wonder if any women are married or in LTRs with a man who is experiencing erectile disfunction? My husband and I often go months without sex which leads to fights or just a general feeling of estrangement. But the real problem, I’ve found, is not so much a lack of desire on either part, but that when we do try to have sex my husband simply can’t deliver any longer. We have been married for 17 years and this was not a problem at first, but became one over the years.. Even though he is full of desire—he becomes soft and then anxious and ashamed about it. I’ve tried everything you could imagine, from being open to him about non-penetrative sex to giving him the number to a urologist to asking about Viagra. He refuses to see a doctor about it, though, and I am afraid to push the matter any further for fear of making it worse. I don’t mean to hijack a thread meant for discussing women’s bodies with a question about my husband’s equipment, but if anyone has experienced this and has any advice I would be so grateful. I am afraid anymore to initiate sex for fear that he won’t be able to “deliver” and that we’ll both wind up feeling sad about it.

    • Marnie says...

      Hi Loulou, this sounds really hard. It is important that he see a doctor for a general check up (and he has to tell the doc about the ED!) because it can be the first sign of cardiovascular disease. Acting now could get him the treatment he needs to prevent heart attacks or strokes. Maybe knowing this could nudge him to seek treatment? Good luck!

    • Sam says...

      Hi Loulou,

      I hear you and I also happen to be stuck in the same predicament. My long time partner and I have not been engaging in any regular physical activity for a while now and our last one was 6 months ago (and counting). He’s still in his 40s, in great shape and handsome but this is something we have constantly argued over. Like you I’ve also urged him to see a doctor, or look in to alternative types of treatment but he refuses or isn’t interested. During our arguments he tells me sex isn’t all there is to a relationship and turns it around saying one day it could happen to me and that I should be empathetic. So now I don’t ask for sex anymore because I don’t want to start another argument. I know we always have the option to self masturbation which I do, but it’s not the same as having physical intimacy with your partner. I do love him very much and I’m not sure what to do either.

    • G says...

      You’re not alone. My situation is different in that erectile disfunction has been present since the beginning of our relationship over a decade ago. It was initially hit-or-miss, but as he’s gotten older, it now happens almost every time. Over the years, we’ve found that when my husband gets soft during penetrative sex, I am usually able to get him hard again with oral sex. Typically, I’ll continue the oral sex until he is close, at which point, we move back to penetrative sex. But, it’s taken many open and honest conversations about the anxiety and shame that my husband also feels to get to where we are. In case you haven’t already tried these, one suggestion is initiating non-sex intimacy and letting him know your expectations beforehand with something like “I really want to make out with you”. Another is letting him know when the conversation does come up, in whatever way works in your relationship, that you’re on the same team. It’s taken time, but I now often say something like “no, no, no, we are not giving up on you” when it happens.

    • M says...

      I am experiencing this with my husband who is in his late 50’s. I don’t have any advice but best of luck to you, you’re not alone!

    • LouLou says...

      Thank you so much, Marnie and Sam, for your replies. I agree completely, Marnie, that is is important for his health to rule out other problems. Perhaps reframing it as a health concern rather than a “sex” concern would encourage him to go.

      Sam; I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you shared your experience. It helps somehow, just to hear from another woman coping with the same thing. I’m sorry that your partner doesn’t seem interested or open to getting to the bottom of it either. Hang in there, and know you are not alone!

    • R says...

      My experience is very different since my husband was willing to seek help.
      But no one talks about this, so sharing just to have more info on the topic. My husband experienced ED when he was in his early 40s and we had been married and having good sex for ten years. He had a thorough check up and all seemed fine. He could get an erection but couldn’t maintain it. He tried viagra and it had side effects, but now has cialis. But he still had issues related to performance anxiety. So he went to a sex therapist that his doctor recommended. He saw her mostly by himself (it was all talking no touching!), and I went to a couple sessions so we could have a moderator to guide us through some conversations. It really helped! Ten years later, he is now experiencing it again. It is so frustrating! But we are working on it together using things we learned, and things are already improving. I found that the more frustrated I got, the more anxiety he had and the worse it all became. So then we would avoid sex, which made it even worse! We tried a lot of different things suggested by the therapist to see what worked for us–prioritizing time together (so helpful), non-physical contact that isn’t meant to lead to sex (we had grown apart and had almost no physical contact, so holding hands and hugging helped re-start our connection), foreplay with expectation of no sex (keep your underwear on and do everything but. It helped us figure out what we each liked and took off the pressure to perform. It got quite hot tbh), role playing (uh, no), sex every day for a month (too much pressure! But every other day worked and really helped us push through “bad” sex), vibrator, dildo, being REALLY honest with what we each likes. He read She Comes First. He was already well versed in cunnilingus, but is a great resource if your partner isn’t. I’m sorry he won’t get help. That must be really hard. My husband was beyond embarrassed, but he feels strongly that sex is an integral part of our marriage (he has a higher sex drive than me so he was motivated to find a solution). He was pleasantly surprised that his doctor assured him that he had tons of patients with the issue and a lot of it is just getting older. The doc even confided that he took meds for it. I wish you luck in finding a resolution!

    • LouLou says...

      Thank you so much for your solidarity, M, and for sharing your journeys, G and R. They give me hope! I honestly feel teary from your candor and support. Thank you, thank you!!

  19. Jenny says...

    Anyone else feel like they’ve had to educate their boyfriends on how a woman’s body works? I have PCOS (was diagnosed at 13, I’m now 34). I feel like every man I’ve been with has been truly surprised to learn that a lot of women live with an array of complications – pcos, endo, vaginismus, etc etc etc. And that birth control often does more harm than good. When I was younger, I was definitely gaslighted by men to think it’s “all in my head” or that I just need to “relax”. But in reality, I have a chronic disease that does not make me “high maintenance”. I wish I didn’t have to always be the one to point this out.

    • berri says...

      “I was definitely gaslighted by men to think it’s “all in my head” or that I just need to “relax””

      As if they could possibly even know . . . 😂. The power women give to men as “authority’s” has just got to stop.
      And you don’t have to point it out – any man you’re with who doesn’t immediately accept you as you are is simply beneath you and you should move on to a better man.

    • Kirsten says...

      Is this not everyone? I’m regularly astounded by how little men *really* know about women’s bodies! The other day I showed my feminist, PHYSICIAN husband a funny tiktok about a teen explaining to her boyfriend how menstrual pads work. He laughed, thought for a second, and then asked me, “but where do tampons go, exactly – do they go into your cervix?” I was flabbergasted. THE MAN IS A DOCTOR!!?! I mean, if he had thought a few seconds longer I’m sure he would have come up with the answer, but non-menstruating humans have such little facility with this stuff! I have little kids, one who is a boy, and I make it a point to talk about my body stuff all the time. I refuse to raise a man who doesn’t know how a tampon really works.

    • Meg.F says...

      YES!!! I have an ongoing discussion with so many friends about this.

      Society is doing such a disservice to people all around the world who have sex by portraying it in the media in such a narrow way.

    • Iaia says...

      I have 2 kids, a boy and a girl. They are 10 and 12. We are reading together a book called: “Will Puberty last my whole life?” (“This flip book for boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 12 has questions asked by girls in one half of the book; flip it over and questions asked by boys are on the other side. Contains honest, informative, and reassuring answers to questions pre-adolescents have.”)
      My kids have been so interested. We read a chapter on one side, flip the book and read the corresponding chapter on the other side. It is clear, very adequate for their age and I am so happy to see their interest in what happens in kids with different sex gender or orientations than theirs.

  20. Lauren B. says...

    I will never forget the phone consultation with my pelvic therapist when she described vaginismus. I burst into tears because I had been endlessly googling (and hinting with friends) for months and had no answers. I FINALLY knew what my problem was.

    Through (LOTS) of therapy and patience from my sweet, sweet husband, we finally got pregnant and had a baby! I was so nervous that it would be like starting from the beginning again after giving birth – but it is better than ever.

  21. Ash says...

    I’m 32 and a virgin. I’m not religious, which always felt like it would be a nice excuse to have. I have always been overweight and although I know fat women who are in wonderful relationships or who are just out there having lots of great sex, it’s been hard for me to get over my insecurities enough to put myself out there.

    For years I was fine with that but at some point in my late twenties my friends stopped talking to me about the intimate parts of their relationships. I don’t talk openly about my virginity, although I’m sure my long-term friends are aware, but it bothers me that my lack of sexual experience has isolated me in some ways. Sometimes I want to yell, “I don’t need to have sex to listen to you talk about your sex life!” I masturbate, I get turned on, I read about sex in blogs and articles. Maybe if I was more open they would be too, but bringing up your late in life virginity (when I know virginity is a bullshit concept) never seems like a great topic of conversation for anyone but me, my therapist, and a future partner.

    This post is a real comfort because sometimes it’s just nice to know other 30 something virgins are out there navigating the world.

    • amy says...

      What if you invited them all – virtually – for tea/wine for a “virginity roundtable” where you talk about it right up front and told them how you feel about it? Then they could support you and maybe even help find the perfect “ice breaker” match for you. Instead of waiting just take the bull by the, um. . . horn. hehe

    • Eve says...

      This sounds like my situation exactly and it’s comforting to know I am not alone. Hopefully it’s also a little comforting to hear it mirrored back to you.

    • Michaela says...

      If it’s any comfort I’m not discuss sex lives with my girlfriends — but not because of virginity, just because as we’ve settled into more long term partnerships it feels more intimate (we’re all close with each other’s partners so it’s their sex life too). Just to say it may not be you and may just be this stage of life.

    • J says...

      I’m in the exact same situation as well. 32, non-religious, and it just hasn’t been a thing in my life yet. I never discuss it with anyone other than my therapist, because of a weird sense of shame. I wonder if anyone else in this situation would be up for some sort of virtual group chat/meet up? Might be nice to finally have a safe space to discuss our experiences with people who understand? Kind of like Amy’s suggestion but with… strangers on the internet?!

    • Andy says...

      I’m 31 and haven’t had sex yet either. Although I grew up religious I haven’t had restrictive views around sex for years, and even though it would be easier if I had stayed religious it often feels like I got off the boat too late, even though I am more or less happy with my solo sex life. A chat group being able to talk with people online about this sounds so great!

  22. A says...

    Thank you for making me feel less alone! I have been having vaginismus pretty consistently for the past two years or so. For me, it stems from struggling with infertility. My husband and I have been trying for our first for three years, and a combination of painful tests, constant invasive exams (hello vaginal ultrasound!) and mentally linking sex to grief and failure. All of it has taken a toll on our relationship. Reading this makes me want to pursue help, so thank you. PS: I actually first learned the name for this from Sex Education on Netflix – highly recommend! :)

  23. T says...

    Such an interesting post. I’ve learned a lot from the comments, too.
    I have to say, the illustrations for this post and the book are Amazing! So fluid, sensual, and encompassing of a range of human shape and form. Gorgeous!

  24. Kris says...

    Yet another reason why I love CoJ. I also experience pelvic pain during penetrative intercourse and these tips are really helpful (and it’s reassuring to know there are others of you out there). In my case, I’ve been sexually active for 19 years, with the same man for the past 10, but never experienced this type of pain until a few years ago. I’m now piecing the puzzle together: I started feeling sexual anxiety and vaginal tightening in December 2016 after Hillary lost the election. :/ Anyone else out there whose sex life was impacted as they struggled with what it truly means to be a woman in American society? Asking for a friend. ;)

    • jules says...

      Similar, though for me it was after an emotionally abusive relationship. Did the same PT this woman did and had a sudden flash of recognition that I’d put a mental chastity belt on myself. I felt the “stretch it out” method was BS considering a lot of it is old baggage from sexual trauma. You can tell me to buy a bunch of dildos but not suggest a great counselor or somatic therapist. just my POV.

    • Hannah says...

      Right now! The disruption happening in our government and society has been plaguing my thoughts during sex, making it less enjoyable and harder to get to climax. Has been happening about 3 weeks now. This is the first time I’ve noticed/correlated the two, but I suppose it is the season of ‘unprecedented’ everything…

  25. K says...

    This happened to me a couple of years ago! It sucks! I’m so sorry! BUT! After seeing a midwife and reading about vaginal health I found out that Boric Acid suppositories as well as Tea Tree Oil suppositories and PLAIN yogurt as a frozen suppository (stick it in the tampon holder and freeze then use overnight) and a probiotic with L Rhamnosus. Her info changed my life and kept me from having to have multiple rounds of antibiotics. Obviously I am not a doctor, so please look up for yourself, but I do hope this helps. Also, as the other commenter mentioned- lowering sugar and taking probiotics as well did help.

  26. I love books like this! “The Sex Myth” also does a great job of normalizing… each experience. It makes you feel like you’re not as weird as you thought you might be. You’re not alone in your experiences!!

  27. C says...

    A lot of people are commenting on here about growing up in a household that didn’t discuss sex and sexuality or the messages they got related to sex were all about being ashamed. I had the same experience and now, as a mom, I’m struggling with how to do it differently. I would love a post about sex-positive parenting for different aged children.

    • .S. says...

      Just wanted to echo what Emily said in a comment below about leaving books out for kids to read/discover on their own! I was really lucky to grow up in a sex positive/body positive household, and one of the things my mom did really well was balance having open discussions (which helped us feel comfortable asking questions) with having age-appropriate books that were just around the house/accessible to my sister and I.

      Another thing I picked up from my mom was to answer the question that’s being asked. It sounds so simple, but as adults we have a tendency to overexplain/go on tangents (especially if we’re uncomfortable!) which can end up being confusing or overwhelming for the kid. She would always follow up with a few clarifying questions to make sure that we understood what she was saying, but she was really intentional about not overwhelming us with her answers. Of course every kid is different but it worked so well for my sister and I, so just wanted to put it out there in case it’s helpful for anyone else!

    • J says...

      Yes! and also about talking about healthy relationships, dating and consent with tween/teenagers. My parents were ’60s british, very straight-laced, and total hippies, a difficult combination :) There was zero conversation, guidance, advice or boundaries on dating, relationships, and sex. I was allowed to have a boyfriend at 13 and there were no consequences for staying out hours too late other than a quiet conversation about maybe I shouldn’t do that again. As a parent now I can only imagine how stressful I was for them, or maybe not?! I want to help my kids more than they helped me… or maybe figuring it out on my own was a help in that after a few fails I got pretty clear with what felt right for me and stuck to it.

    • A says...

      C, I grew up feeling uncomfortable talking about sex and promised myself i would not be the same with my kids. I decided I would answer any question they asked at any time (or properly commit to answering it when we could) in a very unemotional, factual way. I have found myself responding to questions about “what does sitting on someone’s face mean” while walking through the streets of Amsterdam, “what’s a 69” while making pancakes on Good Friday to suggesting the conversation on “what is an abortion” move from a dinner with lots of people to the next day. Thank goodness I did because in his (then) little boy brain he imagined women were deciding not to have babies when the child was born and the baby was killed. Glad I got to address all of them. Honestly speaking, I die a little inside as I am not great at speaking about it all, but now with two very comfortable, open boys (17 and 14), I am so thankful that I did!

    • Stephanie says...

      Yes! I know I’m trying hard to actively reduce the stigma around our bodies with my kids, but it’s not easy. I’m a big fan of Sex Positive Families, both the website and the instagram account. Melissa has already helped me navigate the “where do babies come from” conversation with confidence.

    • R says...

      What .S. said below! Leave out age appropriate books. I grew up in a VERY sex positive house. My mom was a Bradley teacher and we were there for her own home births, so I don’t remember ever not knowing how babies were made. My mom left out books and confessed when we were adults that she loved seeing when the various books she tucked in the bookshelf were being “borrowed.” She had the usual suspects, but also included art books that have pictures of nude models that you can use to practice drawing figures. They were great for seeing lots of different naked bodies in a non-sexual setting. Sometimes you’re just curious what they look like!

      And YES to answering the question asked. Especially when kids are young. Often, they are curious about one specific thing but don’t need further explanation. For example, my son asked as a 3 year old how he got out of my tummy. I explained it was through my vagina, and that was that and he didn’t ask anything again till he was older. With my tween and teen, I now push the envelope a bit more. I talk about traits of positive relationships, making sure that all people involved are consenting and enjoying themselves (including the women!), birth control, how sex is fun and normal, etc. We live in Texas after starting out in the Bay Area, and I refused to let me son attend the abstinence only assembly. I don’t want him to have negative associations with sex, and frankly I don’t agree that you should wait to have sex until after you’re married, and I told him that and why. I provide counter-information about sex regularly here (including why some people believe certain things and the politics behind what is taught and where). But I also talk about rap lyrics and why WAP was a big deal etc. I try to meet my kids on their level and make it relevant to them. And I have these conversations mostly in the car where they can’t leave the room to avoid them ! Another trick I learned from my mom :-)

  28. Susannah says...

    For people dealing with painful sex, a friend started this company: “Ohnut” a “revolutionary wearable that allows couples to explore comfortable penetration depths during sex”.

    https://ohnut.co/

    I made the same comment in the first coj post about pelvic floor stuff but it also seems relevant here :)

    • L says...

      The Ohnut has been a game changer! The company that makes it also just started an online ‘pelvic gym,’ like online pelvic floor education and exercises: https://www.pelvicgym.co/

  29. R says...

    I also struggled with pelvic pain for years – to the extent that sitting for over an hour was painful- and finally found wonderful PTs that explained everything (after the terrible experiences many of you also seemed to have of doctors recommending “a glass of wine to help you relax!” before sex) and helped me heal. For me, the main cause of all my pain was the birth control pills I had been taking since age 18. The day my boyfriend and I broke up, I stopped taking them, because I had started to do research about the link between low-estrogen birth control pills and pelvic pain. I wanted to see if that might be the cause for me, since even after intensive PT and other modalities I still had some issues. Three months later, with no other changes, the pain was completely gone and I learned (for the first time) how sex was supposed to be, finally realizing just how awful my experiences were before. For people experiencing pelvic pain who take birth control pills, I would highly recommend looking into whether the pills could be contributing to your pain and whether you might try another form of birth control. It seems to be the low estrogen ones that are the worst because you’re getting some exogenous estrogen, which halts natural production of estrogen, but the pill isn’t providing the amount that you need to keep your tissues healthy– leading to atrophy of vaginal tissue and lots of pain and other issues! Now I have the Mirena, which doesn’t cause the same issues.

    • Sally says...

      Thank you. I think you just changed my life

  30. K says...

    I have had recurring pelvic floor problems, which are somewhat connected to a ph problem (everything clamps up if my ph is off). I’ve spent years on and off with physical therapists and doctors and yeast tests. I’ve been lucky that in the past 13 years, there have been about half of those years with no issues, but I know now how they can come back for seemingly no reason. Right now, I’m fairly good. I have to use boric acid suppository every night though, which means I’m always waiting til the very last moment before sleep to not kill romantic possibilities with my husband. Thankfully, he’s been wonderful and supportive, but it has pained me so much that years of my life have had to be devoted to this ordeal. Thank you for this post. The worst part was the first years when doctors never mentioned pelvic pain and just acted like it was all in my head. Ugh. These issues need to be known.

    • SP says...

      I have the same challenge w/ ph and pelvic pain. Boric acid helps, but it’s also quite abrasive. Examining my diet and food intolerances has actually been the most helpful for me, and I’m starting to link certain foods to throwing off my ph. Also, the refrigerated probiotics by Jarrow called Femdophilus (not the unrefrigerated ones! you want the ones that come in 30 or 60 caps in a tiny jar) have been a game changer. My doc told me to take 3-6 a day until I started to feel better, and now I only take them when I sense its coming back. Best of luck. I empathize, as this has been going on for over a decade now for me, and it just sucks.

  31. E. P. says...

    I recently learned that I have been unconsciously tightening my pelvic muscles for years, as an anxiety-related reflex. I have severe pain in “sitting muscles” and have been diagnosed with levator ani syndrome, piriformis syndrome, dead-glute syndrome, etc. What I actually have is chronic pelvic muscle tension. When I first went to pelvic floor therapy (years ago), the therapist had me doing kegal exercises. She didn’t realize that my muscles are hypertonic (they are very tight and very weak) and would require a completely different course of treatment. For anyone else with chronic pelvic muscle tension, I recommend the Wise-Anderson Protocol. It’s a combination of meditation (I’m trying) and muscle massage. I use a vibrating wand, which can be used vaginally or rectally (not my favorite but sometimes necessary). Learning to relax those muscles is a slow process, but it’s getting better.

  32. Catherine says...

    These posts are one of the MANY reasons I love this blog. Growing up in a christian, suburban home, attending Catholic school for HR… Now, at 30, I look back and realize I knew nothing about sex, about consent, about kissing(!), about orgasms. I can’t remember my mother having an open conversation about sex or feelings or hormones or anything after the initial ‘this is where babies come from’ talk. Its through blog posts like this and finally talking openly with many people that I learned so much about myself, about my own weird feelings towards sex, about why I couldn’t orgasm during sex and how to change that. It took years of sex for me to finally buy a vibrator and start enjoying actual sex! Right now I’m pregnant with my second boy and, although its intimidating, I can’t wait to change that in my own home as they grow up. And especially if I have a girl one day – I want her to feel so supported because everyone’s experience is so unique. And everyone deserves to feel knowledgeable and capable regarding their own body.

  33. Jo says...

    Concur and I think this would be a really interesting and helpful COJ post–how do people handle mismatched sex drives, especially when things seem to go in and out of sync? Andrea’s comment that “so much seems tethered to this one aspect of us” feels so true to me–it can really feel like everything else can be humming along well but if one person wants more sex than the other, something is capital-W Wrong. I’ve really internalized the message that I should never have sex unless I want to (which I think is good and healthy!), but there’s a fine line between “I really don’t want to” and “I would love to just go to sleep but my partner wants to have sex and if I go along with it, I’ll end up enjoying it.”

    Echoing all the other comments thanking COJ for getting right in there and talking about the things we mostly only talk about in our own heads. This is my favorite place on the internet.

    • Jess says...

      OMG THIS!

      I was engaged for years to a guy who would constantly turn me down sexually. We had sex maybe once a month and I felt like I was going crazy, and I felt so much guilt about constantly pushing for sex. Growing up I’d been told that all men wanted sex all the time and you just went along with it (it was a very fundamentalist/religious upbringing).
      Eventually we had enough issues that the relationship failed and when I started dating my current husband we had sex ALL THE TIME. It was incredible for me to finally feel desired in the way I felt desire. Now we have kids which has slowed me down, but we still get a good 3-5 in a week ;)

    • E says...

      Yes, would love to hear more about this. My husband and I have vastly different sex drives — I would be happy to go months without, and he would like it at least once or more a week. I know neither of us is wrong (just different), but it’s lead to a lot of hard feelings — guilt on my part, and frustration/rejection on his. We’re not good about talking about it and even though it feels like it should just be one part of our nearly 15 year marriage, it seems to take on so much more. I would love to hear more from others in the same boat. One thing that’s so hard has been his belief that other couples have much more frequent sex and that we are an outlier. I don’t believe it’s true, and wish that the pervasive public narrative about frequency would allow for more variation.

    • D says...

      Yes! My husband and I are on totally different pages. I am fine with once a week and feel ashamed that I can’t fulfill his ideal amount. We met when I was 22 and a LOT more interested in sexy time. But fast forward 15 years and a medical diagnosis that requires daily medication that lowers my libido and makes me tired, I’m fulfilled just cuddling on the couch. But I know he is not. This has become the hardest part of our marriage. We are actually going to start therapy tomorrow because of it. I dread that this will tear us apart but at the same time, resent him for not understanding. Hearing that other people are going through this makes me feel so much less alone.

    • KAY says...

      I would also love to see a post like this!!

    • R says...

      Yes–I’d love a post on this!

    • jane says...

      This is a topic has Ester Perel written all over it – would be cool to hear her suggestions for some of these issues!

    • Anon says...

      Different pages here too. My partner of 12 years would have sex twice A DAY but I could go for at least a month without and not even realize it. I feel like I have to have sex when I don’t particularly want to (in hopes I’ll get i into it), or else we’d never have sex at all.
      Being shamed for sexual desire is one of my earliest memories, and I was shamed again when I lost my virginity as a teenager (my parents stopped talking to me for several days), and I still need to get help sorting that out too.
      I’ve always wanted to get married but every time I bring it up he says he doesn’t think he could handle being married to someone with such a mismatched sex drive. Yet he has continued to date me for a decade. There’s a lot of good in our relationship but sex is such a frustrating and painful topic.

    • E says...

      Yes, please, this! My husband can go months without having sex and I need it way more often. Despite multiple conversations, things have only minimally improved and I feel like I might go mad. I’m sure therapy is the answer but the pandemic makes everything more complicated. I would love to hear more perspectives on this!

    • Caroline says...

      The topic of mismatched sex drives would be so interesting to discuss!!

      I am 39, have been with my boyfriend for 14 years and our differing sex drives are a constant topic of discussion and arguments, and ultimately I worry this will be the thing that will break us up.
      We are great in every other way, we have a strong relationship and friendship, but the sex part has been a problem for years, because he wants it way more than me.

      I go along with it, but the thought of doing something for the foreseeable future that I don’t really want to do, just to accommodate his needs and keep the relationship going is staring to wear me down.
      But how do you tell your partner that you don’t desire him anymore?? So tricky.

      I am currently reading Esther Perel’s „Mating in Captivity“ which is brilliant and insightful, I hope it will give me some answers.

  34. A.M. says...

    Reading this post has been encouraging to me, so I wanted to share my experience in hopes that I can help someone else! Like one of the commenters here, I could never wear tampons and had a lot of shame about that. As a teen, I remember telling my mom: “I just don’t think there’s an opening there!” I had my first (attempted) gynecology exam in my late teens and when the (incredibly impatient) doctor attempted a pelvic exam, I was in so much pain she gave up in frustration. Again, more shame.

    Finally in my mid-20s I saw an incredibly kind and empowering gynecologist. She discovered I had been right all along, there really wasn’t an “opening”—for a tampon or anything else! I needed to have a minor surgery called a hymenectomy. Afterwards I had to use dilators for many months to train my pelvic muscles to relax. But it was worth it! Until this happened to me, I had never heard of a hymenectomy or vaginismus. Now I know it’s fairly common, nothing to be ashamed about, and there’s help.

    • M says...

      Golly, I’ve never commented here before but I had to express my appreciation for your post. I also had a hymenectomy. I hadn’t known anybody else to have gone through this and your story is so very similar to my own! When I was a teenager, my mother would coach me from the other side of the bathroom door while I tried to insert a tampon – it was impossible and I remember marveling at the high pain tolerance of the tampon-wearing set (ha). My first trip to the gynecologist at 19 was likewise fraught; he exasperatedly sent me on my tearful way after trying unsuccessfully to insert a pediatric speculum. The whole episode was pretty mortifying, physically excruciating and deeply confusing. I thought that my first time having sex would be all searing pain and then I’d be normal and could wear tampons and have pelvic exams and la la la. Then, in my late 20s, I had to have an operation to remove a kidney stone. After the surgery, the urologist informed me that I had a birth defect and my hymen would need to be surgically removed. It was like a thick wall of flesh with a tiny perforation. I thought my difficult periods were normal (doesn’t everybody complain about them?). The gynecologist who performed my hymenectomy was lovely. He said the condition is pretty rare and that may account for the previous gynecologist not properly diagnosing me. Anyway, I’ve actually never heard/read any other woman discuss the issue. It would have spared me a lot of discomfort if I had any sort of real knowledge of how a normal hymen functions. This was all rather recent and I’m still dealing with some of the effects post-surgery (I’m struggling with the vaginismus), but I am cautiously hopeful it will get better!

    • A.M. says...

      Just chiming in again to respond to M’s post :) I was so glad to read your comment. While I have shared my experience with close friends (including my husband) and I know others who deal with vaginismus, I’ve never actually met someone else who had a hymenectomy. Our stories are very similar. It truly does get better! It took many months of healing and dilators, longer than I would’ve wanted, but today I no longer deal with vaginismus.

  35. Tovah says...

    I’m wondering if the podcast she mentions is the episode of “Bodies” called “Sex Hurts.” I listened to this last year and it was truly astonishing to me! It’s about vaginismus, the pill, and the medical field’s lack of studying and understanding (and probably more; I haven’t listened in awhile). Highly recommend it!

  36. Emily says...

    As someone who only just accepted my own (queer) sexuality at 31, I SO relate to the vignette about not feeling “queer enough.” I haven’t started dating women yet, although I’m looking forward to it, because of COVID and also my own fears that I don’t fit into the queer/lesbian narrative after living as a “straight” woman for so long. Thank you, COJ, for bringing this to my attention because it made my experience feel more normal.

    • Mary says...

      I also really related to that experience! I’m only 22 but I’ve been in a hetero relationship for years. I’ve recently become more comfortable with my queerness and started to lean into it (as much as one can while still in a relationship), but I’m so nervous to start dating/sleeping with women. Still not feeling “queer enough” but hoping that will change! I’m determined to date a woman next!

    • TM says...

      Emily, I really relate to this too. I’m 39 and only now starting to come out to others and to myself (I’ve known deep down inside a tiny, inaccessible place for a long time that I’m not straight, but managed to ignore it for DECADES). With Covid it’s been so difficult to connect with other women and find a new community, but I have connected with a few people online via a dating app. I absolutely have felt like I just don’t fit in with all these cool confident, queer women I see, but the amazing thing is that I everyone I’ve shared my story with has said some version of, “Hey, we all have history, we all have winding paths in life, and kudos for being brave enough now to recognize who you are and embrace it.” It’s been so wonderful and liberating to realize that if I approach new relationships and communities with honesty and openness, people are generally so accepting and non-judgmental.

  37. liz says...

    I’ve had vulvodynia, vaginismus and pelvic floor disorders since my mid-twenties. Like most, it took a long time to diagnose, to find a surgeon, have years of physical therapy, etc. So often these issues are tied with hormones and infertility but no one seems to care about “women’s issues”. It’s hard to even read about on here but I’m so glad women are talking about this. I was in a dark mental place at the time and married the person I was dating because I thought no one else would ever want me. In my mid-thirties I’m finally getting to the point where I feel strong enough to leave and be on my own and talk about this with future partners. I’m grateful this topic is getting so much needed attention. Can’t wait to buy the book, thank you for sharing.

  38. Stacey says...

    I now realize, thanks to all these comments, that I probably had vaginismus for about 15 years. It was impossible to insert a tampon for the first seven years that I had my period. When my husband and I had sex for the first time (we were both virgins), it was so incredibly painful. And for years I had such horrible pelvic pain to the point that a few times I had to go to the ER because I thought it was appendicitis (which may not have been the vaginismus, but still…). It took at least 5 years for a gynecologist to suggest pelvic physical therapy (and even then, no one ever mentioned vaginismus), and WOW was that a life changer. Thanks to PT I’m actually free of pelvic pain, and don’t clench up anymore when anything is inserted. Even though it felt weird at first to have a physical therapy sticking her fingers inside me and pressing on muscles and having me do exercises, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my health and well-being.

  39. ChitownGirl says...

    Love love love this!!!! Thank you COJ as always! I have seen a pelvic floor physical therapist and gotten tons of relief. After I had pelvic floor spasms from anxiety in my mid 20s, I was directed to a urologist who actually said ‘you don’t need to see me anymore, you just keep tension in your pelvic floor and a PT will help.’ Seeing these comments make me realize how RARE that is. The PT really helped (and I want to go back when we are all vaccinated).
    I also wanted to suggest seeing a therapist who specializes in sex! I recently changed therapists and looked for someone with this expertise because I realized I didn’t have a good relationship with penetrative sex. Because of pelvic floor spasms, I often have pain or have flashbacks to pain, and I am working really hard to make exploring sex more fun for me. Hope this helps others out there!!! Sending love and relaxed pelvic floors!

  40. M says...

    I have been struggling with repeating cycles of yeast infections and bv (bacterial vaginosis) for the past 6 months, usually one followed by the other. Sex is usually such a stress relief for me, one of the few things where I can truly let my mind go and not think about anything else. But this period has really challenged that. It feels like more weeks than not I’m trying a new treatment and can’t have penetrative sex. I feel “gross” in ways I never have before and nervous about having my partner go down on me, which we usually both love. When we are trying penetrative, I worry that it’s going to contribute to another infections. When we aren’t, I feel anxious, bad about what I can’t “offer”, and find myself distracted by this need to plan the whole thing out in my head while it’s happening, rather than just being in the moment.

    I feel grateful that my partner has been beyond supportive and it’s helped to be able to share my concerns with him. But the whole thing is just hard.

    • S says...

      I used to have the same thing, and I found that a daily probiotic and cutting way back on sugar in all forms changed my life!

    • AB says...

      Hang in there, M! I’ve been there. I second trying out probiotics to see if this can offer relief. Also, are you drinking enough water? I know it sounds silly, but adding more water certainly can’t hurt anything. In my experience, antibiotics for the yeast infection followed by a cream for the BV (both prescribed by my great gyno) have helped enormously.

      Additionally, this is an incredibly stressful time, and our bodies are reflecting that in different ways. I’ve also had some BV and yeast flare-ups recently because of *gestures vaguely* everything happening, and stress has also been the cause of these in the past when they’ve been particularly persistent. Be patient with yourself and do what you need to do to take care when there is so much going on. Here’s to hoping they clear up soon!

    • D says...

      I’m not a doctor but I struggled for over a decade with yeast infections in particular and the things that have helped me stop the cycle of infections monthly was going off the birth control pill (this was the biggest help and when I tried to go back on the infections came back immediately), cutting sugar and other sweeteners out of my life, a probiotic taken vaginally, and boric acid taken vaginally when I felt another infection coming on. I hope you find some relief soon.

    • Sara says...

      I’ve struggled with seemingly endless yeast infections for almost a decade now (it’s incredibly frustrating to even type that). I’ve seen many doctors and tried many different things, occasionally getting relief for months at a time, sometimes even up to a year, but they always seem to come back. Sex is a big trigger for me, and my husband and I both enjoy when he goes down on me, which seems even more triggering than penetrative sex. One thing that’s really helped this past year is a product called Good Clean Love Restore® Moisturizing Vaginal Gel — I insert it before we get busy, it acts as lube but also helps keep my ph balanced and seems to really help prevent sex-related yeast infections. Hope this might offer you some help/relief and allow you to get back into the moment and stop worrying during sex.

  41. Kate says...

    Thank you for talking about this! I had a textbook case of pelvic floor dysfunction for YEARS, and saw probably 8 gynecologists, urologists, and other doctors about it. I was repeatedly misdiagnosed with other issues, and the ongoing medical drama and painful tests and inappropriate treatments (not to mention the “it’s all in your head” gaslighting) caused a lot of totally unecessary trouble in my life for most of my 20s. Like the woman quoted above, I happened upon an article about this issue completely by chance. Once I had a guess at my real diagnosis, I sought out a specialist who confirmed that my pelvic floor was the issue, and a totally solvable one at that. I’m grateful to have figured it out, but also very angry that so many doctors failed to detect what should have been an incredibly clear case of pelvic floor dysfunction.

  42. Emily says...

    I purchased this book and fully intend to “casually” leave it around when my daughter is approaching puberty. Much as my mom did with her super 1970s copy of ‘Our Bodies Ourselves’ (think LOTS of proudly expressive body hair), which my friends and I would absolutely PORE over while we thought the adults were none the wiser. She literally tucked it next to the family photo albums in the living room!

    • Megan says...

      LOVE this idea, love your mom!!!

    • Karin says...

      That’s fantastic, Emily! I just now purchased it – before reading your comment – with the exact same idea in mind!

    • Julie says...

      Love this! :)

    • Kara says...

      Lol I love this. Pro tip!

    • Grace says...

      My mom got my sisters and I each a copy of “Our Bodies Ourselves” and I remember being so glad to have a book like that. If I ever have a daughter, she’s getting a copy too.

    • Katey says...

      Hi Emily.

      That’s what my mom did, too. I hate to say, it didn’t work well for me. Puberty kind of made sense based on the pictures in the book, but I had NO clue about sexual touching or intercourse. I wish someone I trusted had told me a LOT more about sexuality, touching, and intercourse. I was date raped when I was 15. I had no idea what was happening to me. I had never seen a penis before. I had never seen an erection before. I had never experienced vaginal penetration (even by a tampon), so I didn’t know what he was doing at all. He, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was doing. My ignorance made it impossible for me to say no. For your kids’ sake, buy the book AND talk to them about how great sex is when it is fun, consensual, protected, and sober. That’s my plan for my kids.

    • Emily says...

      Katey — I am sorry to hear about the trauma you experienced. Thank you for opening up. I have absolutely no intention of *not* talking to my kid about sex, in fact her dad and I have made every effort to normalize the topic in her presence and answer any questions candidly since she started talking (she’s now 6). Based on our experience thus far, I would encourage any parent to do the same.

    • L says...

      Ha my mom left her copy of Joy of Sex on a random bookshelf and thinking back I think it was a pretty beneficial part of my development to get to “find” that when I was ready. We had a pretty open and sex-positive household but just being able to absorb that on my own and with some girlfriends during sleepovers was healthy. Also someone gave me a tame-ish romance novel at the right time (I was pre-teen or early teen) and that was also a healthy thing even though I didn’t actually do anything sexual until I was older. So an up-vote for letting your kids find healthy books about sex in the house!

  43. Sara says...

    Thank you for this. I’ve been married for 10 years and sex is still complicated. I grew up in a Christian home and didn’t have sex until marriage. Neither did he. I learned quickly that I had vaginismus, and I felt so much guilt (and still do) about how I was the issue. He never made me feel that way. I can do that all on my own. I went to a physical therapist, and she gave me the dilators, but I just couldn’t do it on my own. I have trouble going to the gyno for crying out loud. I think all of this has to do with my upbringing and most of the women in my family being sexually abused. Not to mention growing up and hearing sex is bad until suddenly it isn’t anymore. I feel a lot of shame about this. But I’m encouraged to know I’m not alone and not everyone is having amazing sex everyday except for me.

    • Sara B says...

      I was just discussing this with some of my childhood church friends. I don’t think I’m going to teach no sex until marriage to my own kids because of all the guilt and shame it caused me.

    • Shannon says...

      The book Pure by Linda Kay Kline is about the aftermath of growing up in Christian purity culture. It isn’t a self help book but it may help give some more language to your experience and help you feel less alone ❤️

  44. Ashley says...

    I was a virgin when I married and because of vaginismus my husband and I did not have pain free intercourse for FIVE YEARS. I went to doctors, tried the dialators, tried muscle relaxers. Several gynecologists basically told me it was all in my head-all female. I cried every time we had sex, not from pain but from guilt. My husband and I had both waited for sex until marriage and made a lifelong commitment and I felt I was such a let down for him. He was nothing but encouraging, but the guilt lingered. What started as a physical condition then definitely had a mental component. Fear, guilt, and anxiety were linked to sex which didn’t help things downstairs.
    Then, after 5 years of marriage one time it didn’t hurt and this time I cried tears of joy and relief. It got better. It took several more years for sex to lose the mental sting. I felt robbed of our newlywed years and angry for the wasted time. I think many men would have given up on a partner in those conditions, but my husband was and is steadfast.
    We now have been married 16 years and have three children. I wish I known then what I do now. Now, after three fat babies I am seeking out pelvic floor therapy for a different reason. Kegels aren’t cutting it and I want to enjoy sex (and not pee on trampolines) for the rest of my life.
    Thanks for keeping it real CoJ and helping educate and remind women that there are a lot of normals out there.

    • Sara says...

      Thank you for sharing this! I can definitely empathize. I commented after you. I should have just replied to you directly lol

  45. Marie says...

    I had to be cut during birth, and had some major pain with sex afterward. My PT thought that massage alone could help, which really has. Basically, gentle pressure to relieve scar tissue, that I can do myself. Also, gentle “stretching” as I think my vaginal opening is smaller due to the sewing up (gah, I’m writing this on the Internet!). Anyway, I still have some pain and I need to do the stretches daily with some lubricant but it’s gotten so much better.

  46. Jen says...

    I have been trying to start a comment and deleting it for hours. I guess I just want to put words to something I am seeing….danced around? In the post.
    Asexual people exist. It is a spectrum- some aces don’t like any sexual content, some are fine with some degree of content, but are not motivated by it.
    Being asexual doesn’t mean you don’t want important, serious, loving relationships in your life, and it doesn’t mean you are broken or need fixing.
    Cup of Jo does such a good job including diverse viewpoints- maybe you can include a follow up, because I have never seen something on this site (maybe I missed it?) discuss asexuality.

    • Calla says...

      I would be very interested in reading about this as well! Particularly how they manage romantic relationships. Do they prefer to partner with other asexual people? Do they partner with sexual people but have an open relationship? Or something else entirely? There was an episode of High Maintenance that touched on this and I’ve been curious about it ever since

    • Sarag says...

      I’d love to see this too and feel it might be missing from cup of jo

  47. Ana says...

    Anyone know which podcast she’s referencing in the first story?

    • Tovah says...

      I am wondering if it might be the “Bodies” podcast, episode called “Sex Hurts.” I heard this last year and it was a total lightbulb moment for me about vaginismus!

    • Andi says...

      The podcast is called Bodies. Host: Allison Behringer. Highly recommend.

    • Ana says...

      Oh thank you everyone! Always excited for a new interesting podcast.

  48. jillian says...

    I am divorced mom, 42, and crave sex all the time. I feel like a 13-year-old boy. I sort of hate the word horny, but it’s the right word. I think, in part, this is a hormonal, perimenopause thing, but I have also always been this way – high sex drive, shamed for being a slut as a teenager. Then in a long, long marriage. I feel like I am writing a letter to Sassy or Jane, but hello out there: I cannot be the only middle-aged woman with such insanely strong and insatiable desires?!

    • Anon says...

      I’m fifty now but around JT early forties, some switched turned back on and I was very, on. My husband was pretty pleased, lol. I think it was hormones, it lasted for about a year or so and has since waned. The beauty is that we are both all right with sex being l less frequent. Since that time I’ve also refined playing with myself and can have an amazing (really, truly) time by myself. Explore yourself, it’s surprisingly satisfying!!

    • Eli says...

      I see you Jillian!! OWN IT!! I am 33, and was in a marriage for 5 years where we only had sex once every month or so. He was always “too tired” or “too stressed.” I am in a new relationship and I swear, if I could have sex 4-5 times a day, I would. My bf would be more than happy to make that happen but hello work and life. I don’t think it is because of the lack of sex for such a long time. Prior to meeting my husband, I wanted sex everyday. I think there are some of us that crave and need sex just as much as men do, it’s just not talked about. I hope this isn’t a phase and it continues. Lots of good vibes to you!

    • Katherine Charlotte says...

      I just came out of a serious LTR where in I wasn’t wanting any sex at all. I thought I was just over it. Turns out, I was just over him. Now I’m wanting it allllllll the time. It’s an incredibly empowering feeling and if not for covid I’d be out there exploring it. That said, I also carry a bit of shame around feeling like I want to sleep with different people and find it nauseating that we teach ourselves that girls can be sluts and boys can be studs. Let’s change that!

  49. anon for this x says...

    I resonate so much with the fears described in some of these posts. In my limited experience, any penetration just isn’t comfortable. I’m not having sex till I’m married (and I’m completely confident in this choice & how it honors my faith!) but I just worry that I’m going to have problems. Especially since I’m not exactly comfortable with my anatomy, ha. It’s interesting to see other women share this fear.

    • Summer says...

      I feel so seen by the person who was concerned that sex with women wouldn’t be different than sex with men. I was so frightened before my first time with a woman that I just kept apologizing for my body, any potential smells, etc. all patriarchal bullshit that men had made me feel bad about in the past. My partner completely put me at ease and when we finally had sex, it was a revelation. Plus, after you hear from pop culture all the time about how hard it is for men to give women orgasms, it is pretty satisfying to give one :) I hope that the person they interviewed gets to access the magic of finally having sex with the kind of person that works for you.

    • anni says...

      Hi… I had a very thick hymen that made penetration, even with a tampon, really uncomfortable. It just wasn’t possible. I wonder if other readers have similar experiences?
      Thankfully I saw a doctor who told me to buy a dilator and stretch it out myself, slowly, over many weeks. He recommended (he laughed and said, “this may sound strange, but it’ll be more affordable!”) an anal sex toy for this use!
      This was great advice, because the first gynecologist I saw was unkind and scared me when she arrogantly said “you DEFINITELY need to have surgery” (a hymenectomy, that would be painful, expensive…I had zero health insurance at the time…)

      In the end, I think I used my fingers (and sex partners helped with this), never did buy the sex toy, and wanted and chose penetrative sex for the first time at age 23. There was a small amount of tearing that did not hurt. I can’t emphasize enough: our bodies are good! my vulva and vagina being fully engorged in arousal was KEY! It meant that the stretch, and eventually the small tear, did not cause discomfort (the arousal was larger than the pain). So one of the lessons here (in my comment here!) is that women’s arousal (and I also mean anyone with a vulva and/or vagina-) taking the time to be FULLY engorged before any penetration is super, super, super important!
      And the bigger thing is that I’d love to see more discussion about sizes and shapes of vaginas, vulva, hymen, etc… and that variation is normal. I’m SO lucky that I didn’t end up with an unneccesary medical procedure for my (perhaps rare, but not abnormal!) hymen variation.

    • anni says...

      I just want to add that I was in no way offering advice for vaginismus when I shared my story. (I know is isn’t a simple “just take time to get aroused”.)
      I just want younger readers especially to know that some discomfort could be hymen anatomy related, and you are not alone!

    • E says...

      Hi! Been there! Even though you’re waiting to have sex (in my personal opinion, SO worth it, my husband and I were two virgins who have since been married nine years and have a great sex life), there’s plenty of great material you can start reading now to get you in the mindset. . .Sheet Music comes to mind. Also, LUBE. When it’s time, bring plenty :)

  50. Beasly says...

    My partner (of 10 years) and I have had a declining sex life for a few years and in the current context we have had a few huge rows about it. Mostly it’s about my lack of appetite, which I think is the result of several sets of things.
    In December, I rashly made an appointment to discuss my issues with a sex therapist (online) and that has really helped me get my head around what is going on. It’s hard to talk to friends about something so intimate, and discussing with my partner made it worse as we took every comment so personally. Having a unknown person to bounce my thoughts off really helped.
    After two sessions I have paused on it as I have realised that, as well as some other genuine emotional issues that need to be tackled, at its most basic we both need to be much more intentional about having sex. I suppose naively I hadn’t really thought about it in that way before.

    And as a side note. I saw a doctor about sexual pain about 12 years ago. After her inspection, she shrugged, said it was a mental issue and that was it. She was a youngish female doctor. There are tonnes of us going through this sort of thing with no support, so thanks CoJ for providing a space to share.

  51. Saz says...

    I’m 36 and a virgin.
    Thing is, I’m not bothered either, and know of at least 2 friends of the same age, who are as well. Either it is something that will happen in my future, or it won’t. I’m not actively pursuing it, or denying it.
    I’m just… not that interested… I have a great sex life with myself (toys for the win!), and have plenty of fulfilling and deep emotional relationships with lovely friends and family.

    • AS says...

      So much same (thought 35)

  52. Olivia says...

    I was going to comment that this post made me feel less weird, but I think the better way to phrase it is this: This post made me feel normal. Thank you.

  53. C says...

    I also get UTI from sex (but urine analysis mostly positive). Never got UTI not triggered by sex. As you can imagine, this is badly affecting my sex life. I am also pretty dry down there, but I try to compensate with lubricant. I will consider PFPT. Thanks for the comment!

    • Mae says...

      please look into D-Mannose and acupuncture. I had the same thing for years and am completely cured now

    • kate says...

      Yes! I also faced recurring UTIs. Took a lot of fun out of it – ensuring a shower beforehand (I am not into shared showers as foreplay. Not appealing), chugging water so I knew I’d be able to pee after, and then jumping out of bed to pee. When I had my first UTI it was during the waterboarding/torture conversation of the early 00s. I remember distinctly thinking – nope, give ’em all UTIs instead with no access to a toilet to sit on. That’s real torture. I’ve got other sex issues now but I hate that in the back of mind is the UTI fear, too.

    • J says...

      I suffered with recurrent UTIs for many years as well, so I really feel for you. For a time I had antibiotics prescribed by my dr that I would take prophylactically before a “big date” as my doctor put it, and that really helped. I also took those cranberry supplements. Another thing to consider, is to maybe switch up your lubricant. Certain ones can cause more irritation. Your doctor should also be able to recommend some options. Good luck.

    • Megan says...

      Check out Uqora, a line of products to prevent UTIs, they WORK, I speak from experience!

    • Kay says...

      same here!! I used to get UTIs almost every time I had sex with my partner of 3 years – it really affects our relationship. D-Mannose has helped significantly!

    • D says...

      I also have found D-Mannos very, very helpful for preventing UTIs. I love that you can just drink it in water and don’t have to swallow a pill too. A dose in the morning and another at night have been doing wonders for me. Good luck.

  54. Amanda says...

    I turn 36 *today* and I’m still a virgin. Part of that is religious in nature (not in a negative way, I’m just choosing to funnel all my sexual energy in other ways), but some of it is that I am just not finding anyone I’m interested in dating or who is interested in me. That’s all fine! But it’s definitely not from lack of desire, if I’m being honest.

    • A says...

      Happy Birthday Amanda!

    • T says...

      Happy birthday and thank you for your honesty!

    • Sarah says...

      Happy Birthday Amanda! I’m in the same boat as you. It’s a tough topic to have with some friends but thankfully I do have a group of girls that I’m able to have these types of honest conversations with and it’s truly been so helpful. Couldn’t agree more on the not for a lack of desire part as well.

    • sp says...

      happy birthday!

  55. Rebecca says...

    All I have to say is I feel seen. I feel like I’m not the only one. I feel less ‘abnormal’. I honestly feel a little lighter after reading this.

    Keep up the wonderful work. This space is one of my favorites on the internet.

  56. Anon says...

    Yes and yes!! I feel sooooo seen, sooooo relieved!! I forwarded the article to my (absolutely the world’s best) therapist ❤️

  57. Sally says...

    One thing I’ve been realizing lately is how focused our culture – and a lot of men are – on penetrative sex they seen in porn and tv. Most women – 80% – can’t orgasm from penetration, only clitoral stimulation. And it often takes women longer to orgasm. Good sex is sex both people enjoy, and where both people are having fun! And for most women, that means sex with everything else before penetration. Let’s stop rushing to what we see on TV. I’m sick of being unfulfilled by ignorant men who have no idea how to please a woman.

    • Olivia says...

      I’m shocked it took so long to find this comment!!!! Please god tell me I am not the only person who feels this way – really descriptive – but I feel like I just have two separate areas of arousal. Like, penetrative sex does feel very good (when I get around a lot of pain issues from interstitial cystitis), but there’s just never a climax to it. It’s much harder for me to orgasm while having sex than not being penetrated. It seems to have something to do with my ability to contract pelvic muscles fully. ITS REALLY DISCOURAGING.

  58. Susan says...

    I honestly was pretty pumped and ready to scroll past the teaser and find the number one finding to be that most women (moms?!) really don’t have a strong sex drive and/or esp. compared to male partners. Womp. Just me!? (And pretty much allll my friends!??)

    • Lashley says...

      Did you catch this post from over the summer that discusses that topic?https://cupofjo.com/2020/07/sex-advice-during-a-rough-patch/

      I’ve been reading the book that Erica Chidi Cohen recommends, Come as You Are, which has been so validating and interesting. That common dynamic is not actually the case in my home, but the book really speaks to a wide range.

    • Sonia says...

      Nope, NOT just you, Susan! Differing sex drives (esp. post kids) has been the biggest issue in our marriage that my husband and I have to work through. It’s tough. Hugs to you (and all your friends!).

    • Maria says...

      Definetly not just you!

    • Molly says...

      Me! Me! Feeling alone (and guilty)…

    • Emily R says...

      I’m 41, single, no kids and my sex drive is off the charts. Even while on an antidepressant. I’ve always had a greater sex drive than my male partners. Just goes to prove we are all different!

    • Kari T. says...

      I’m right there with you. I’m just soooo tired and honestly there are about 25 other things on which I’d rather spend my miniscule amount of free time. It is sad and frustrating for both of us.

    • Emma says...

      I think being a mom can probably lessen your drive (and I say this as someone who is not a mom, so I honestly don’t know), but I haven’t found that to be true in terms of men and women in general. I know several women (including myself at times) who have higher drives than their partners and really struggle with the repeated narrative that it should be the other way around and that when it isn’t, something is wrong with them (or their male partners are not living up to whatever masculinity standards we have set). I think it would be helpful to talk about mismatched drives generally without associating them to gender.

    • Steph says...

      As a mom who’s been in this situation before, I think that – beyond just plain old human diversity of needs – patriarchy is a major factor in this dynamic. Even if you have a loving partner, when the majority of the logistics, physical comforts, etc. etc. etc. in a family end up falling to you, in really puts a damper on connection and energies. One more reason to bring it all down!

    • Julie says...

      Susan! I am with you in that I was expecting (secretly hoping???!)) to find that was the number one thing too. Maybe so I would not feel so bad for feeling my lack of desire can often be the main pain point in my marriage?

      You are NOT alone.

    • Mei says...

      You must read Come As You Are! Im still in the middle of it but just finished the chapter “busting” the incorrect myth of sex drive. It’s a fantastic resource into women’s anatomy, all the different aspects of desire, arousal, etc. and very reassuring that You Are Normal!

  59. Anne says...

    Thank you CoJ for posting about this! I suffered for many years from vulvodynia and vaginismus and it was so challenging to even get this diagnosis. I saw 4 gynecologists before I found one that could actually help me and point me in the direction of Pelvic Pain PT. It angers me so much how doctors blamed me, my inability to relax and recommended having a glass of wine before sex. UGH! And even though I know what my trigger was and have treated it successfully, this voice somewhere that maybe it was all in my head still exists. I tell it to go away, but it’s really hard with so few people acknowledging this condition. Thank you!
    For those in the NYC area I highly recommend 5 Point PT – they are excellent and made me feel safe, cared for and helped me through this.

  60. Jane says...

    Joanna and team, and all COJ commenters!—when COJ last posted about sexual discomfort and PT (the “I didn’t have sex for the first two years of marriage” article), the comments from this community to the article inspired me to seek out pelvic floor physical therapy. The comments convinced me to try yet again (convinced it would be another failure and waste of time) but that time was the magic charm, and I got the treatment I needed.
    Well, here I am, years later, and I am having pain-free, ENJOYABLE sex for the first time truly in my life. Thank you, thank you for continuing to bring light to this condition. I had it my whole life, and brought it up with so many doctors to no avail.
    Ps-if you’re struggling with painful intercourse, I urge you not to give up on seeking treatment, even if your doctors seem to. Echoing Sara above, many doctors do not always know how to help these types of conditions, unfortunately, and you deserve pain-free pleasure. Pelvic floor PT worked for me. The same or another treatment might work for you! I can personally say that Beyond Basics is a good practice in NYC :)

    • Emily R says...

      Yay!

  61. Eloise says...

    Glad I hadn’t ordered Bravey before reading this. Two books, two days, one (non-Amazon) order. Thanks!

  62. Nicole says...

    I have vaginismus. A result of being sexually assaulted at 13. I would bleed pints of blood every time I tried to have sex which was scary and painful. I was terrified I’d never be able to enjoy my sex life or have children, but none of my obgyns could (or cared to) help me. I was in grad school a decade later before a doctor took the time to diagnose me and explain what was happening. It’s still painful to have penetrative sex, but my husband is super understanding and I was able to have two beautiful children. But it has been and will continue to be a defining feature of my life. Thank you for talking about it.

    • Hayley B says...

      I’m so sorry this happened to you Nicole. Thank you for sharing with us; what courage it must have taken to face and then talk about it here. Wishing you and your family all the best.

  63. Amelia says...

    A problem that I experienced, and once I confided in female friends, found they too were experiencing, was a complete lack of sex in their marriages and long term relationships. We’ve all heard men complain about the woman never being ‘ in the mood’ as if they are always the problem, but I honestly never expected a celibate marriage. I sought a divorce after 12 years of 6 month-2 year dry spells, and over a year of counseling for us and myself. He swore he wasn’t ever molested, or told sex was evil from a religious perspective, both to myself and our therapist. One friend hasn’t had sex with her husband, his choice, since their child was conceived 16 years ago. My sister’s friend same thing – but over 30 years since their child was born! I would love to know more about this topic.

    • Nigerian Girl says...

      This is quite common in many marriages in my country.

    • Mary says...

      Echoing this. There are so many comments about extended dry spells in a relationship and/or mismatched libidos with commenters on both sides of the situation. A deep dive into how to navigate such a dynamic would be wonderful. What does open communication about this actually look/sound like in real relationships? How do you continue to be open and vulnerable, on either side of the situation? How do you talk about this stuff without sounding critical or defensive? How do you talk about your needs (again, on either side), without it sounding like a line in the sand?

    • Calla says...

      This is so interesting to hear, thanks for bringing it up! I’ve been single for all but one of my adult years and am often jealous of my partnered friends, assuming they are all having sex as often as they’d like. It honestly never struck me how ignorant that was until this moment

    • Brit Anon says...

      Yes! I have found that marriages/LTRs seem to fall into two camps – the ‘we still do it all the time ‘ and the ‘we haven’t done it in years’ camps. And neither side can imagine the other situation. We’ve been together 20 years, married for 18, have 3 children and I can’t remember the last time we had sex – I think it was about 4 years ago…I really don’t know.
      We are good friends, have a very good, co-operative relationship, but we Do Not Discuss ‘that’ side of our lives. How do you even begin to bring it up? And where do you find the time to do it? That time has been taken up with household admin and teenagers. Intellectually I know we are OK, but I do feel the societal pressure to be shagging like rabbits all the time.

  64. Michele says...

    I bought the book!

  65. LB says...

    This book is amazing. Thank you for posting this!
    I’m currently in a dry spell in my relationship of 4 years (idk might be something about how we’ve spent the past year in a state of constant stress, just a guess), but I’m having a really difficult time getting back into it. I’ve had dry spells in between relationships before and sometimes even prefer taking care of business myself, but experiencing one during a relationship is stressful. I know this happens, and it is normal, but it’s increasingly clear that our drives and desires are not on the same page and it’s been a real test of our communication being honest about our needs and trying to come to a compromise.

    • Andrea Bearce says...

      This seems to be a huge issue right now, even with couples that actually like each other. I agree that the stress of 2020 is likely the culprit. I have zero desire to sleep with my husband, but he seems fine to continue on as normal. it’s been an enormous stressor for us and is, honestly, scary. I don’t want our relationship to break down because of this…but so much (everything?) seems tethered to this one aspect of us.

    • Jenn says...

      My husband and I are also currently in a dry spell. Normally, we’re pretty standard “once a week” people, but we haven’t had sex in months. A couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, my husband turned to me in the kitchen and said, “We haven’t had sex in a while.” It turned into a quick but thorough conversation about how anxious we are in life right now and how sex is not something we are feeling or worrying about. It was great to address the issue – we aren’t very good at this, but we both know it, which is why these important conversations usually happen randomly in weird places – and to know that neither of us are feeling neglected and that we’re on the same page. I know that we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled programming, but having a quick conversation about it while I was making toast made both of us feel better.

    • KJ says...

      At the start of quarantine last year, my husband got it into his head that a “successful” quarantine would mean “getting better at sex” — trying new things, doing it more frequently, etc. At first, during the “honeymoon period” of quarantine, I was down and we had some fun.

      Once that wore off, reality sinks in of we have two young kids who are now HOME ALL THE TIME, work/school/life is insanely stressful, he’s out of work, and we both are struggling with depression and anxiety more than we ever had.

      When I tried to have a conversation similar to you, Jenn, about “hey, maybe now is a hard time and we take some pressure off ourselves about having amazing connected sex when we’re coping with incredible stress” he was… less than receptive, ha.

      I think he’s convinced that everyone else is doing it constantly and kinkily and we’re missing out while I think that we’re doing okay with around 1-2x/ week all things considered! He also acts like “it’s all downhill from here” like if we were to settle into a less frequent pace during this INSANELY HARD TIME IN OUR LIVES that it would never pick up again. I try to tell him that women in their 40’s are horny as fuck (I’m 34 now) but he doesn’t believe me ;)

      It’s hard to talk about these things with friends so it’s refreshing to hear such varied experiences and honesty here.

  66. Mary says...

    As a prude I really loved this post. I also hope many men read this post and get the book!

  67. JJ says...

    I haven’t even finished reading this yet… I literally just opened the link and my jaw dropped. I am full on crying. I have struggled with vaginismus for years (despite a loving spouse, awesome support network, caring doctor)… But to see it illustrated like that, out there in the open– I don’t know, it made me feel less like the weird 14 year old who couldn’t ever get the hang of tampons, less like the 18 year old who felt like a failure at sex, less like a freak who had panic attacks having pap smears… And more like a normal person. Thank you, so much.

  68. Ingrid says...

    Thank you so much Cup or Jo for addressing this!!
    I am a long time follower of coj, and a practicing Pelvic Health physiotherapist in Canada. I see women daily for Vaginismus and many other pelvic health concerns. This is so common! Yet sadly, many women feel they are alone in experiencing pain with attempts at penetrative intercourse, and are often not comfortable discussing it with their health care providers.
    Sometimes there is a precipitating factor, sometimes not. We can’t always say what causes Vaginismus. But this is treatable! Please reach out to a specifically trained Women’s Health/ Pelvic Health physical therapist! You will very likely find an empathetic, caring practitioner who will educate and empower you on the structures and muscles involved, what to expect during treatment sessions, and how to continue with stretches and exercises at home. Also, remember, you are the boss, and you set the pace for therapy.

    Bravo for addressing such an important Women’s Health condition! Another topic to consider may be reviewing basic pelvic female (and male) anatomy, the role of the pelvic floor muscles, how to do a proper Kegel/Pelvic Floor contraction, etc etc. Sorry! I could go on and on….. many women know very little about female genitalia and the pelvis.

    • RB says...

      You are awesome–thank you for doing this work.

      I think I’m doing kegels “right” (or in an effective way) but as I get closer to giving birth for the first time your comment made me think…I’d love to know for sure! I will check with doctor/PT. Thank you.

    • Jessica says...

      RB, I thought I was doing them right as well when I was pregnant. After birth, I scheduled an appointment with a pelvic floor PT on the advice of my midwife, just to make sure everything went back to normal. First of all, I would highly recommend this to you postpartum if such services are available to you. My PT was so professional, patient, and caring. But secondly, I was really surprised how much was involved in doing a proper keagal! There are 6 (maybe 8? It’s been a while) important muscle groups you need to activate, that I didn’t even know were there! She taught me how to individually isolate them all, and then put them all together to do a proper keagal. It was quite empowering. I wish more women had access to this type of service. I’m lucky, it was covered by my private insurance.

  69. cherry says...

    wait sorry, not to be an ass, i love this post and topic – but what are the two things that struck them? am i just missing it?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks for your note! 1) So many people suffer from vaginismus and 2) so many people are still virgins in their 30s and 40s.

    • Tovah says...

      It’s written in a beautiful watercolor image but since it’s in the text of the article someone who is using a screen reader or whose internet isn’t loading graphics well would have missed it. Jo + team, could you consider using image descriptions to be more inclusive to blind, low-sight, or others who use screen readers?

  70. Vero says...

    These aren’t issues that are affecting me but I am SO happy you are using this space to write and share about them. I know what it feels like to recognize yourself here and feel seen when it comes to something people rarely speak about and it is so validating. Thank you for continuing to delve into many different topics and come back to them repeatedly. That repetition and willingness to engage about the same topics in different ways goes so far when it comes to not making people feel alone. Thanks COJ <3

    • Lauren says...

      This! <3

    • Calla says...

      So true!

  71. Whitney says...

    Can I ask something I’ve been curious about? When women say they can’t orgasm solely based on penetration, what does that mean? Like, I orgasm if I’m ontop or the guy’s ontop because my clitoris is simultaneously being stimulated by his body. I don’t orgasm when he’s behind unless my clitoris is being stimulated with fingers.

    Is that what people mean? Or does it mean something else?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I thought this stat, below, was v interesting (from this post: https://cupofjo.com/2017/08/how-to-have-an-orgasm/)

      ***

      Want to hear a fascinating finding? As few as 7% of women can reliably orgasm from penetration alone — basically, if their clitoris is close to their vagina. “Clitoris-vagina distances less than 2.5 cm — that’s roughly from the tip of your thumb to your first knuckle — tend to yield reliable orgasms during sex,” writes the L.A. Times. But other women, with larger “V-C distances,” find it more difficult or just plain impossible.

    • Claire says...

      Whitney, I’ve always thought that it meant that many women (myself included) couldn’t orgasm from penetrative sex alone. A few times I’ve had an orgasm during penetrative sex because I was using my vibrator simultaneously. But the penetration itself doesn’t lead to orgasm for me. I’ve always wondered what a vaginal orgasm would be like!

    • Olivia says...

      Whitney I don’t mean this to be sarcastic but I would pay millions of dollars to be like you 😂 oh my god just coming from like missionary?! Bliss. That is to say, you rock!! Hit the jackpot. Like Joanna said, I think it’s mostly your individual anatomy.

    • Whitney says...

      Thank you for your responses. Wow, I’m feeling very lucky to be in the 7% I guess. Such an odd experience to be a straight woman and not really have any insight into how other women feel in their unique bodies—I appreciate you sharing.

  72. E says...

    LOVE THIS! Not to mention alllll the ways pevlic floor PT can help moms before and after pregnancy. It also took me several providers to learn that the pain with sex followed by what seemed like an on and off UTI was actually an overly tense pelvic floor. PFPT was a GAME CHANGER and I am amazed at what a difference it made. I think things had gotten bad so gradually that I didn’t even realize how far from my normal I was.

    Also, I’d like to add that I find PT to be way less invasive or “up close and personal” than a pelvic exam. I was able to keep my top/sweater on and just have feet flat on the table, which felt much less vulnerable. Regardless, it’s worth it, but I wanted to share for anyone who might feel hesitant.

    • Amy says...

      E,
      I am dealing with this feeling of a very uncomfortable uti on and off. My urnalysis was negative which puzzled me to no end. I am going to ask about PFPT. Thank you!!

    • Megan says...

      I have also been diagnosed with pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic floor PT was a total gamechanger for me. I kept thinking I had UTIs but they were always negative. If folks have 15 min to spare, Zosia Mamet spoke about her own experience getting a diagnosis for hers–it took SIX YEARS! Doctors and women need to made aware how common these issues are! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNSLdGEGS1A

    • K says...

      I had years of occasional pain with sex and frequently feeling like I had a on/off UTI that drove me crazy. Although I had been married for years, I did not know that I should pee immediately after sex every time. Once I started to do that (and make sure I was carefully wiping front to back), my feelings of the mild UTI totally cleared up! No more burning and stinging sensations.

      Maybe everybody already knows this tip, but wanted to share just in case.

    • Kara says...

      K, great advice that also was a game changer for me (as someone who used to get frequent bacterial infections because of not peeing right after sex). It actually drives me bonkers when I read books or watch shows where women don’t do this (e.g. they just fall asleep right after). Are these (fictional) women just suffering constantly from vaginal discomfort?!?

  73. Marie says...

    Another reason for painful sex can be endometriosis, that was the case for me! After laparoscopic removal of three endometriosis sex was much better (had also been prescribed the dialators but they didn’t work for me.)

    Advocate for checking for endometriosis if signs point to maybe!

    • Marie says...

      *after laparoscopic removal of endometriosis

  74. M says...

    I could not be more relieved that Cup of Jo (and others) are writing about vaginismus on a regular basis. THANK YOU.

  75. Calla says...

    Wow thanks for sharing, can’t wait to read the book! It’s so fascinating to hear about those two common situations. While I don’t fit into either, it makes me think a lot about how common other things are that are never portrayed in media. For example, every TV or movie portrayal of heterosexual sex I’ve seen shows every female character consistently climaxing from penetration (including shows that generally have believable female characters; Fleabag, Insecure, I Will Destroy You).

    Also, for whatever reason, I struggle to find sexual partners and tend to go long periods of time without having partnered sex (like a year or two). Most media I consume makes me feel like at my age (28) that is embarrassingly long, and no one else is going longer than a month without sex.

    • Katie says...

      Hi Calla! 33 here and haven’t had sex for 3 years now. Nothing “wrong” with me (I’m an outgoing, kind, standard-looking person), just haven’t met a potential partner or had a random hookup. Previously had great boyfriends and I lost my virginity at 27. There’s nothing wrong with not having sex on the regular!

    • M says...

      Calla – you’re not alone!

      My sisters, cousin, some friends and I are all in 1-2 year dry spells. We are all “normal”, in our early-mid 20s and dare I say attractive?? It’s just …. not happening for us. It’s a lot more normal than any media portrays and I just want to say you’re not alone at all! Having some close friends to talk through this with and normalize it has helped immensely.

  76. Maclean Nash says...

    I will definitely be adding Every Body to my 2021 to read list!

  77. Danielle says...

    There was one point in my life where I’d gone ten solid years without sex. Is there anything in the book about really, really, REALLY long dry spells? Because I sometimes felt like the only person who wanted sex (very much!) who went without for so long.

    • Calla says...

      I was thinking the same thing! Long dry spells seem to be kind of a taboo in modern day culture. I hate ever mentioning how long it’s been since I had sex to friends because I always get reactions like “Oh my god I could NEVER do that”

      It hurts because I’m not abstaining by choice. It’s bad enough to not be having sex when you want to without the added layer of shame and embarrassment.

    • B says...

      Yes, Danielle and Calla! I so relate. Why are dry spells never talked about?! It’s been close to 8 years since I’ve had sex, and at times the deep primal longing for that kind of physical intimacy hits me in such a way that it can almost be too much to bear. It’s hard to describe this aching feeling to friends who have never been in this length of dry spell, and the shame/embarrassment of this abstinence not exactly being a choice makes it even harder. Xx

    • Nigerian Girl says...

      I’ve learned that people tend to lie about the amount of sex they’re having. They really aren’t getting it all the time – just like you. Please don’t be ashamed and embarrassed. You’re perfectly normal and you’re not alone.

  78. Sara says...

    I am so so happy PT for sexual discomfort was brought up!!! I am a physical therapist and so many people don’t know about the great resource that women’s health physical therapy is—including many doctors, old school OBGYNs etc. It can be incredibly helpful also post-partum, for back pain, incontinence issues as well. So many people hear about kegels and think that we always we need to strengthen the internal vaginal muscles, but sometimes the problem is actually the opposite and that the muscles are too tight! There are options for both internal and external work if the idea of someone “getting in there” makes you feel uncomfortable. And women’s health physical therapy is a bit of a misnomer as well, since the training can be used to help men and children (with potty training) as well! Just make sure to ask to get referred to a PT that is specialized in it since not everyone has the specialized training in it.

    • Daniela says...

      I’m curious if you would advise for or against doing kegels if someone has a history of too tight vaginal muscles. I suffered with vaginismus previously and wonder if I should still do kegels, ha!

    • JMN says...

      Yes!!! I saw a physical therapist for my vaginismus and she helped me SO MUCH. She not only helped my pelvic floor, but helped my confidence too!! And now I’m pregnant and seeing a physical therapist for pelvic joint pain. Highly recommend going to PT!!

    • Lora says...

      Totally agree with this! I want to shout my praises of my pelvic floor physical therapists and how they helped me after childbirth. My doctors said I healed perfectly, but things felt off to me. Then the PT looked at my pelvic floor strength/coordination AS WELL as my breathing, gait, back, etc because guess what? Your pelvic floor basically supports your whole body so it can be a domino effect. They were able to address all kinds of imbalances connected and contributing to my pelvic floor concerns. They helped me so much!

  79. Kat v says...

    Oh my Gosh, what an incredible, brave posting! I am so grateful for all these marvelous insights and thoughts from strangers. The illustrations are also stunning. Huge fan!

  80. Lynn says...

    I recently turned 60, married for decades. Sex had become extremely painful, I was very dry, itched horribly, and thus became very uninterested. I went to 2 different female gynecologists who brushed it off as “atrophy “ and told me to use a good lubricant. No dice. So I went to a 3rd gynecologist, a male. He was very kind, listened, asked questions, and gave me the instructions to purchase what he called “dildoes” in different sizes, lube them up, and keep them in every night at bedtime for 30 minutes. He also prescribed Imvexxy, and lo and behold, after 1 month I was able to once again have sex, and it was completely pain free!!! My advice, find a gyno who will really listen to you, no matter how many you have to see! By the way, mine were all in the same practice!!

    • M says...

      In my 20s and same boat- due to hormone issues, I lost my drive and sex was uncomfortable due to serious dryness that not even lube could solve. SO thankful for my OB* who listened and offered a variety of possible solutions based on my comfort levels. I also tried Imvexxy after a few other things, and it worked for me, too!

      *Previous OB (same practice like your story) told me women just have complicated sex drives and I should take a nice bath and light some candles. Come on….

      Cup of Jo, thank you for posting these kinds of articles. Being young and unable/uninterested in sex felt like the worst possible thing. I never spoke about it with anyone except my partner and doctor. I hope readers find comfort in these posts and comments!

  81. R says...

    Wow I just cried reading this!! All of the stories about painful sex and fear/apprehension after a lonngggg dry spell: yes yes yes!! I was also diagnosed with a tense pelvic floor this year and tried video physical therapy. I can’t say that it helped a ton, but just having someone acknowledge that I’m not making up pain and that my feelings are real was a relief in and of itself. Thank you for sharing these stories today, they spoke to me deeply.

    • E says...

      I went through this a couple years ago and I’m sorry to hear you’re having a hard time too! If it’s possible for you to schedule an in-person pelvic floor PT visit, I think it makes a world of difference. I hope you find relief soon!! xo