When Sex Isn’t Magical

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Anonymous -When Sex Isnt Magical3by Anonymous

I carefully string the beads on a wisp of fishing wire. They’re clear blue, about ten of them. Then I thread the letters: T-R-U-E L-O-V-E W-A-I-T-S. More blue beads. I tie it round my wrist, feeling accomplished. This will fix everything.

/ / / /

I came of age in the late nineties. Being a young Christian meant wearing a rainbow of WWJD rubber armbands, rocking out to Jars of Clay and reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Purity culture was at its height. Between youth group and sex ed at my conservative high school, I was convinced that premarital sex was the absolute worst offence I could commit. Sex was talked about in tense, hushed tones and never in too much detail, lest we get enough information to actually do it.

I got the message loud and clear: sex is a sin. Sex is the sin. Until, of course, the wedding band appears on your left hand. Then the ban is spiritually lifted. I wasn’t exactly sure why sex was bad, but I was a rule-following, Jesus-loving teenager. I didn’t need reason. I just needed the rules. So I signed the pledge to stay pure until my wedding day without a second thought. I knew I would never ever be a horrible enough Christian to break God’s heart like that.

Then, I turned seventeen. And I met a boy. I was shocked when the physical part of our relationship became a struggle. We never had sex, but that was just a technicality. We were still taking things much further than I knew God wanted. I spent our entire four-year relationship racked with guilt. I was sure I was the worst Christian, that God was devastated with me. I tried all the “solutions” the church doled out: I prayed, I received prayer, I broke up with said boyfriend, I asked for accountability. We got back together. We got engaged and I made a cheap bracelet hoping the reminder would be convicting. Nothing worked.

Our wedding date was finally on the calendar, and we were both relieved that what had once been a cardinal sin would transform into a meaningful, beautiful act with the flourish of a pen on the marriage licence. I was ready to unload four years of shame on the altar and go forth in freedom. Our problems would be over.

We entered marriage woefully uneducated and unprepared for something we thought would be easy. Our first attempt at sex ended in tears. It was so excruciating painful I couldn’t even do it. I thought it was supposed to sting a bit, but this was beyond anything I could cope with. I sobbed in the hotel room while my newly minted husband sat beside me, assuring me it would get better.

Things did not get better. The switch that was supposed to flick from “sex is bad” to “sex is magical” stayed stuck on the former. Each attempt was the same. I thought God was punishing me for not staying completely pure before marriage. I was sick with grief that I was letting down my husband and he would want to leave. I started to worry I wouldn’t be able to have children. Maybe I didn’t deserve children.

I tried to talk about it, but it took weeks to work up the courage. The one time I broached the subject with a close friend I was met with a blank stare, and I retreated immediately. I timidly brought it up with my doctor, and he suggested an incredibly invasive surgery. Another doctor intensely drilled me about whether or not I had ever been raped, and then concluded there was no reason for my problem. I became more and more anxious. I continued to fail at sex.

Months turned into years. Not blissful, newlywed years, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching years.

My saving grace came from a rather unlikely place—an article in a health magazine. It was called, “When Sex Hurts”, and the author detailed her experience with a condition that made intimacy incredibly painful. For the first time ever, I realized I wasn’t alone.

Armed with vocabulary and a shred of confidence, I began to make progress. I found a new doctor. She didn’t look at me blankly or schedule surgery. She gave me a plan. I practically wept with relief. A plan. I could do that. I could follow instructions.

Things did not change overnight. Progress was slow and sex wasn’t good at first. It was awkward and still painful at times, significantly more painful when my anxiety level was high. Everything rested on my ability to relax, and the pressure I put on myself to succeed was debilitating. My husband was as patient and kind as a human is capable of being. I got better, and sex eventually became enjoyable and wonderful and, yes, even magical.

/ / / /

I’ve been married for thirteen years now, and that naive little newlywed is long gone. I thankfully don’t struggle physically anymore. I’ve birthed two gorgeous children so, by all accounts, I’m fine from a mechanical perspective. But that psychological switch still feels stuck sometimes. All the negative messages about sex have not quite been erased. And those early years in our marriage have left me shouldering a mantle of guilt I fear will never lift. I wonder if it will always be the third wheel in our bedroom.

I don’t lay all the blame for what happened at the door of my church or my school or my parents. But I do believe the way in which we speak about sex in the church and in our homes needs to be completely upended. My experience is, unfortunately, not uncommon. So while this may seem like an overly personal story to put into the universe, I know it needs to be told. This will be someone’s lifeline, just like that random article was mine. If you are struggling, please, get help. Read books. Talk to safe people. Learn about your body.

And remember, you are never, ever alone. Don’t let the months turn into years.

Resources

Sheet Music by Dr. Kevin Leman
Life after I Kissed Dating Goodbye – stories from men and women who grew up in purity culture

If sex is painful we strongly encourage you to talk to your doctor. Here are some articles that help provide a vocabulary for that conversation:

Sexual Health: Female pain during sex – from the Cleveland Clinic
Painful Sexual Intercourse (Dyspareunia) – from Women’s Health Magazine
When Sex is Painful – from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

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  • Robin Baldwin

    Thanks for sharing your story. I agree with you that the way we talk about sex needs to change. I am hyperaware of this as a mom of young teenage daughters.

  • Dami Asa

    Thank you for writing this and sharing. I am one of those who’s struggling and it helps to know I am not alone. I grew up in Church, “kept myself pure”, read I kissed dating goodbye, didn’t kiss my now husband till about 2 years into our dating relationship. I did all the things I was “supposed” to do. And it’s been a struggle, sex isn’t magical and we have been married almost 14 years. Sex is painful and many times I feel like I’ve been lied to. When people preach about the beautiful intimacy in marriage, I want to roll my eyes or yell “it’s a lie!”. I’m still waiting for this beautiful intimacy people preach about.I thankful for a husband who has the patience and understanding of a saint. But I agree, we need to change the way we talk about this, we need to actually talk about it. I haven’t found any christians to talk to in real life about our struggles, it seems everyone else isn’t struggling. So to cut the rambling short, It’s good to know that I am not alone

  • Thank you for sharing your story – and for the list of resources! It’s a brave thing to start this conversation, but so necessary for us to shift our thinking in how we present sex to our kids.

  • This is such an important conversation to have, and keep having. I, too, grew up in a church where (intentionally or not) we were taught that committing murder was awful, but not as bad as having pre-marital sex. Sex was something to be afraid of, something ominous and dangerous like the monster hiding under the bed. So many of us were given so little sex ed that we couldn’t even name the parts of our own bodies. How can we have good, healthy conversations about sex if we don’t even have that basic vocabulary?

    I saw a video once where they asked, “what if we taught teens to drive the way we teach them about sex?” and it was an eye-opener to be sure. Driving is a big responsibility, and one that carries the potential for life-altering consequences and yet we approach that conversation in a completely different way. Things are given names. We’re taught how the machine functions. We’re walked through the rules of the road and taught at length about the responsibility inherent in getting behind the wheel of a car. We’re taught that alcohol and driving don’t mix and what to say if a friend wants to give you a ride home and they’ve been drinking. We’re given so many lessons, and that’s just a car, it’s not your body.

    I hope that we can find a way to have better conversations about sex, and better attitudes towards sex. It’s probably always going to be a bit of an awkward conversation, but my goodness, we can’t let that stop us.

  • Tracy Nelson

    yes, yes, yes!!! thank you SO much for your bravery and transparency. I struggled with the same thing, and by the time I found some solutions, soooo much damage had already been done. I hope others see this before it’s too late and know they are not alone. Bless you.

  • Reading this was like reading my journal. This was my experience too for the first three years of my now seven year marriage. I also went to multiple doctors and finally found resources online. For me it was finding Dr. Tina Sellers and her website http://www.thankgodforsex.org. I’ve heard her latest book is really good and it’s on my list to read.

    Some other great resources I’ve found recently are a great podcast episode on the Sorta Awesome Podcast for having conversations on sex with your kids. Make sure to check out the shownotes for the awesome resources they list.

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sorta-awesome/id983378923?mt=2&i=1000385108129

    They interview LeAnn Gardner who is also doing some great work on improving sex education and teaching families and teachers a better way forward. http://www.leanngardner.com/

  • This needs to be told. I got married recently, and the next morning my husband and I just asked, “why?” Why did no one focus on how spiritual this is, how sacred, how beautiful? We both grew up completely separate hearing the same things, that sex was the worst things you could do. The spiritual side, the glory of Christ– all of that was completely skimmed over.

    Thank you for your bravery in sharing. I pray we will all be bold and willing to share our stories… because stories start change.