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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