Will sex hurt on my wedding night?
That’s one of the most common questions I get from women about to get married as virgins. Every Monday I like to take a reader question and try to answer it, and today I’d like to tackle the subject of pain during intercourse on your wedding night, and hopefully set some fears aside and help out others.
And some people really could use some help, because I saw this message on a forum I belong to last weekend, too:
We got married 5 days ago and it’s been too painful to consummate yet–any suggestions?
Absolutely! So let’s go:
Does sex hurt for the first time?
I wish I could answer that one definitively, but I can’t! So let me tell you a bit about my personal story (and I share this in much more detail in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex!). Before I got married, someone gave me a book about sex. It made me a nervous wreck, detailing everything you had to do when to make sex feel great, and I almost felt violated reading it. It was like they were saying my body wasn’t my own and I didn’t have any choice, because I had to do EXACTLY this.
I wish I could have just relaxed and done what felt natural, but I felt like I had all this standard I had to live up to. And then, on our wedding night, sex definitely did hurt. It was excrutiating. The next day we pushed through anyway because I felt like such a failure. That was likely a mistake, because if we had just relaxed and taken things more slowly we probably would have got to the root of the problem faster.
When sex got better years later and I started writing, I thought back to that book that people had gave me, and I started wondering, “Can I wrote the exact opposite? A book that would help brides relax while still having tons of information?” And so I did surveys of about 2000 women and asked them all about their sex lives, and here’s what I can tell you about the wedding night.
There’s a difference between the pain when the hymen tears, which is just a sharp pain, and muscle pain, which isn’t sharp but which can actually be worse. While most people have that sharp pain which is temporary, a few people have the deeper muscle pain when your vaginal muscles won’t relax. Around 20% of people had sex hurt enough that they couldn’t make love the first night, though the vast majority of those did within the next few days, and it slowly got better.
That means 80% of women really are fine.
Pain during sex is NOT something that you should be worrying about, and if you do worry, you’ll only make it worse anyway.
I want to talk to those 20% who do have muscle pain while making love right now.
Most of you will figure this out pretty quickly. Just try really hard to relax (which sounds like such contradictory advice, doesn’t it? How can you TRY to RELAX?). But don’t put pressure on yourself. If sex doesn’t work right away, don’t force it because you feel inadequate. Just touch each other and explore in other ways. Spend time taking baths together. Get used to be naked together.
If it doesn’t freak you out, you can also have your husband try to stretch you a little with his fingers (if it freaks you out, it’s likely better to stay away from that and keep trying to relax).
Try to squeeze those muscles (they’re the same ones that you use when you stop the flow of pee). If you can learn to squeeze the muscles, then you can get some control over them, and sometimes you can learn to relax them too. So when he’s trying to enter you, squeeze down FIRST and then try to relax. Just take a few minutes with him not moving and try that.
Also, the muscles that are contracting tend to be in the first 1 1/2 inches of the vagina. So once you’re relaxed enough for him to enter, it does tend to stop hurting.
Of those 20%, I’d say around 70% of them will figure this out by the end of the honeymoon. They may still be tight for a while, but it’s loose enough that they can make love, and when you keep that up and relax even more and take a lot of time just exploring each other’s bodies, chances are the pain will go away completely in a few weeks or months.
But what if you never relax enough?
Okay, now I’m talking to that smaller percentage of you who are really experiencing some ongoing problems. (I’m stressing the fact that this is a small percentage not to make YOU feel badly, but to reassure nervous brides that seriously, most people really are fine!).
But I don’t want you to feel weird if you do have ongoing pain, because I was in your group, too.
If you experience consistent pain and trouble consummating your marriage, you likely are suffering from a condition called vaginismus. I’ve written about it before, and shared a story of a new bride discovering that she had vaginismus.
And there’s a wonderful website dedicated just to this condition, and I’d like to share with you about it today, because it’s the best resource I’ve found on the web.
Vaginismus.com can help you understand what’s happening AND treat it
Seriously, they know what they’re talking about! When you arrive on the website, you’re greeted by other women experiencing exactly the same thing–and an explanation of what’s happening to you. It’s not a Christian website per se, but it’s really focused primarily on married couples, and their advice is spot on.
They explain what hurts, where it hurts, and why it hurts–all in a very non-blaming way. In fact, they’re very clear throughout the website that you are not causing this. And if you are not causing this, then you have no reason to feel guilty. They explain:
With vaginismus, the mind and body have developed a conditioned response against penetration. The body has learned to expect or anticipate pain upon penetration, so that the powerful PC muscle “flinches” or contracts to protect against the potential of intercourse pain. This can be equated to automatically blinking one’s eyes and wincing when an object is hurled toward us. It is not something a woman thinks about doing—it just happens (see Causes).
I really love the section of vaginismus stories, because you’ll find that there are so many women just like you that are going through this as well! And it’s fascinating (maybe that’s the wrong word?) to see all the other causes of vaginismus. Sometimes it’s not obvious when you first have intercourse (which is primary vaginismus), but it’s a condition that develops after childbirth or after menopause or after other health problems (that’s called secondary vaginismus).
Here’s what one woman says:
I am a twenty-eight-year-old married teacher, yet I still feel like a child. My high school students are always talking about how great sex is. I get angry and wonder why they are able to have sex so easily. They’re just sleeping around and don’t even care about each other. It’s not fair that it’s so hard for me. My husband does not understand my pain, and I think he might leave me if I do not get help soon. There is this huge disappointment in our lives, and so far we have been unable to share it with anyone.
Feeling alone is so common when you have vaginismus, and vaginismus.com also offers a forum where you can talk to other women going through this and support each other!
Vaginismus Next Steps
They do recommend seeing a doctor to rule out any possible medical causes of the problem. But that likely strikes terror in you, so they walk you through what will happen and even give you a sample script to explain it to the doctor if you’re embarrassed. And the site tells you what other information you should have on hand to tell your physician so that you get the most out of the appointment.
Now, what if it is decided that you have vaginismus? Vaginismus.com has one of the best programs out there for helping you get better, and you can do it in the privacy of your own home. It includes a manual that you walk through and some vaginal dilators (which sound and look really scary but don’t worry–you get to them only when you’re ready!)
The manual is really the most important part, because it helps you uncover if there IS an underlying reason that needs to be dealt with, like fear of sex, shame of sex, sexual abuse in your past, problems with your partner, etc. But sometimes there isn’t any of that. Sometimes it isn’t clear what the problem is! And that’s okay, because you can still move forward.
They focus on helping you become “sensate”, too, or focus on your breathing and your sexual self. That part can sound a little scary to some from a Christian background, but it really shouldn’t. Sex is supposed to be wonderful and something that carries us away, and being asked to focus on your sexual self is not a rejection of God. On the contrary–making sex into something which is really only about feeling intimate or having kids is a problem in and of itself. It is also an experience which should “carry us away”, and if sometimes we need to discover our sexual selves to get over vaginismus!
Some of the exercises about uncovering your sexuality are likely better done with your husband, but don’t be afraid of them. They can be fun!
Once you’re ready you can start to use the dilators, but it’s important not to use the dilators just on their own. The website says:
The main focus of proper dilator use is in retraining the pelvic floor, not on stretching the vaginal opening.
If you don’t learn how to retrain the pelvic floor muscles to stop that involuntary clenching, then you’re not really going to succeed.
Will it get better?
Yes! Vaginismus actually has very high cure rates, and you can see all the studies on vaginismus treatment here that can make you feel more confident! I was talking to a 28-year-old mom just last month who started her marriage with vaginismus, but who is now over it and starting to experience actual pleasure with sex (which she never thought would happen!). So do not despair!
There’s so much more at the site than I’ve been able to cover, but I’m really impressed at such a great resource. And they also have links for other female sexual problems as well, so it’s really useful.
And if you’re reading this, just keep it in the back of your mind. So many women have amazing sex lives until something happens–childbirth, a car accident, menopause. And all of a sudden pain starts. I just want all of us to recognize that sex is done with our physical bodies, and so physical problems can affect sex. So if you encounter this, don’t despair. Know that there is help. And tell your friends about this so that all of us know we don’t have to go through this alone, and it doesn’t have to stay this way forever.
Let me know in the comments: Any encouragement for women scared of pain during sex or experiencing pain when they make love? Let’s talk!