Sunday, February 4, 2018

When Sex Becomes A Pain

I wanted to share with my blog readers a new group I’m starting that I think some of you regulars might find interesting. It’s a group focused on women’s sexual pain. There’s a lot of stigma and presumption about what each of those words mean, so if you’re looking for the tl;dr version, imagine interesting, informative conversations, led by experts (like yours truly!) to help the participants work through feelings—physical and psychological—related to sexual pain.

Is Sexual Pain a Real Thing?

Sexual pain can encompass all sorts of different experiences for women. To focus purely on the physical first, we often associate sexual pain with a variety of clinical disorders, like vaginismus or vulvodynia. If you know about women who literally cannot use tampons because of involuntary muscle spasms or firey pain when touching the vulva, these are the disorders you have in mind. Naturally, these conditions can make penetrative sexual intercourse difficult, if not impossible. Discussing this sort of pain openly, the experiences women have had with it, and beginning to look toward treatments or coping skills is the best way to overcome sexual pain and topics I discuss with individual clients and in my group sessions.

But pain in the form of clinical disorders make up a pretty small percentage of the pain women experience with sex. Pain in general, vaginal discomfort, which can make intercourse less enjoyable and orgasm more difficult, is more central feature of sexual intercourse for women than it is for men. Indeed, 30% of women say they experience pain during sex regularly, and while half of all women say they have faked an orgasm, this same study does not even offer “pain” as an option for why women fake orgasms. There are loads of hypotheses and articles for why, as a matter of sexual culture, female pain seems secondary to male pleasure. As a therapist, one way to begin to address this issue is just to start talking through what these painful experiences are like, and help group members develop strategies for addressing them, both with their partners and on their own.

Not Just a Pain in the Butt...

As we all know, pain isn’t just physical. It’s emotional qualities are just as, if not more influential, on our sex lives. At the extremes, there are experiences like rape and sexual assault, in which the emotional wounds often last much longer than the physical ones. We also grow up in a culture shaming sexual development and experience. When these messages are internalized in childhood, they can be difficult to adjust in adulthood when se becomes expected with a spouse. These are experiences we’ll absolutely be addressing. Developing a fulfilling, functioning sex life is a rewarding process, and having people supporting you makes the process much easier.

It's Not Just You!

I started the When Sex Hurts group after hearing client after client make comments such as, “Am I the only one?,” “I feel so guilty,” or “No one else really gets it.” Clients can hear me say over and
over, “No, many women and couples experience sexual pain,” or “You’re not the only one! I work with many clients experiencing sexual pain.” However, sometimes we need to see things with our own eyes to really believe it! Sexual pain is also near and dear to my heart due to my own experience and treatment for sexual pain. During my own treatment with Drs. Jaci Brandt and Shelley DiCecco, I leaned much more about the human body than I was ever taught in my grad or certification courses. I wondered why no one ever told me all this important information about how my body works! 

Now, if all of this sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. No worries! We’re going to be diving into these difficult yet sexy topics together! If you’re able, I really hope you’ll consider joining us or continue reading posts about sexual pain and the impact on the self and relationships to gain further knowledge.

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