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How to Become an Expatriate of Owville

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PaulaKristine asks:

I am a 20 year old female. I have been sexually active since I was 17. Every time I have sex whether I was in a relationship with them or not having sex hurt. When we first start to have sex it feels good, but after a few minutes it starts to hurt, feeling like the penis is hitting a wall. I can't last for more than around 5 minutes or the sex feels like intense pain. Also I have never has an orgasm while having sex, I just do not feel aroused in the same way while having sex, like I do when my clit is being played with. People tell me I just do not have sex often enough so I am not "stretched out" or "used to it" but it does not feel good to me at all, except for the first minute or 2. I don't understand why I don't enjoy sex like the rest of the human population.

Heather Corinna replies:

I want to start by debunking a few things, especially one thing you said which anyone who helps people with sexuality for their job hears all the time. That's what you said about the rest of the human population enjoying sex.

When we talk about sex as something people usually do because they enjoy it and experience pleasure, we're talking about ALL kinds of sex, not just intercourse. I hear you referring to intercourse as sex, but it's only one type of sex of many. For instance, if you or a partner are exploring sexual pleasure and feelings when you're playing with your clitoris, that's a kind of sex, and there are also many ways to do that, not just one: they're all kinds of sex and ways of engaging in sex. Let me back that up a bit more by qualifying that when we say something like "all kinds," we mean the range of different ways of being sexual which people can enjoy, even though almost no one will want, enjoy or find pleasure in every possible kind of sex all the time or in any given sexual situation. What we all do and don't like, enjoy and want not only varies from person to person, but also usually varies for any one person from moment to moment, day to day, relationship to relationship and time of life to time of life.

So, when you hear that most people really like sex? If you're hearing that as intercourse, know that's not quite right. Sex is a way bigger picture than just intercourse.

Almost every day, we hear from someone who isn't enjoying some kind of sex who feels certain that they're alone in that. You're not. If you have the idea that the whole wide world is all enjoying every kind of sex they have all of the time without any kind of physical or emotional pain, discomfort or dissatisfaction except for you, please know you're wrong. That'd be amazing -- not the part where everyone else is and you're not: the part where the vast majority of the world is having awesome sex all the time -- because I think the world would be a better place, and it'd sure make my workweek a lot less packed, but that's just not how it is.

Loads of people have troubles with sex, don't enjoy certain things, or have temporary or situational issues when it comes to not feeling what they'd like to feel with sex as a whole, or any one kind of sex. Like I said, that's not all always for the same reasons. Some people aren't feeling good because they don't feel good about their own sexuality or bodies, or because they're still learning what feels good and how to make clear and ask for what does with a partner, and how to nix what doesn't instead of doing things that they aren't into or aren't liking. Other people are in sexual partnerships that are anywhere from truly horrible and unhealthy to just not being a good sexual fit. Not everyone we have sexual feelings for or love will be a tight sexual partner for us, after all, because those feelings don't mean we'll like or want the same things sexually. Other folks have pain because of health conditions or ways their bodies work or don't work that aren't a good fit with certain sexual activities or ways of going about them. Some folks have those issues because they're focusing more on trying to do what a partner wants or what they think they're "supposed" to do with sex rather than leading with what they want to do and what feels good for them. When it comes to vaginal intercourse specifically, the majority of women will not each orgasm through that activity alone, and an awful lot don't find it to be all-that, especially when all-that is only-that.

With all of those reasons and more, for most people, dissatisfaction or lack of enjoyment is temporary, so long as they can figure out what the problem or issue is, either at any given moment or on the whole, and make whatever changes they or partners need to so things do start feeling good and they can enjoy themselves.

So this isn't just you, and while I'm all about a Utopian world where everyone except maybe one or two people are having the best time ever all the time, or better still, where everyone is, that's just not even close to reflective of reality. Sex can be complicated, we all live in a world that puts up a whole lot of road blocks to having it be simpler, and like anything else in life, it's not totally awesome all the time, and sometimes it can even really suck.

Let's do some more debunking while we're at it. The things people are saying to you aren't sound. More of an activity that's hurting is about the worst idea ever: it's only going to make it more likely you'll keep having pain. When things hurt sexually (and that's not what we're after), we want to step back, not keep pushing it. Intercourse also doesn't stretch the vaginal canal or opening out in any kind of permanent way. That anatomy is made of very stretchy, flexible tissue surrounded by powerful muscles. When you get excited, the opening and canal will usually lubricate, loosen up (or, more accurately, get more flexible), and your cervix will pull back while the back of your vagina "tents," making much more room in there than there is when you're not excited. When you're not excited or excited enough, or when nothing is inside the vagina anymore, it goes right back to the place it started very shortly -- boing! -- being no bigger or smaller than it was before, no matter how many times you have intercourse. Some things can have a more long-term impact on the elasticity of the vagina, like vaginal birth, some injuries, health conditions or medications, or the process of aging (and I'm talking about decades from now). But no kind of sex is one of those things, and seriously, penises just don't have that kind of power, however powerful they can make some people feel.

"Being used to it," is something else I'd toss out in the rubbish bin. People don't keep having intercourse gladly and willingly because it's something that hurts and they get used to that pain. For sure, sometimes that line between pain and pleasure can be murky and indistinct, but like I said before, continuing to do something that hurts is usually the way to stay in pain, not to make it go away.

Mind, sometimes it can take us a while to get used to certain sensations, and also to become emotionally and physically comfortable with sexual activities. But that's not because we somehow get used to pain and it magically becomes pleasure. For instance, I have crappy knees and flat feet. I've always wanted to be able to be a runner, and I tried many different ways to do it years ago: different pacing, different shoes, different terrain, and lo, that discomfort never changed, because my knees and feet never changed. Running just is not going to feel good to me, and that's okay: I've discovered a whole host of other ways of getting my ya-ya's out that work and feel great with my unique body.

We have a lot of pieces here already about pain with vaginal intercourse as well as about a lack of orgasm, especially with intercourse, so I'll link you to those at the end rather than totally reinventing the wheel here, but let me give you some places you can start.

While it's far more common that pain with intercourse is about what we are and aren't doing physically and about how we feel in our hearts and heads, sometimes, pain is about a physical issue, so it's always wise to go ahead and get checked out by a good sexual healthcare provider first, and to take a break from anything that hurts until you do. They can check to make sure you don't have any kind of infection, a vulval or vaginal pain condition or something with your health that's going to result in pain no matter what you do. If you do have something going on pertaining to your health that's causing pain, a provider can find out what it is and get you started with some kind of treatment, as well as advising you about how to move forward sexually to prevent pain.

If it turns out that this isn't about a health issue, there are a few basic things you'll want to check in about and try to get a start here.

1) Do you want to be having intercourse? A lot? I know that may sound like a strange question to you, but it's a very important one. Not everyone wants to have intercourse, or wants to do so every time they do. And wanting to want to isn't the same as actually wanting to. If you don't want to be having intercourse, if that's not an activity you feel a strong desire for, for yourself -- not because it's what a partner wants, not because you feel like it's something you should be doing because you think everyone is -- then it's not likely to feel good. So, you first always want to make sure, each and every time, that when you go to have intercourse, it's because you feel a deep desire, in your body and your mind, to be doing that in the first place. If and when you don't? You want to skip it until or unless those feelings change.

2) Make sure that you're turned on and you're staying turned on. If you stop feeling turned on in your head or never are there to begin with, the body tends to respond in kind: that vaginal flexibility, lubrication and the room your vagina makes inside usually goes kaput when you're not into sex of any kind or lose interest in what you're doing. That experience you're having when you talk about feeling like a penis is hitting a wall could be about a wrong angle or you needing to add more lubricant, but it could also be about hitting your cervix or the back of your vagina which, if you've lost your excitement, have come back down pretty close to your vaginal opening.

You say you don't feel turned on during intercourse, not like you do with other activities, so if that's the case, then that, all by itself, is probably the biggest part of why you're feeling pain and not pleasure.

So, what does turn you on? It sounds like you already know at least one thing, and there are probably more, both in terms of different sexual activities and different ways of feeling emotionally, fantasizing, and relating to a partner and having them relate to you. Whatever those things are, you want to make some of them part of the sex you have before and during intercourse (and after, too, if you want!). If you like your external clitoris being stimulated, then you can keep that going throughout intercourse with your hands, your partner's hands, how you position your bodies or with a sex toy. And if you think any of that sounds weird, trust me when I assure you that it's very common.

For whatever reason, some folks don't realize that when engaging in sexual activity, you don't have to only do one thing at a time, separating activities like picky eaters who keep bits of their dinner apart from each other on a plate so they don't slide together and get mixed up. Good sex is more often like a stew with everything all mixed in together, not like a TV dinner where each bit of food is separated from the other by partitions.

If you don't know already, know your body works the same way: it's not like any one body part exists in a vacuum: everything is connected to something else, and usually to a bunch of something-elses. For instance, your clitoris is probably bigger than you know: those parts you can see on the outside aren't all there is to it. There are parts of it the inside that surround your vaginal opening and canal, so when you get the kind of stimulus you like and need with the external portions, it usually amps up the internal portions, too, which can make intercourse feel a whole lot different, and usually much better.

3) How are you having intercourse? In other words, have you tried doing so a bunch of different ways, both when it comes to positioning, but also when it comes to combining it with other activities like I just talked about above or being in different emotional moods? Have you and your partners been really communicating, so you're always sharing what feels good and doesn't, and then you're both trying a host of things to follow what feels great and steer clear of what doesn't? It's particularly common for intercourse to be a dud or painful in partnerships where the sexual communication isn't open and/or where anyone feels like they need to let their partner just do whatever it is they want to do, or think they should be doing, rather than leading with what feels good for them as individuals.

Chances are there are ways having your external clitoris touched feels great, ways it only feels okay, ways it feels like nothing much is going on, and even ways it hurts. The same goes here, and for a couple reasons, sometimes it can be even more the case with this. For instance, the vaginal canal slopes back at an angle, and while there's some flexibility there, it has its limits: angles matter, so like with other sexual activities, we often have to both scooch around some to find what feels good. Our bodies don't always fit together all the same ways or the ways we'd like, and one position that felt good one day won't the next, so we've got to experiment. One other thing sometimes folks don't know is that it doesn't always feel good for a partner to go way deep with their penis: the vaginal canal does end, after all, so not every penis (or a given penis every day, since how aroused you are determines how much room there is back there, too) is going to feel good being all the way inside to the base.

So, if you and your partners aren't talking before, during and after intercourse about what feels good and what doesn't, and aren't really experimenting as you give that feedback -- like trying different angles, depth, positions, speeds, adding other activities to intercourse, adding more lubricant -- you also just may not have yet discovered what feels good with this and what doesn't yet because you've been limiting the ways you have been having intercourse. It can sometimes take more than a few years to find all that out, especially if you're not with the same partner for a long time, and every time we have a new partner, we start that learning process all over again in a lot of ways.

A really good rule, though, is that if something doesn't feel good? Don't do it. Seriously. If you have tried changing things up a lot and it still doesn't feel good? It may be that you've just discovered intercourse isn't your thing, just like anyone can find any given sexual activity isn't theirs; just like you can find that things you do with your body that feel good to you don't feel good for someone else.

No one has to have any one kind of sex, or have any given kind of sex any certain way. Just like it isn't required for guys to have receptive anal intercourse (where their bottom is the one someone is going inside of), or for anyone to have oral sex who doesn't like or want it, the same goes with intercourse. Not everyone likes it or wants to do it, either every time, or even at all. Finding out what feels good to us uniquely in general, but then also in any given partnership, and at any given time of life, even day-to-day, is a very individual process. We don't all have the same body or the same sexuality -- and both of those often change through our lives -- and also don't enjoy the same things with one partner we might with another. For sure, it'd be a lot more simple, and easier to answer questions like this, we all were exactly the same and never-changing, but it'd also sure make sex and sexuality a lot less interesting.

I'm going to leave you a batch of links to other pieces and answers about pain and lack of orgasm with intercourse if you want to dig in deeper. But what I'd also suggest is that you just take some time to think about what you do and don't really like and want, and to focus on those things, spending the most time and energy exploring what you like, not what you don't. The first link I'll leave you with is a worksheet that can help you do that if you need some ideas about what those things might be. When you identify what those things are, own them: know that whatever it is you like and don't, whatever it is that makes up your own special and original sexuality, it's all good, whether it looks like someone else's or not. If you connect with partners who want or like things you don't, then you just need to figure you two aren't a good fit, and others are out there for you who you'll have more sexual compatibility with.

I also want to make sure you know that what works for us and doesn't often shifts throughout our lives. So, if you feel like intercourse is something you really want to get into, but trying all of what I'm suggesting and more still doesn't change this, let it go for now and don't sweat it. Stick with what works for you for now, and give intercourse a try again a few months or even years later if you're still interested. You may find it feels very different at another time in your life. And even if you never like it, it really, truly is okay.

Human sexuality is diverse, more than most people realize, especially when they're young and new to sex. All those folks out there having a great time with sex you think you're so different from? Some of them aren't being truthful, for one. But more importantly, some of them are. The biggest difference between those folks and people who aren't having a great time is most often just that those folks just celebrate, own and follow who they are, what their sexuality is and what they like, rather than trying to conform to ideas they or partners have about what they're supposed to be doing or what they think should feel good. What that means is that so much of the time, the answer to something like this is just following your own bliss, which is about an awesome an answer to any problem as it gets.

written 06 Apr 2011 . updated 06 Apr 2011

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