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She doesn't know much about her body: is that why deeper manual sex hurts her?

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iN lOVE asks:

My GF and I have been together for 6 months. We are both virgins. I have fingered her quite a few times and she likes it best just rubbing the outside. She does like me to go in occasionally but not very far. Maybe just a third of my finger. She is very cute and innocent and doesn't know a lot even about her own anatomy. If I go in too far she says it hurts sometimes. Is this something to do with her hymen? Will this pain slowly wear away?

Heather Corinna replies:

You know, it actually isn't "cute" to not understand your own body.

It's pretty tragic, and for the person who doesn't understand, it doesn't tend to feel cute. It can even feel pretty scary, especially if and when you're doing things -- or someone else is -- with that anatomy you can't or don't understand. Innocence is often a synonym for ignorance, but there's just no value or charm in being ignorant about something so essential as your own body.

But to tell you the truth, sounds like you both could stand some extra understanding, not just her. For instance, it's typical for women to prefer external vulval stimulus to vaginal insertion. Women aren't monolithic, mind: like men, everyone had their preferences and quirks. But the most sensitive part of our genitals is our clitoris, and the parts of the vulva which have contact with it, like our outer labia and the very front of the vagina which is surrounded by the internal clitoris. Vaginal entry -- with fingers, a penis, sex toys -- can feel great, too, but if that is all that is happening, or made to be the main event, at best, for a majority of women it just isn't that interesting or exciting, and at worst, it's uncomfortable.

None of this is likely about the hymen, since the hymen is not deep inside the vaginal opening. If and when it is present -- and in a teen girl or adult woman, it's most likely to only be partial at this point -- it is just behind the vaginal opening, just like your eyeball is just behind your eyelid. If you've had your hands in her vagina, there should be no reason you can't also look at her vulva and vaginal opening if you're curious about hymenal issues, or just because feeling around in the dark is often no way to learn about someone's body. Why not have a look, both of you?

Too, a lot of people forget that vaginal tissue is delicate, that the vagina is curved, and that just poking around in there doesn't often feel very good. I tend to remind people that if you're putting fingers into a woman's vagina and poking around like you'd push an elevator button, with a straight finger or fingers, it's unlikely to feel good for anyone. It's curved, so so should fingers inside be curved or curled a bit. It's delicate, so often enough, most women don't like being hammered away at, but prefer more gradual entry, and as well, if you're not using extra lubricant with vaginal insertion, that will often also mean things can't feel as good as they might. And this is all something you should be able to ask a partner about, as in, "Does this feel good? Do you want more or less? Should I do this more slowly or more quickly? Does one finger or two feel better? Do you like it better when I turn my fingers back and forth, or when I move them more in and out? Do you want more lubricant right now?" If asking those questions doesn't seem okay, or a partner is too shy to answer them, then it might be best to step back from any kind of sex until they can, because being able to openly communicate during sex is a crucial part of sexual readiness.

What this is likely about is a) that she, like a majority of women, prefers more external vulval stimulus to internal, and have the most pleasant sensations vaginally right in the front and b) that -- especially if she does feel so clueless about her body and all of this -- she is not comfortable or aroused enough for deeper vaginal entry to feel good. If we aren't fully aroused and relaxed, the vaginal opening and canal don't loosen up, our cervixes don't pull back, all of which makes vaginal entry uncomfortable. She's expressed to you that it IS uncomfortable if you go further in, so all you need to do is respond to what she's telling you, and only go in as much as SHE likes, and as feels good to HER. There's no reason to go any further than she likes, or try and push deeper than feels good to her: receptive manual sex with her body is supposed to be about what feels good to her, after all. Maybe later on, or in situations where her clitoris and the rest of her body is getting more airtime, it will feel good to her for you to go inside with fingers more deeply, but maybe it won't.

Often enough, men have defined vaginal entry as the "normal" sex for women or as "the" sex. Often enough, some women have just accepted that, or tried to fit that mold, but in so many ways, those definitions have a lot more to do with male bodies than they do with ours. Our most sensitive parts (just like yours) are on the outside, not the inside. That doesn't mean the internal stuff can't feel good, it can, but context is important, and so is (usually) pairing it up with activities that really are about giving our most sensitive spots the most attention, not only just enough to make vaginal entry or intercourse just okay, passable, or something we'll allow because we feel we ought to.

So, I hear you asking about this as if something must be wrong with her, when really, sounds like she's perfectly average in this respect.

Here are a few links to help you both out there:

The holidays are coming up, and most folks have at least one seasonal holiday around this time. Why not gift your girlfriend with a great book so that she CAN empower herself by better understanding her own body? Because again, it sure doesn't feel "cute" to not know this stuff, nor to have other people find it cute, especially the people we're sleeping with. It tends to feel patronizing, unbalanced and uncomfortable. Information on my book, which can tell her all about it (and you), is here -- S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book! -- but if that doesn't appeal or you want to get more than one, some other fantastic choices which are specifically about female sexuality and anatomy I'd suggest are Our Bodies, Ourselves, by the Boston Women's Health Collective, Vaginas: An Owner's Manual, by Carol Livoti and Elisabeth Topp, Woman: An Intimate Geography, by Natalie Angier or for a whimsical (but still informative approach) The Clitourist, by Karen Salmansohn.

It's a lot better to be the guy that helped a woman inform herself about herself than to be the guy who knew a girl was ignorant and decided that was precious. :)

Heather Corinna • Scarleteen Founder, Editor & Advice-Slingin' Sister • Author, S.E.X.

written 22 Nov 2007 . updated 01 May 2008

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