Sex Not "Working"

My boyfriend and I are both 18 and we've been together for about 6 months now, and as time goes on, we're getting more and more curious about having sex. But there's one problem - He's 5' 10" and I'm 3' 6". We've tried twice but just can't seem to get it to work. My mom is a dwarf also - she's 3' 9" and my dad is 6' 4" and they've been able to have sex perfectly fine. I want to ask her how they do it, but I'm afraid it will be awkward, plus she doesn't know we've even been trying. If they can do it just fine, how come we can't? Are we doing something wrong? Is there a certain way we should try it? Or are we just not ready yet?
Cory replies:

A few years back I was at a sex and disability conference in San Francisco. Tom Shakespeare, an author, disabled activist, and disability scholar, was giving the opening talk and he began by saying that as disabled people the real problem is usually not how to have sex, but who to have sex with. Eli Clare, another amazing activist and poet talks about how what disabled people need are dates, and lots of them! I know this point is kind of the opposite of your question, but as a non-disabled ally it was huge revelation to me, one that I'm reminded of daily as being true. So I guess I wanted to share that at first, just to point out that you've actually navigated around one of the biggest obstacles there is for folks whose bodies look, move, feel differently than the norm we're bombarded with every day on TV, in school, at home, etc...

But that doesn't actually answer your question. So let me give that a try. First I need to say I don't actually know enough to answer your question well. You say you tried to have sex, but I'm not sure what that means. Does it mean you tried to make each other feel good but it didn't work? Does it mean you wanted to touch each other and both have orgasms, and you tried that but it didn't work? Does it mean you wanted to have intercourse and that didn't work? You're welcome to email back with more details and I may be able to provide a more detailed response, but without knowing what "not working" means, what I can offer is hopefully a useful, but more general, response. I'll start with your last question about being ready. You are absolutely physically ready for sex. While we're told that only certain bodies are good for sex (those bodies that are tall and skinny and white and young and muscular and a whole bunch of other things most of our bodies aren't) the truth is that all bodies have the capacity to be sexual, to feel sexy, and to give and receive sexual pleasure.

The way sex feels to you may be different than the way it feels to me, but I'll tell you that those differences can have a lot more to do with a 100 other things that are different between you and me than the size of my body or the way your body developed as you grew up. So your capacity to have sex and feel sexual pleasure is not tied to your body. I know this may be a radically different message than what most people deliver, but having had plenty of partners with all sorts of bodies that they and others call disabled, and having lots of friends who call themselves disabled, and having spoken with thousands of people over twenty years about their sex lives, I promise you it's true. It doesn't mean that you'll immediately love sex or get a lot out of it. Just know that you can.

Now I said that you're physically ready for sex. But that's not the only kind of ready there is. It's possible (I don't know, because we don't know each other) that either you or your boyfriend or both of you aren't ready in some other way. You're emotionally or intellectually hesitant. You have too many worries, or even you're just too overwhelmed altogether with what it might be like. If that's going on, then it could be one of the things that is making it "not work" for you. Our minds and hearts can actually make it difficult for our bodies to enjoy sex. So I think it's great that you're asking this question about being ready, and the thing I'd recommend starting with is Ready or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist. Give it a read and if you're comfortable doing so, share it with your boyfriend. If it inspires questions or conversations that's great, and you can always come back and share thoughts or questions here.

Back to the main part of your question, about getting sex to work. The fact is that as far as someone like me (a sex educator) is concerned, you may already have had all kinds of sex with your boyfriend. To me, and most sex educators, sex includes A LOT of stuff like touching yourself or a partner, it includes using hands and feet and mouths on each other. I've had some sexual experiences that in terms of activities didn't get past kissing, but were among the best sex I've had. So I'm wondering if we're using the same terminology. You don't need to agree with mine, but I just wanted to make sure we were on the same general page. If you guys haven't really been sexual at all together, then you should know that it's pretty common for sex not to be great at first. Despite the cliché, sex doesn't really come naturally.

If you want it to feel good, it's important that whatever sex your having is moving at a pace that's slow enough that you both get turned on and become increasingly turned on. Arousal and pleasure are more like a ramp than like a switch, they build up and down more than just turn on and off.

If what you mean when you say sex isn’t working is that you’re trying to have vaginal intercourse, the first thing you need to know that there are no general rules of genital compatibility.

Anatomically it's possible that if he has a very big penis and you have a small vaginal opening, intercourse at first could feel painful. But that doesn’t mean you’re incompatible or that you can’t get something to work. Aside from going slow and making sure you’re both really turned on, using an external lubricant might help. Experimenting with different positions might help. If you’ve tried and it hurt, you may now be anticipating the pain, which could be making you tense up, and making the whole thing more difficult. One possible solution to that would be for you to explore vaginal entry on your own with a dildo. You could start with something smaller than he is, get used to it and get to a place where it’s a turn on and pleasurable. You don’t need to stop having sex together, just hold off on the intercourse while you’re finding out how your body works best. There are products called vaginal dilators, which are basically a series of dildos that you buy in a set that start small and get bigger. You don’t need to get those, they can cost more because they’re tagged as being “medical” but I wanted to mention them. There are lots of other ideas I can share with you, so if vaginal entry is the main issue, let me know, and I can email back other ideas.

But if it's a bigger issue that you're trying to be sexual together and none of it is working, then you can start bigger picture. Think about what it is that the two of you want to do together. What is it that you want sex to be? Can you talk with each other about it? Do you generally want the same things? Again, you'll probably find that Sexual Readiness article helpful.

I know that talking to your mom might seem like it would be awkward, and only you can know if it would be awkward or would end up being more trouble than it's worth, but if you think she could handle it, it could be a great idea. You could always test the waters by asking her what she would think about a sex conversation, or how she would respond if you wanted to talk about sex. Talking with your mom could be useful if you feel like your mom knows you and you know her.

It might seem like it would be good if you guys have similar bodies. And there's some truth to that, but it's not ever 100% true. Our bodies are all different, and the fact that we focus on some aspects (like the size of someone's leg or the shape of their bones) are actually a bit arbitrary.

You might find that you have way more sexually in common with someone whose body doesn't look anything like yours than you do with someone whose body does. Of course you may also share lots of things with someone whose body does, so getting lots of different suggestions and advice is something I'd definitely recommend. Also, while our personal experience of sex is very individual, the way we're treated in the world is not. The way people evaluate you and judge you isn't based on who you are on the inside, it's based on what you look like (I'm not saying this is right or good, just that it is the way it is). This is one of the reasons it's sometimes nice, and often powerful to share stories with people who look like us. We share experiences of being judged (and often hurt) and sharing those experiences, finding out we aren't alone and that for the most part when people treat us like shit, it's because the world is a screwed up place, can actually be pretty liberating.

Along those lines you might be interested in checking out the website of Marylou Naccarato, who describes herself as a sex educator, author, and speaker who "draws from her formal education and life experiences as a person of short stature." Her website is High10YourLife. I wouldn't think that you're going to agree with or connect with everything that Marylou has to say. Sexuality isn't so simple that, say, people of short stature all experience it the same, or Jewish people all experience it the same. But getting a diversity of opinion always helps me form my own. Even if I read something that I think is totally wrong, or doesn't reflect my experience, it can help me figure out what does feel right.

I’ll leave it there for now. Hopefully that gives you some ideas and let me know if there’s something that wasn’t clear or where more information is desired.

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