Confession: I Had Painful Sex…And I Didn’t Say a Word

It’s been a quiet month here at EROcentric. My review schedule remains outdated & untouched and I haven’t had the motivation or the emotional fortitude to admit what’s been going on with my sex life — to myself, my partner, or to my readers. But the more I tried to push down my emotions, the more they needed to find validation within actual words.

The truth is… My partner and I have had sex exactly once in the last month and my number of masturbation sessions is not much higher.littlebackstoryIt started as my last menstrual cycle came to an end. I could feel that something wasn’t quite right with my body, and before long I noticed the telltale signs of a yeast infection. I purchased the dreaded Monistat (I’m never quite sure what feels more uncomfortable: a yeast infection or the treatment for one), stocked the fridge with yogurt, and started drinking enough water to have me running to the restroom every hour. Compared to yeast infections of my past, this one actually surrendered without much of a fight.

When I finally allowed myself to masturbate again, the results were lackluster at best & mildly uncomfortable at worst. The lubricant stung, thrusting felt abrasive, and arousal was nonexistent. At this point, I hadn’t had sex for about 2 weeks — and it suddenly went from something that I was longing for to something that I needed to simply push out of my mind.

I should point out that two weeks without sex has not been exceptionally rare for me over the last few years. I’ve been fairly open about my struggle with low libido & my efforts to determine what it means for my own sexuality while also forming a plan of action with my “high libido” partner. It’s been the topic of many tearful conversations, but we’ve finally been seeing some real progress… until this particular set back.

I could tell that the lack of physical intimacy was beginning to wear on my partner, even though our emotional intimacy was still high. I just couldn’t find the words to talk with him about this. All I knew was that my body wasn’t cooperating and my mind had shut itself off from any sexual thoughts. Anything more than cuddles felt like a request that I simply couldn’t handle, and the guilt & shame was too overwhelming to let him in. All he knew was that I had stopped expressing love in a way that is very meaningful to him.tippingpointFinally, after 3 weeks of no sex and a growing distance between the two of us, I was desperate. Desperate for a connection. Desperate to feel normal again. I tried to initiate foreplay and get into the mood, but I felt detached from my body…and as intercourse followed, the pain set in.

As someone who advocates for sex positivity, consent education, and open sexual communication, you’d think that I would have spoken up — but I didn’t. I hid my pain in the darkness, clenched my fists, and waited it out. And once it was over, I cried.

Yes, I cried because the burning pain of a thousand suns was trapped within my vagina. But I also cried because after so long without sex, I felt like I had ruined everything. I cried because I felt guilty that I didn’t communicate, and therefore put my partner in a very awkward situation. I cried because I didn’t know what was wrong with my body or my sex drive. …I cried because my shame suddenly became a river that I was drowning in.repeatoffenderThis entire situation has made me realize that this isn’t the first time I’ve made the mistake of not speaking up. In fact, it’s something that I now recognize I need to work on.

During one of my first D/s scenes with my current partner, I felt uncomfortable and emotionally shut down instead of using my safeword. I fell asleep feeling bitter & angry that he didn’t read my mind, while he was confused and assumed that he had done something to lose me completely.

I’ll also commonly grit my teeth & bear the last few thrusts of intercourse in the doggy style position, even though my partner is painfully bumping against my cervix. I don’t want to speak up, because I know he’s close and I’d hate to ruin his orgasm. I do this continually, even though I know he’d rather me speak up because he hates the idea of me being in pain.

It’s not “no” that I have trouble with; It’s “stop.” My pride gets in the way. I have an impossibly hard time asking for help or asserting my needs. I want to prove that I can take anything. I don’t want to appear weak. But it causes much more trouble than being honest with myself & my partner.wherenowHonestly, I’m nervous to have sex again. I’m afraid of the pain still being present. And even though my partner & I have since discussed what happened in much more detail, I’m still scared that sex will be awkward as a result of my communication failure.

The entire mess is contributing to a lack of libido that is more intensely depressing & debilitating than any dry spell I’ve ever experienced before. Although I have ideas on how to move forward, I don’t feel confidant that I’m actually moving in the right direction. I find myself fearing that not only has my libido dropped, but my arousal & enjoyment of sex has as well.

I have to keep reminding myself of the good in this situation: that the crying actually forced me to open up again & it cleared the air between us in the bedroom. That I have recognized an area where I need to focus energy & we’re now facing this problem as a team instead of separate & alone. I also have to remember that being “sex positive” isn’t about having great sex — and it doesn’t mean that I’ll never make mistakes. Sometimes sex is bad, but that doesn’t mean that it always will be. And it doesn’t have to mean that I’ve done irreparable harm to my relationship either.

So, what can you expect from EROcentric in the coming weeks? Unfortunately, I’m not sure. Will my body start cooperating, allowing me to finish reviewing the wonderful products that have so far gone untouched? Will this hiccup in my sexuality allow me to write a couple of non-review articles that I’ve been excited about but haven’t found time for?

At this point, all I can promise is that I am still here & I’m not giving up on this journey.

Aftercare: The Calm After the Climax

What is sexual “aftercare?”

Simply put, aftercare is a designated time for calm & comfort that occurs after a sexual activity. While this term is most often used in a BDSM-specific context, some light forms of aftercare are commonly practiced by vanilla couples as well. (Post-coital cuddling, anyone?) Although we often have very specific ideas of who needs aftercare (most likely female submissives), it should be a basic sexual right for anyone who desires it — regardless of gender, sexual orientation, level of kink, or one’s status as Dominant or submissive.

Although aftercare can be comforting during times of distress, it should not necessarily be viewed as reparative. This causes the preceding sex act to be seen as inherently damaging and reinforces the idea that some forms of consensual sex are scary or “wrong.” Rather, aftercare should be viewed as a way to enhance sexual encounters. It may be used to increase intimacy, reinforce positive emotions (such as self-esteem), promote sexual communication and/or express love.

Why is aftercare beneficial?

Sometimes sex (even vanilla sex) can get rather intense. Maybe it’s been a rough week and sex is simply more cathartic than you expected, or maybe you’re just feeling particularly insecure or self-conscious. Most of us have also probably done or said something “in the moment” that caused us to experience shame or doubt after our sexual arousal abated. There are a lot of reasons why sex can sometimes create emotions that are overwhelming — and perhaps not so pleasurable.

BDSM practitioners have these same concerns and more. Endorphins and sexual arousal are a heady mixture, capable of removing a person from reality in what we call subspace or Domspace. This can be a wonderful experience, but the ensuing drop may cause a scene to feel physically, mentally, and/or emotionally exhausting for all individuals involved. Limits may have been pushed, role-played humiliation may require positive affirmations, and yes — minor physical injuries may need to be attended to.

How can you provide aftercare for a partner?

First, talk with them about the concept of aftercare. Are they familiar with it? If they think that it will be a positive addition to your sexual activity, discuss what calms them down or relaxes them. This is different for everyone and can range from extended intimate discussions to simply being left alone.  Without knowing what works for a particular person, aftercare may cause more harm than good.

Make sure that you consider a variety of aftercare options that target both physical and mental/emotional comfort. This will likely depend on the type of sexual play you are engaging in.

Here are a few ideas for various forms of aftercare…

  • Attending to basic physiological needs: Have you been playing intensely or for a long time, warranting food or water? If you have engaged in S&M activities, are there minor injuries that need antiseptic ointment and bandaids? If bondage has been incorporated, this may also be a good time to remove restraints, allowing for a more comfortable body position.
  • Providing comfortable surroundings: This can include temperature control (fan, space heater, blankets, warm socks) or more atmospheric enhancements (scented candles/incense, soft music).
  • Reinforcing intimacy and other positive emotions: This will depend on what type of relationship you have with the person you are currently playing with. A couple that is both involved in S&M and vanilla sexual activity may find intercourse or sexual touching to be very comforting after more intense play. Cuddling and/or offering reassurance are also good ways to let your partner know that you care about them. If you and your sexual/play partner do not have an emotional connection for this type of aftercare, a close friend may be able to provide some third party support.
  • Enhancing sexual communication: Some individuals use aftercare as a time to debrief by asking what was most/least enjoyable for their partner, what they’d like to do differently next time, etc. However, this can be complicated. One or both partners may be so satiated that conversing is momentarily impossible. If a power dynamic is in play, one or both partners may still be in their roles, potentially creating a barrier for open communication. Also, if not careful, post-coital criticism — even if constructive — can sometimes make vulnerabilities worse. (I-statements!) For some, this may work better if it’s used as a delayed “check-in” aftercare, allowing a few days for all partners to gather their thoughts.

Talking about aftercare can sometimes feel like you’re expecting the worst out of a pleasurable situation. In reality, it’s a great way to show your partner that you respect them and their needs. It communicates that you are there for more than just your own physical gratification. In a way, it’s the mature progression of not sneaking out immediately after the deed is done.

The Magic (Safe)word

I know that, according to the ever-popular Christian Grey, “Lovers don’t need safewords,” but I’m here to say that’s bullshit. Because, if understood and used responsibly, safewords can benefit any sexual relationship. Problems arise when communication about a couple’s safeword is lacking — or when the idea of a safeword is shrouded in societal misconceptions.

What is a “safeword?”

A safeword is a word that is designated and agreed upon prior to sexual activity. This word is to be used in the case of overwhelming amounts of physical, mental, or emotional discomfort/pain. If a person says the safeword, their partner(s) will immediately stop what they are doing — either completely or at least long enough to fix the problem. To make this distinction more clear, sometimes there will be two designated words: one to signal a pause or alleviation of current activity and the other to signal a complete stop to all activity.

There are a few ways that people may choose their safewords. Most importantly, the safeword should not be something that would normally be said during sex. Some choose words that hint at discomfort like “mercy.” Others choose a random word like “salad.” And still others stick with the standard traffic light code:  “yellow”  for caution/slow down and “red” for stop. (Some people also use “green” as a way to communicate that everything is fine and that the activity should continue.) But a safeword doesn’t have to be a spoken word. For example, in the BDSM community, it’s common to have a nonverbal signal in case a gag is being used. This opens up a lot of possibilities, like snapping of the fingers or tapping on a nearby surface. Whatever the method of communication, it should be quick and unmistakable. 

“No!” and “Stop!”: Universal safewords? 

A lot of people don’t get the point of safewords. They argue that words like “no” and “stop” should be enough to make any partner stop in their tracks. For the most part, I agree with this. But I also recognize that there may be some situations where these words are part of a larger role-play scenario. A lot of people (while not turned on by the actual act of rape) may want to experiment with consensual “forced” sex. As part of the performance, one partner may pretend to fight back or say “stop.” Another consideration is that, in the case of intense physical sensation (ex: spanking or even tickling), it may be a reflex for some people to say “stop!” long before they actually hit their limit. In both of these cases, a separate word could be used to signal the actual desire to stop the scene.

There’s also some unfortunate societal reasons for individuals to avoid using these words. Even during sex, people will keep quiet because they fear hurting someone else’s feelings. They don’t want their partner(s) to feel like they aren’t skilled at giving sexual pleasure. And, as horrible as it is, a lot of people simply accept that sex “is supposed to be” painful, uncomfortable, or at the very least unpleasurable. Words like “stop” may even feel too final for some, insinuating panic when all they really want to do is pause while they find a more comfortable position. Bringing in a unique safeword can actually seem less intimidating, and lead to greater communication.

Safewords for everyone! 

I encourage everyone to forget the idea that safewords are only for dangerous BDSM play. They are a great way for all sexual couples to keep an open line of communication. They promote consensual sexual activity by giving everyone a voice. Even if you choose to rely on “no” or “stop,” you and your partner(s) should still have the safeword conversation. (Do you feel comfortable speaking up during sex? What are things that would cause you to say stop? How do you plan to communicate ‘stop’ vs. ‘wait?’ etc.) This will provide you with a clear, verbal plan for communication during sex, in addition to body language. Then, if something doesn’t feel good or if one of you simply wants to stop — for whatever reason, both of you will be on the same page immediately.

Enthusiastic Consent: Sexy & Necessary

According to RAINN’s website, 1 in 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. There is a sexual assault every 2 minutes in the US alone. When Yale frat boys enthusiastically chant “No means yes, yes means anal,” it’s no surprise that a recent UK study found that nearly 1/3 of students are not learning about consent in sex ed. (Imagine what that says about students in the US, where any sex education beyond abstinence is practically nonexistent.)

Consent is…

Sexual consent is when all persons involved in any sexual activity have voluntarily agreed to that activity. A consenting person is free of mind-altering substances, as well as manipulation or force from others. They have a full understanding of the situation and are old enough to legally agree to it. Consent can have limitations. A person may consent to oral sex but not intercourse, spanking but not if it leaves bruises. Consent can also be revoked at any time. Even if someone previously agreed to intercourse, but changes their mind mid-act. Even if you have been with your partner for years and have had sex hundreds of times.

There are two types of consent: verbal & nonverbal. Verbal consent is very explicit, using one’s words in order to remove doubt or confusion about the situation. In the most basic sense, this is telling someone else “I want to have sex with you.” However, even though communicating verbally is much more efficient, many of us rely on nonverbal cues during sexual activity. If you want to have sex with your partner, you may moan and unbutton their pants in order to make your intentions clear. But this can be a tricky situation, especially for new couples.

Consent is not…

Consent is not based off of assumptions. While writing this, I was reminded of an email forward from when I was a teenager that described what different kisses mean. According to the wisdom of the internet, a kiss on the stomach meant “I’m ready.” I don’t know about you, but kissing a guy’s stomach came long before I was ready to have sex! My point is that different people interpret actions in different ways. If you gauge your partner’s desire for one action (sex) by their enthusiasm for another action (undoing their pants), you make the mistake of assuming. In this example, your partner may be expecting petting, oral sex, or even just some pants-less time together.

Consent is not the absence of “no” or “stop.” An argument during the Steubenville rape case was that the victim never said no — even though she was intoxicated to the point that even her attackers described her as “like a dead body.” Anyone in their right mind can see that this is absurd. But people also refrain from saying “no” for plenty of reasons beyond being physically incapacitated. Peer pressure and a fear of rejection are just a couple of big influences, especially for young individuals. “Maybe” or “I guess so” also don’t count. If the person you are with seems to have some reservations about sexual activity, stop and have a more in-depth discussion about it. 

Despite what some believe, consent does not ruin the mood. It shows your partner that you are concerned for their comfort & pleasure. And what’s better than knowing that the person you are with truly wants to be with you?

My Challenge to You

The sad truth is, even if we know all of this and we aim for explicit consent, we get lazy sometimes — especially in long-term relationships. Therefore, my challenge is that you make an honest effort to give & get consent. I’m not saying that you have to explicitly ask for consent every time you kiss or touch your partner. You can discuss consent beforehand. The next time things are getting a little steamy, you can whisper in their ear what you’d like to do, or ask if they’d like for you to get a condom. If you’re shy, showing your consent nonverbally is still better than nothing — but take it beyond just “not saying no.” Remember: consent is an enthusiastic yes!

Sharing Your Sexual Fantasies

I keep running into the same question from people looking to actualize their sexual fantasies: How do I convince my partner? The problem is they’re asking the wrong question. “Convincing” someone to engage in a sexual activity that they are opposed to will not be pleasurable for anyone involved. However, you can express your desires, without expectation or intimidation, in hopes of greater intimacy.

Before Sharing Your Fantasies

Know yourself. Have a detailed understanding of your specific desires. The same general fantasy (Ex: spanking) can mean different things to different people, and you need to be prepared to explain what it is that you want. (Spanker vs. spankee, red bottom vs. bruising, paddle vs. cane?) Consider why something turns you on, or what exactly seems appealing about it. Are you drawn to the physical sensation, an emotional reaction, or a combination? Also, know the importance of your desires. Are you sharing in order to learn something about each other, or to turn fantasy into reality? Is this something that you can live without or is it necessary for your happiness? 

Know your partner. Unless this is your method for weeding out potential love interests, take a moment to consider your partner. Are they open or conservative about sexuality? You may want to test the waters by mentioning your fantasy in a way that is unrelated to your relationship. For example, when a celebrity’s foot fetish gets media coverage, ask your partner’s opinion. Consider if your fantasy might take too much of a physical or emotional toll. Do they have a physical condition that would make an action or position uncomfortable? What about a negative experience from their past that might resurface? If you know your partner well, you might be able to anticipate their questions & concerns.

Know your relationship. Each relationship is different, and everyone deals with these discussions in different ways. Remember, this can be a very dangerous activity for a couple. Does your relationship feel ready? If you’re not sure, are you comfortable taking the risk?

Starting the Discussion

Don’t think of this as a “once and done” conversation. Depending on you & your partner’s comfort level, confessing your fantasies may be a multi-step process. Also, fantasies change: sometimes they continue to expand into new territory and sometimes reality just isn’t as great as you imagined. The important thing is to open up the line of communication.

If both of you are comfortable discussing sex, you may be able to share your fantasies (and ask about your partner’s) with little pretense. However, phrasing is important. If you’re having trouble, rely on I-statements and avoid abrupt confessions that may make your partner uneasy. (“I think your feet are really sexy, and giving you a foot massage would really turn me on.” vs. “I have a foot fetish. Let me suck your toes.”) Also be mindful of possibly coercive or unfavorable settings. For example, confessing your fantasies in the middle of a sexual activity may seem like a request, placing undue pressure on your partner. It also doesn’t allow time for them to ask questions. Instead, consider neutral situations, like while folding laundry together. Or intimate, but not necessarily sexual activities, like cuddling. 

If at least one of you is shy about these sorts of topics or you’re worried about your partner’s reaction, jumping right in may not be particularly helpful — or even possible. You may find that a sexual checklist or a Want/Will/Won’t chart makes the discussion easier. Sexual checklists are commonly used within the BDSM community, but you can find more general ones as well. If you’re interested in creating a Want/Will/Won’t chart, Dr. Lindsey Doe created a very informative video on the topic here. Both of these can provide you with a lot of conversation starters, and serve as great tools for learning about each other’s sexuality.

Responding to Negative Reactions

If you can tell that the conversation is not going in a positive direction, do not force it. Keep in mind that while you have probably had years to think about your fantasy, it may be a novel idea for your partner. They may need time to get comfortable with the information. They also may never be comfortable with it. How you handle this depends on why you wanted to share your fantasies in the first place. If you were primarily looking for greater emotional intimacy, let your partner know that. Stress that you shared this part of yourself out of trust and/or love. If they have questions later, that’s great, but reassure them that you do not expect them to make your fantasies a reality. On the other hand, if this is something that you find necessary to experience, then you may have to ask yourself if this relationship is right for you.