Still struggling with sexual fear

08/21/2009 at 11:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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A few weeks ago there was a post over at Renegade Evolution, a response to something feminist blogger Heart had said about heterosexual sex. Essentially Heart said something to the extent of, women are threatened by sex with men. It’s never truly consensual.

Heart said, “Women are *always* vulnerable in sexual encounters with men. Every single time. All het sex is threatening to some degree to women”

It’s a pretty broad generalization, and precisely because of its breadth, it fails to account for a large chunk sexually active women who feel no threat, and maybe even enjoy heterosexual sex. So Ren posted a response…

Unfortunately, Ren’s response post degenerated into victim blaming and bootstraps logic in the comments, to the point where Ren closed the discussion. Rather than address Heart directly, Ren addressed the women who express these feelings of sexual vulnerability. I’ve had some time to think about what she said it still doesn’t sit well with me.

Ren said,

You know what? I feel sorry for any woman who has that attitude. For whatever reasons, whether it be abuse at the hands of a man (or men), or how she was raised, or whatever. I can’t be angry at that kind of fear…no room for anger at that kind of fear. I mean, I look around and I read all this stuff how women just “come up” feeling inferior, to know that they are second best, what that spawns…and you know, it makes me want to slap the shit out of some peoples parents, teachers, extended families, whatever. I want to scream at them “What the hell is wrong with you??” But I don’t want to scream at people who have that kind of fear. In fact, it makes me sad. Very much so.

And then there’s me.
Someone who has experienced some type of sexual fear.
Enough for it to interfere with my sex life.

I don’t want your pity. I don’t want your sorrow, as I bear enough of it on my own. Do not add to my pile, as your pity just adds more stigma & social  pressure to perform “Correctly.” I’ve let down yet another person for failing to live up to arbitrary sexual standards.

“I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.”

Pity doesn’t carry me far. I want your fearlessness. I want your respect. I want your understanding.

I’d never, as a het gal, want to feel that damn powerless when it comes to sex. Here is one woman who does not feel that fear every time…hell, hardly any time at all…if any. And I thank whatever powers that be for that…especially today after reading that statement. I do not want that kind of fear. I don’t think I could deal with it.

I don’t want that fear either, yet it’s there. I have learned it and I don’t know if I’m ever going to completely un-learn it. I think on some level, it will always be there, lurking just under the surface.

Yet somehow, I’m dealing with it, in my chosen manner.
And I’m still standing.

I don’t want to deal with it; I want to be sexually pain-free and carefree, relaxed, assured, bold. I’m not.

Yet still, here I stand, even as I acknowledge having sexual fear.

There’s no single person or event for me to blame for my dysfunction & sexual anxiety. I do not have a history of sexual abuse. My health history is too jumbled to pick out any single variable as THE definitive cause. While I’m still interested in learning the causes for vulvodynia, vaginismus, and their ilk, I do not blame anyone or anything for my case.

Who are you going to “Slap the shit out of” about this hot mess I find myself in?
Who is there to correct?

No one “Did” anything to me to cause the pelvic & sexual pain disorders to develop. It just kind of happened. My partner, family and friends were all (and remain) supportive. The pain & injuries I sustained during sex with my partner were unforeseeable accidents (especially the pain that happened after we took proactive steps to prevent it from happening again.) I cannot see a direct link between my sex-negative sex ed teachers and biological changes on a cellular level in my vulva. As far as I’m concerned, I did everything exactly the way I was supposed to.
It still happened.

I’ve come a long way from where I was during those peak pain days. I can enjoy non-sexual activities that nonetheless still employ my pelvis. I can usually sit comfortably for long periods of time. Following treatments, I’m getting to a point where inserting things into my vagina is starting to feel good in and of itself. Slowly but surely, my body is beginning to learn sexual pleasure, and un-learn fear & tension.

So we’re getting there. It’s a slow and bumpy ride, and there are times when I backtrack. But I see how far I’ve come already. I’m going somewhere.

But the kind of fearlessness Ren and others enjoy when engaged in sexual activity remains the elusive carrot on a stick. How are you people doing that?

…I really am still vulnerable during sex.
At least, a little bit.
I’m reluctant to admit it, since I don’t want to feed Heart or stereotypes about women in general. Not everyone feels the way I do. This is all on me.
But I can’t deny it – the feelings of vulnerability & anxiety, it’s there.

I fight against negative attitudes toward sex that I find myself mired in and acutely aware of. Yet despite US culture’s mixed feelings about sex, it seems like nearly everyone in the media and online is nonetheless having sex, especially intercourse. How can I possibly measure up? Then there’s the whole virgin/whore dichotomy to overcome, questions of how to give enthusiastic consent to sex, what kinds of sex I can safely & comfortably engage in, have I thoroughly examined my thoughts and desires, where they come from and what is inherently problematic with them etc etc… It goes on. It’s complicated, often needlessly so. It’s enough to make my head hurt and my vagina clamp shut. So many things to worry about.

When it comes to sex, physically and emotionally, I remember the pain and fear. It only took a handful of consistent “Failures” to associate intercourse specifically with fear & pain – and unfortunately, that fear & pain just went on and on long after the actual event. The vulvovaginal discomfort remained for days – weeks – months, prompting multiple doctor visits. The discomfort ate away at my patience & mental health. There just seemed to be no end in sight.
And to think I felt ~mostly fine before attempting intercourse… sure there were some little warning signs here & there but how would I have even recognized them for what they were?

My body may be slowly lowering its defenses, but they’re not completely down yet. Physically, my body is still holding onto tension in the pelvic floor, perhaps in an attempt to defend itself. It’s going to take time and training for my body to learn that there (hopefully) isn’t much left to be afraid of.

Emotionally, I still fight against feelings of sexual inadequacy. How can I possibly measure up to competition? Should I even be in the dating pool? What does it mean when I do not meet rigid requirements for a satisfactory sex partner? What does it mean when I can’t pass rigid requirements for being a sexual being alone, in and of myself? What does it even say about me that I continue to pursue an active sex life, even though it will not be a completely fearless one?

On some level, I know, I will always have to fight that little nagging “What if?” voice in the back of my head.

“What if I can’t perform? What if we can’t get it in? What if I develop a post-sex infection? What if the infection wipes me out? What if I reset back to zero?”

“What if it hurts?”
“He’s bigger than me…”

The fear remains. It’s still there.

It’s there when I am safe & alone in my room, lying comfortably on the floor, maybe even aroused – yet my right hand holding the dilator still quivers, and my heart beats faster as I get ready to start the dilator exercises.

It’s there when it takes several minutes of additional coaxing to relax the vaginal muscles enough to allow the dilator entry – and even then, only slowly. I won’t be able to handle the biggest one that day.

It’s there when I’m at the gynecologist, and although I need to “Scoot down to the edge of the table,” I instead recoil & draw my pelvis away from strange hands and devices.

It’s there when my partner gently places his hand on my visibly shaking leg when I know he is about to go down on me.

It’s there when there is still some muscle resistance just before I push him inside of me.

How do I turn this residual fear off?
Do I even need to?

These fears don’t usually interfere with me nonetheless having a good time or making it through the day.
Sometimes though, the fear wins.
Sometimes I wind up not going through with some sexual activity I originally set out to do. Sometimes the anxiety is just too much and it’s just not happening at that moment. So my partner and I instead change course and explore something else.

I mean, I don’t want to feel powerless either – that is why I speak up about using such de-powering language with regards to women’s sexuality. I can’t be told that I’m just a fuck hole. I can’t listen to messages that say I don’t measure up but oh if I would just do this thing or that thing to improve my looks or my virility then maybe I could please my man. I have to not read between the lines. I have to block out reinforcement that I’m just damaged goods.
I can’t listen to this shit, I have to tune it out.

So, I come away feeling like, I’m still not doing it right. I’m still not living up to outside arbitrary standards of sex & sexuality.
Because, despite all my best efforts, there is still, on some level, a little fear there.


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  1. The article assumes that men cannot be vulnerable when it comes to sex. my belief is both men and women are thrown into a state of intense vulnerability, how one copes with these vulnerabilities is the question. Men may appear to be disconnected from sex, but frankly with anything remotely intimate I react in the same manner…and I’m pretty sure that I am not a man.
    I do not fear sex as much as I know that it will be painful. I am more angry at my own body for not functioning in the way it was designed. It’s not a a fear of sex its an aversion. I avoid things that are painful and for me sex is the most painful thing in my life. It sux when this pain becomes fear, I am sorry that this has been the way in which it has manifested itself. but just think, you have a support system, you have a partner who understands as best they can.

    It does make me a bit irritated when someone assumes the attitude that women are victims. I am not a victim at all. I am not overpowered by men, I quite like them actually 🙂

  2. I am so sorry to read that you sometimes feel as though you are “damaged goods.” You’re not damaged. You’re struggling with a very real problem, but taking steps to work though it while at the same time seeking to define sex and sexuality for yourself. I think it takes courage and bravery and a tremendous amount self awareness to do that. I hope you get to where you want to be soon.

  3. […] problematic half of Dr. Tiefer’s statement. I’ve come a long way from the time when I had a lot of fears and anxiety about sex. Somewhere along the line while puzzling sex out (and maybe while blogging […]

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