In the past I often measured the health of my relationship by how frequent and passionate the sex was. Sexual intimacy was an important part of loving someone. Every touch reinforced our desire, every kiss confirmed our connection, every sex act showed how little room we had for thoughts of anyone else. If I wasn’t having sex, I thought, the relationship wasn’t really solid.
My man and I couldn’t keep our hands off each other and as far as I was concerned we were bulletproof. Then early last year I started feeling this intense pain whenever my man slid into me. Every thrust caused this piercing in my lower abdomen, made some weird muscles between my vagina and my rectum clench up and left me counting the minutes until he came. Even if I wasn’t penetrated, simply having an orgasm caused this aching throb that destroyed my afterglow. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with endometriosis. Later, another doctor pronounced that a misdiagnosis. I had probably developed scar tissue from an earlier procedure to remove an ovarian cyst. Either way, there was little that could be done about the discomfort. I would just have to suck it up and move on.
Now, I have never had sex when I didn’t fervently and enthusiastically want to. But suddenly, all the older women in my life were telling me that in order to maintain my relationship I would have to grit my teeth and give it up every once in a while. I thought this was absolute rubbish. Why would a man who loved me want to subject me to something that caused me pain? How could any man worth his salt want to fuck a woman who saw sex with him as something to be endured instead of enjoyed? How could he even stay hard if I was bursting into tears at every thrust? Didn’t he want me writhing in ecstasy and moaning his name? And really, let’s keep it 100, how could I really call myself an empowered woman if I was having sex just to make someone else happy?
I talked to my man about the broken coochie situation and informed him that sex was off the table. He seemed like he was fine. But as time went on and we stopped reaching for each other in bed our light began to dim. I had to ask myself “Was there some angle I was missing?”
I tried to probe. What was the source of discontent? Was he getting blue balls? Did he feel like I was using the illness as an excuse not to have sex with him because I was no longer attracted to him? Had I started to feel like a stranger now that we weren’t intimate? He gave me the “Fine. Everything is fine.” But I know my man and I knew better. So I did some thinking and some reading and realized a few things. The first was that sex is important to everyone, male or female, because it’s a way of reveling in each other. It is extremely important to men, not because all of them feel entitled to it and care little for a woman’s pleasure but mostly because it is one of the few areas in life where they feel desired and are allowed to be open and vulnerable. For my man sex was his way of expressing how hot he thought I was and how much trust he had placed in the fact that I wouldn’t hurt him or mock him or belittle the things he wanted. Making me come made him feel like he had scaled Mount Everest—it was an immediate and unquestionable sign that he was making me happy. With sex off the table his certainty that I was content with him was waning by the day.
That was the first breakthrough. The second was this: He didn’t need to penetrate me as much as he needed to touch me, to push me up against the wall from time to time, slide his hands under my clothes and breathe in the scent of my skin. The third was that our relationship had changed largely because I had changed. Because I knew I couldn’t give up the coochie I had withdrawn from a lot of general physical contact and had started thinking of all of it as a precursor to sex. That was a mistake. He had accepted I had medical limitations and was willing to work within them. Being unable to touch me at all was what was driving him nuts. I had a talk with my man and in the middle of a sentence about how he had to stop saying “Fine” when it wasn’t fine I had the most important breakthrough: there was a whole lot more to fucking than “p in v.” We could go back to being in high school—kissing, touching, rubbing, dry humping, oral, all with the knowledge that that was where it would end. For me, knowing that there was no pressure to have penetrative sex allowed me to relax and enjoy being pleasured. It made me eager to get him off. I got inventive where blow jobs and hand jobs were concerned. I even learned the amazing art of “titty fucking” and, girlllllll, I cannot express how accomplished I felt every time I made him come by sliding his dick through my cleavage and massaging it with my breasts.
Not being able to have “sex” opened my relationship up to other avenues of intimacy. Arguments that were solved with make-up sex in the past became things we cuddled and talked through. No nookie made us express affection in other ways and we both became more giving and more thoughtful. My pain has gotten a bit better and every once in a while we’re able to get our full freak on but figuring out how to survive without “sex” reconfigured my ideas about what should be used to measure the security of a relationship. Acceptance, affection and compromise are just as important as how often your toes curl.
F.N. is a thirty something free-lance writer from Ghana. Currently, she is trying out a new life in Washington, DC