On paper, it was all supposed to work out well. I married my high school sweetheart three weeks after my college graduation and looked forward to the opportunity to be intimate with him on our wedding night. We had dated for seven years, with plenty of opportunities to have sex before marriage, but we had both grown up in church and knew from the beginning of our relationship that we wanted to wait.
We never dreamed we wouldn’t have sex until after our second wedding anniversary.
After receiving counseling that our initial intimacy might be awkward, we were disappointed but not shocked when our attempts at intercourse on our wedding night were not “successful.” We attributed this to being “dumb virgins” and decided not to stress over it that first night. It was disappointing, but we were still able to enjoy each other in ways we had not prior to being married. My ever-so-patient husband reassured me we’d figure it out that week on our honeymoon.
That didn’t happen.
Five treatment options
After our honeymoon, I was diagnosed with vaginismus and vulvoydenia. Essentially, my pelvic muscles tensed and could not relax enough for sex to be possible. My doctor prescribed a treatment plan and predicted we’d be having sex within three months. I was devastated. Once the three months were up, I was back in her office and then sent home with a different medication to try. Life continued this way for a year and a half as we unsuccessfully experimented with a total of five treatment options.
There was no one I felt comfortable talking about this with except for my doctor, and even with her it was a medical conversation, not the heart-to-heart talk I needed. She asked me several times if I was sure I had never been sexually abused, because these medical conditions are more common in women who have experienced sexual trauma. Their bodies develop a learned response of fear. This was not the case for me, which added to my frustration.
But I do think in some way all of the church messages about sex being sinful were affecting me. I don’t think it was the only factor at play, but I do believe it had a role in why my body and mind had such a massive disconnect when I tried to have sex. I’d been taught sex was wrong.
Shame and fear
Added to this, no one explained what a gift sex is in the context God intended it. I couldn’t identify a single person who could process this with me. All of the people ahead of me taught me sex was dirty. The shame and fear were too real. I felt helpless, damaged, and a disappointment. My husband grew frustrated about the money we were throwing at treatments as well as the time and energy it took for me to go to appointments and keep a controlled front to the rest of the world. I tried to maintain hope, but it wasn’t easy.
Uncertainty, shame, secrecy, bitterness, and feelings of inadequacy chased us both. We felt completely alone, and angry. We had done our part by not having sex before marriage, so why wasn’t God doing His? There was no one to guide us through this painful season. There was no mentor, no Christian counselor who advertised experience dealing with clients with sexual dysfunction. It seemed I had nowhere to go.
Eventually, my doctor suggested I go to a physical therapist to strengthen my pelvic floor muscles. After nine months of weekly sessions, my therapist said I’d exhausted all of the exercises she could offer. I made an appointment to check in with my gynecologist, hoping she would have a new idea.
She didn’t. We’d attempted all possibilities except surgery. The procedure was somewhat risky, but it solved the issue for 70 percent of the women who had it. My husband and I decided to take two weeks to pray about it. I mulled over the 70 percent success rate and the accompanying 30 percent that were unsuccessful. Was it worth the risks associated, knowing it could be yet another letdown—another emotional drain that required more money, energy, and time?
We finally decided to reach out to a few friends for prayer. This was a big step for us because up until this point, hardly anyone knew. They were our peers and certainly not medical experts, but they were listening ears and loving hearts that were willing to petition God on our behalf—which we desperately needed. That night, boulders were lifted from our shoulders. The walls we’d constructed over the past two years began to fall down. We shared our brokenness and felt the courage to be honest with those closest to us for the first time in a very long time. They embraced us and committed to pray with us.
Soon after that night with our friends—during the two weeks we’d set aside to pray about the surgery option—it happened. After two years and three months, we consummated our marriage. God did the “immeasurably more.” We were asking for wisdom about moving forward with surgery, but He chose to heal my body. It wasn’t perfect, but it got better and my body progressed each time.
To Him be the glory.
Those two years were excruciating, made worse because I believe the church did not equip us for the challenges we encountered in our intimate life.
The church often sends the younger generation mixed messages about this sacred act by not talking about it as God intended—with one partner and after marriage. Christians are good at giving airtime to sexuality in its sinful forms. But it doesn’t talk enough about it as it should be viewed and enjoyed in marriage. Teens can be left with the underlying message that sex is sinful, dirty, and scary.
But eventually those teenagers, like myself, grow up and get married. Suddenly, this unmentionable thing they were taught to fear is supposed to be engaged in regularly in order to maintain a healthy, thriving marriage. Talk about a 180! There’s little conversation about this ahead of time, except for maybe a few awkward moments in front of a pastor during premarital counseling. Sex literally goes from being taboo one day to expected that night.
I was one ill-prepared woman. I’m not the only one.
Ministering to others
Our story has resulted in freedom and peace to minister to others in similar circumstances. I’ve been contacted by many women that received diagnoses similar to mine. It’s clear engaged couples and newlyweds need to be shepherded in the area of intimacy.
This is especially true of those who grew up in a church environment that only talked about sex in condemning terms. They need help making the transition from sex being off-limits to sex being a gift for a husband and wife. Young couples, even those without the significant challenges we faced, need to talk with safe, understanding people who are a few steps ahead of them.
Sex is too powerful of a subject to be ignored.
Copyright © 2019 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.