I was raised in small-town Texas, and my parents brought me up to be a good Christian girl. From a young age, my mother did her best to teach me the godly ways of a Proverbs 31 woman. I was on board with this Proverbs 31 woman stuff right up until I read that I was supposed to get up before dawn. Since that’s at the beginning of a long list of virtues, you can guess how well the rest of them went down.
Anyway, while I gave up on buying fields and selling linen garments (other things in that list), I did decide to save myself until marriage (not on the list, surprisingly).
I was, and still am, a romantic sort. I swooned at the idea of a forever love and the hope of a deep and abiding bond between my husband and myself.
When I was eleven and twelve, I enjoyed reading marriage counseling books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and The Five Love Languages. I was fascinated by the inner workings of marital relationships, and I longed for one of my own. I idealized my future husband and resolved to memorize and incorporate all advice I could find which might improve my future marriage.
When I was fourteen, my parents took me to our church so I could participate in a True Love Waits ceremony, where they presented me with a Purity Ring. I was certain, come hell or high water, I would save my virginity until my wedding night. It seemed so romantic, and my head was filled with beautiful fantasies.
When I was eighteen, I met a cute Christian guy in a coffee shop. He was building a BMX wheel, and he had long hair. Our first date was a Jet Li film.
A year later, I’d had enough waiting. I wanted some sex already. Once, my boyfriend asked me, “If you had twenty-four hours to live, what would you do?”
My response was instantaneous: “Get married. Have sex.”
“What if you were already married?”
I thought this was a stupid question. “I’d have sex again.”
Finally, at the age of nineteen: I got my wish: we got married.
Problems arose within hours. The first time I tried to have sex, my vaginal muscles contracted so tightly it was physically impossible.
By the time he got far enough to break my hymen, we were already back from our honeymoon.
In all of my reading about marriage and the virtues of saving yourself, nowhere had I read about vaginismus. I didn’t dare tell anyone, not even a doctor or my husband, how painful sex was. The shame of it was too awful for me to reveal.
I had to discover the name of my condition through my own research. It took me a surprising amount of research, too, to find out what was wrong with me. This was before the internet could answer all questions in seconds, so I had to slog through books. I only found one book that told me what was wrong with me.
For perspective, every book talked about STDs. I’d been brought up learning about STDs and pregnancy and all manner of horrors that result from non-marital sex.
But vaginismus? This condition was so ugly, all I could find was a few paragraphs buried in a lonely book.
Part of me instinctively knew I was deeply ugly because of this. What I had was so awful no one could imagine talking about it. It was easier to find a photograph of a woman lying in a pool of her own blood because she tried to give herself an abortion than it was to learn about what was happening to me. You might think that death by coat hanger is worse (and less common) than muscle spasms, and you’d be right, for sure. However, this is the Bible Belt we’re talking about. You can’t go around telling naïve girls there might maybe be a reason not to save their virginities for marriage. Society would collapse overnight. Buildings would crumble from the sheer rhythmic force of all the sex, and the streets would be sticky with used condoms. It would be the sexiest apocalypse ever imagined, but an apocalypse nonetheless.
No, no, it’s better to be so silent about something that if a woman does end up with a problem, she won’t realize it’s pretty common for women like her and not that bad. She might think she’s the only one. She may conclude she is broken as a human and unspeakably ugly, like I did.
And the cause for my ugliness?
It was purely psychological. I had imbued sex with such a powerful mysticism that when it came down to actually having sex, my body reacted with fear. My muscles clenched up, refusing entry.
The cure was as simple as it was impossible: all I had to do was be happy and relax and enjoy myself. But how do you enjoy something if you know it will feel like shoving a chainsaw into your most intimate parts?
I kept my shame a secret so well, everyone was shocked when I got divorced. I can see why they were surprised: I had acted like a happy wife for five years. I was apparently an amazing little liar, because they all thought we were deeply in love.
In truth, he loved me, but I wanted out. I wanted a divorce by the third day, but I stuck it out for five years, because I believed sticking it out was the right thing to do.
To my astonishment, the first time I had sex with someone who wasn’t my husband, it didn’t hurt.
There have been several moments in my life that define who I am. Having sex for the first time without feeling pain was one of them.
From that moment, I knew I grew up with the wrong beliefs. I deeply regretted waiting for marriage. The shame I felt was so deeply wedged in me that it took more than five years after my divorce to tell anyone what happened.
So basically, I spent over a decade of my life feeling like a broken person because I saved myself for marriage. I can’t think of anything else I’ve chosen to do which has brought me the same level of grief.
Sex is awesome (if it involves only consenting adults). However, it’s kind of like pizza. If you have it too fast, you might get burned. If you let it sit around too long, however, it might make you sick.
Anyway, if you want to wait for marriage, I won’t judge you for it. I would recommend against it, but we’re all snowflakes, so you do you, and I hope it works out well for you.