Today I’m so excited to be hosting my first guest post. It comes from my friend Christine Woolgar. I have known Christine for a few years, having first met her at a local munch in the city where I used to live. I’ve been an admirer of her writing for a long time and I am honoured that she has chosen to share this intense, vulnerable, wonderful story about marriage and sex therapy with me and all of you.
TW/CN: This post doesn’t describe abuse, but it is loaded with intra-personal dialogue that enables/allows abuse.
Night 1 minus 5 days: My period is late. Darn, I thought my body had fully adjusted to the pill already. I don’t want to have sex on my period but I don’t want an argument on Night 1. I don’t want disappointment on Night 1. So I tell him now that I won’t want sex on Night 1. He agrees. We both figure it’s for the best as we’ll be tired from the wedding anyway.
Night 1: I see him naked for the first time. Wow. And just a bit scary too. But it’s OK, because I’m not taking off my knickers. Not tonight. It’s not the night I had envisaged but it’s a good night.
Night 2: I consent to taking my knickers off. We caress each other and have fun together. He doesn’t come.
Day 3: I’m kinda aroused, but he doesn’t come. Odd. I thought it’d be easy for him.
Night 3: A bit more intensive tonight, but still taking things slowly and gently.
Day 4: I think my hymen has broken. I muse on the idea that I am no longer a virgin by some definitions. And yet neither of us has come. Not what I had expected. What is wrong with me? Why is this so hard?
Night 4: I’m naked and he’s not getting hard. What is wrong with me? Am I unattractive?
Day 5: He is finally hard enough and I’m relaxed enough, but he doesn’t come. What is wrong with me?
Night 5: This is getting silly now. I feel alone. I talk to him about it and it helps.
Night 6: We caress each other. Variable arousal. He doesn’t come.
Night 7: He still doesn’t come.
Night 8: Finally! I am genuinely happy for him.
As for me, I always knew I’d be the difficult one. Can’t expect to orgasm immediately. No woman can. I knew I was lazy with my Kegel exercises. It’s my fault really that I haven’t come yet.
Day 11: Honeymoon is over and we’re back at marriage prep. I learn there are couples out there who’ve taken a year to consummate their marriage. So why am I all upset about taking seven days? I don’t have issues. I must be being picky.
Week 3: By now it’s not too much of a problem for him any more. But it stings when I pee after sex.
Weeks 4-5: It keeps on stinging badly when I pee after sex. I search for causes on the internet. Not helpful.
I feel madly uncomfortable after sex. I don’t understand why.
I know sex is important. I know sex is important for him. But I also know it’s not entirely straightforward for him, so whenever he gets hard I just have to make myself available, otherwise it’ll never happen.
Months 2-6: It takes forever for me to get aroused. I count the days between sex. I feel really bad when it’s longer than seven days. I still feel uncomfortable.
He’s always the one who initiates. I say “I don’t mind”. But I don’t want it. Sometimes I say “I don’t know” – that means I really don’t want it. I don’t tell him I don’t want to have sex with him. That would be selfish. It would make me a failure as a wife.
If the marriage fails, it’s my fault.
I try squeezing my pelvic floor muscles during sex. OW! PAIN! BAD! Ow! That hurts! Not good! Do not want! Note to self: do NOT do that again!
I’m picking up my pill and I tell the woman there that I’m in pain after sex. She doesn’t know what to do. She talks to a colleague and comes back saying it’ll go away with more sex. I’m in tears.
He says he doesn’t like seeing me in pain. He says he wants me to enjoy sex. I wonder if that will ever be possible.
I get better at judging my body’s state of arousal so it doesn’t hurt (most times) (much) afterwards. I’m using lube, but I hate the stuff.
He asks me what I want, but I don’t know what I want. I am indifferent to his touch.
Months 6-18: Friday evenings: Tired or meeting friends. Saturday mornings: Maybe there’s a chance, but it depends on how much we need to do that day. Saturday evening: Have supper before all desire drains away. Sunday morning: I need to be up to play hymns and all that jazz. Sunday evening: I’m stressing because we haven’t had sex all weekend. Forget arousal. During the week: Forget arousal.
We speak to a friend and he encourages us not to focus too much on coming, but on enjoying our time together. It helps. Marginally.
It’s not about what I want. It’s about what I can bear to give. Sometimes I get away with just offering cuddles. But it’s not the same as sex and we both know it. How long is this going to last?
I tell him what I mean by “I don’t mind” and “I don’t know”. I tell him that I hardly ever want sex.
I realise that I’m actually afraid of his penis and have been since Night 1. Realising this helps. Marginally.
When he’s physically affectionate, I feel nothing in response. I just let him touch me and wait for him to stop.
Month 17: I’m talking to HR about stress and say that my sex life is through the floor. I’m in tears. HR asks how my husband’s handling this; I say he’s being a saint. But there is this aching sadness inside me.
Month 20: I’m talking to someone about it. I try and explain that I have no good memory of sex. Every time I try and have sex it’s like I have to talk myself round that it won’t be a bad thing. I have nothing to look forward to in sex. I’ve learned not to be in pain, but it’s SO HARD to get aroused enough that I’m not in pain.
There are only two things that actively get me aroused: thinking about degrading myself and the thought of being tied up. Problem is, I don’t want to degrade myself and he doesn’t want to tie me up. He’s studied too much history to want to do that to me.
Month 22: I’m talking to my pastor / minister / vicar person about it. He says it’s important that the problem is sorted. He says there’s no shame in getting professional help.
Month 25: I’m picking up my pill again and I’m in tears. The woman there refers me to a sexual health clinic.
I get a letter in the post inviting me to make an assessment appointment. It says that they can’t help couples where there is complete loss of arousal as this comes from relationship issues. We don’t have relationship issues. Letter goes in the bin. They can’t help me. I must be being whiney.
Month 27: He buys me some fantastic clothes to help me feel good about myself. They help. Marginally.
Month 28: I tell him just how bad I feel about not wanting to have sex with him. I tell him how I feel unfaithful. He tells me that I don’t need to feel like I have to save the marriage – he made a vow too. That helps. A lot.
Well, it helps me feel better about myself. Doesn’t help me get aroused.
Month 30: It’s pill time again. Tears again. This woman I speak to actually books us an assessment.
Month 31: We have the assessment. She says the clinic can help. She says it’s a six-month waiting list. We can wait. We’ve waited this long.
She says it’s no bad thing to think of degrading oneself to get turned on.
But I don’t want to.
And I don’t see why degrading myself should be the ONLY way I can get turned on.
Am I asking too much when I want to be turned on by thinking about the one I love?
Month 33: He buys me more fantastic clothes to help me feel good about myself. Positive effect is short-lived. I begin to feel bad about the money spent.
Month 34: He says he’s been doing some research and there are these things called ‘rope dresses’. He says in Japan, tying a rope around something can symbolise ownership. He says there’s a whole art form called ‘shibari’. He says it doesn’t have to be degrading. He says he’s willing to give it a try if I am.
We start learning about rope.
I begin to not dread sex.
Month 36: I’m getting better at understanding my body so that I don’t consent until I’m ready for him. I realise one day I’ve made a mistake: I’m not ready and he’s inside, but if he carries on he’s going to hurt me. I ask him to stop. He stops and withdraws gently. No hard feelings. He wants me to tell him if he’s going to hurt me.
He always has.
I’m no longer afraid to be completely honest with him.
Month 38: I tell HR that we’ve reached the top of the waiting list and I’m going to need regular time off work to go to the sessions. They’re cool with this.
He tells his department head that we’ve reached the top of the waiting list and he’s going to need regular time off work to go to the sessions. Department head is cool with this. Line manager however is gutted she didn’t happen to be in when he asked. Not because he’s taking time off, but because she’ll never know the reason why he asked for it.
Month 39: Therapy begins. She’s like: “So you’re no longer experiencing pain during or after sex; you already know that you love each other, even when you don’t want sex; you’re getting enjoyment out of this ‘shibari’ stuff; kinda makes me wonder what the problem is.”
It’s official. There is no problem. We are wasting therapist’s time. We are bunking off work. We have massively unrealistic expectations and should just get over ourselves. After all, no therapist can PROMISE orgasms or satisfying sex.
I move department at work and need to tell my new line manager about the time off. There’s a moment when I just don’t know how to say it. But when he hears the words ‘psychosexual therapy’ he nods and I don’t need to say anything more. He doesn’t think I’m making a fuss.
Month 40: We’re not having sex and I don’t have to feel guilty about it because it’s required as part of therapy.
Though I miss doing rope.
Following all the exercises our therapist gives us. Must show we’re serious and co-operative.
Buy helpful book Becoming Orgasmic recommended by therapist. Massively unhelpful shop assistant waves it around and reads out its title loudly. Not impressed.
Therapist suggests I masturbate. I tell her I never have and I don’t want to start now. Besides, what difference would it make? Touch doesn’t turn me on.
Month 41: I switch shower products at therapist’s suggestion. I can now come out of the shower and feel remotely comfortable about my body. Wasn’t the case before.
I get proper lessons about the human reproductive system. Majorly embarrassed at my previous level of knowledge (read: lack of knowledge).
Therapist is like: “So on Night 1 you were both virgins and neither of you had ever masturbated in your entire lives. I’d say having vaginal sex after seven days is pretty impressive.” Feel-good feeling quickly gets swamped by feeling that I am wasting therapist’s time.
I begin to enjoy our physical time together. Though I don’t have orgasms. At least, I don’t think so. I’m not sure.
He begins to lose the fear of hurting me unintentionally.
Month 42: Therapist says we’re making progress and can cut down sessions to once a fortnight. I confide my long-standing sexual fantasy with therapist.
I come out of therapy and think about my sexual fantasy. I ask myself if there is a way I can think of it (and myself within it) that isn’t degrading. I realise that there actually is a way. So I picture myself in my fantasy – or rather, within a particular story that resonates with my fantasy. And suddenly I’m wet. I picture myself in another story I love and OH MY GOODNESS I AM SO WET!
I talk and talk and talk with him about power and types of power and all these very sexual thoughts I’m having.
Now when he touches me, I welcome it.
I wake up the next day and I’m wet the whole time. Just as well I’m not playing hymns. I remember nothing of the sermon but cry buckets with a friend after the service. I don’t tell him why, just that it’s a good thing.
Next day, I commute to work and I’m wet. I try to work, but my goodness, EVERY FIVE SECONDS I get turned on. Are people going to notice me going to the toilet so often? My knickers are soaked all day long.
Next day: Wet all day. Can barely think all day. When is this going to end?
The whole week, even the slightest thing gets me turned on. I gradually cool down, which is actually a good thing.
Next session and therapist says we’re done. We book a follow up session in four months.
Now when he touches me I beg him not to stop.
Month 44: We’re a bit stressed but go back on the ropes and find it’s a disappointment. We decide to try again when less stressed.
Month 45: Follow up therapy session. We talk over previous month. We reckon last month was a blip but generally speaking we’re on the up. We book another follow up for three months’ time – we can always cancel if we don’t need it.
Month 46: Back on the ropes and enjoying it.
I’m reading about other people’s experiences of sex and realise I DEFINITELY have not had an orgasm yet. But hey, who cares? I’m having a great time even without them.
I’m relaxed enough now that I let him touch me where I’ve never let him touch me before: directly on my clitoris.
Month 47: He’s stimulating me and it gets proper intense. Oh my goodness, what is this? Don’t stop! I scream. Now THAT WAS an orgasm! Wow! OK, I need to recover now.
So does he. He wasn’t expecting me to scream and only kept going because I was giving continuous active consent.
Next day: second orgasm (a less dramatic experience for us both, but no less satisfying).
Next day: third orgasm.
Next day: don’t need to keep count.
Month 49: Last therapy session. I tell therapist that looking back, there was DEFINITELY something wrong, but there isn’t now.
I now KNOW I wasn’t a time waster. Relief.
Sex life gets better and easier. We can enjoy rope but we don’t need it to enjoy sex. I squeeze my pelvic floor muscles during sex – no pain.
Month 52: We’re talking about consent. We talk about the early days when I didn’t want sex and he got frustrated. We talk about the upset that put on me. We talk about the pressure he didn’t even realise was there for me to say yes. We realise there were times when I said yes, because I couldn’t allow myself to say no. He is deeply, deeply upset at the thought of violating my consent (his words), even if it was something he only did because I deliberately hid my true feelings from him. We both know better now. We share big hugs.
Month 56: I wake up in the early hours of the morning. I lie still so I won’t disturb my dearly beloved. I start to think about my dearly beloved caressing me. And then, almost before I know what’s happening, my body gives me a gorgeously gentle orgasm. It is the first orgasm I have ever had without being physically touched. Wow.
About Christine: For anyone curious to know a bit more about me, I would describe myself first and foremost as a Christian theological thinker. I live in the UK with my husband, and have a passion for shaping the church’s attitudes in areas around consent, sexuality and equality because… well, you can probably guess why from this post. I am unafraid to tackle awkward questions and I’m an unashamed critic of Fifty Shades.
You can find me and more of my writings on:
Footnote for anyone concerned about the non-consent described in this story:
I used to think in terms of male privilege and I didn’t know it. Yes, that terrifies me. No, no one had taught either of us about enthusiastic consent. Yes, I am working on changing this. I have blogged in more depth about how I now frame consent in a long term relationship and you can read about that on a fabulous blog run by Ashley Easter. Yes, she’s a Christian blogger. No, this post doesn’t talk about religion. Or marriage. Despite the title.
Longer footnote for anyone concerned that my husband and I are at risk of going to hell and/or besmirching the name of the church:
I thought long and hard about sharing this story in this much detail.
A lot of what is here is already in the public domain. Back in 2011 (around month 26) I made a short video in which I disclosed publicly that we didn’t have sex in the first seven days of our marriage; the narrative of that video that was also published in 2013 on a multi-author Christian blog. In February 2016 (that is, two years after month 56) I blogged for them again about being on the ‘receiving end’ of sex, and disclosed that my husband and I had sex therapy. Shortly after, I blogged on my own site about our learning experiences of going through sex therapy, writing an open letter to a Christian evangelical couple who I knew were considering it.
I know that these posts have really helped people.
Now, I grant you, none of them were as explicit as this writing is. And although anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m not afraid to write about BDSM, this is the first time I’ve disclosed that my husband and I actually practice anything that remotely resembles BDSM.
Yet this is my story and I believe that sharing it has the potential to really help people. For some people, it might open up conversations on Christianity that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Yes, I have asked myself whether it’s right to disclose this much detail. No, I’m not 100% certain that I’ve got it all right. But then, I don’t think I can be certain because whatever I do, I won’t please everyone.
I decided to disclose about the shibari because if that hadn’t been within our story, then I’d never have started to engage with people in the BDSM scene. You see, around month 43, my husband asked whether we should starting trying to make connections with people on social media and engage in discussions about BDSM, given that we had benefited from the idea of shibari. It was just a question, but as soon as he asked it the Holy Spirit was persistently on his case, saying “Yes, this!” And that’s what led to my blog. Gosh, that’s what led to me being even capable of writing the stuff that’s on my blog. And it is bearing good fruit. So if you’re worried about me, judge me by my fruit. My times are in His hands.