[Guest Blog] When Sex is Always Painful (And You Love It) by RT Collins

For today’s guest post, I am delighted to be publishing this essay by the exceptionally talented R.T. Collins. When they approached me with this pitch, I knew I simply had to accept it. Painful sex isn’t something we talk about enough, and I’m always here for opening the conversation.

Please note that this essay is about R.T’s personal experience only, and nothing here should be taken as “advice.” What works for one person won’t work for another. If you’re experiencing pain during sex, please seek the support of a qualified medical professional.

And remember – you can help me commission more awesome guest writers by sending a tip or joining me on Patreon.

Amy x

When Sex is Always Painful (And You Love It)

(Or: How I learned to live with a retroverted uterus and accept pain as a normal (and fun) part of sex.)

Earlier this year Netflix’s excellent series Sex Education featured a storyline about a teenage girl – Lily – discovering and dealing with vaginismus. Vaginismus is a painful condition where a pelvic floor muscles spasm when anything is inserted, making it near impossible to have penetrative sex (even if it’s just a finger).

Lily’s frustrations and sadness struck a familiar chord. I don’t have vaginismus, but I do have a retroverted uterus (also known as a tilted uterus). My vagina itself is unaffected, but my womb is titled backwards, and my cervix is in a different place, causing pain every time anything phallic goes up there.

Like Lily, I found this out the hard way. My first penetrative sexual experience was hugely painful, but I’d been told that was going to be the case, so I assumed it was normal. However, as every consequent experience delivered the same amount of pain, I started to wonder if something was just wrong with me. Unfortunately, this was the early 2000s, and I was too scared to look it up on the one school computer that had internet. I just assumed sex was either particularly painful for me, or was that way for everyone and nobody else was complaining. 

Also, the pain didn’t put me off. I was still a horny teenager with raging hormones and an intense sexual obsession with Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. I still enjoyed clitoral stimulation (despite my equally inexperienced partners not quite grasping the concept) and wasn’t yet really aware that sex without penetration was a totally valid option. The general excitement of sex was enough to make me grit my teeth through the painful bit. I could always imagine it was Aragorn. 

And then in my late teens I had sex with a much older man in a respectful, caring and oh-so-hot tryst in a hotel room on a tropical island. He gave me my first full-blown clitoral orgasm (we’re talking pink fluffy clouds) followed by athletic sex in positions I’d never imagined possible. The sex was as painful as ever, but everything else was just so good. It was my first encounter with a person who actually knew what they were doing, and boy did it make all the difference. I found myself asking for more, harder, pushing my own limits, until finally and unbelievably, I came from penetration alone. 

I left that hotel room a changed person – pain, it turns out, could be its own source of pleasure. It was relief, as I’d all but accepted that sex was going to be a trying experience for the rest of my life. I also knew that this was most likely a fairly unique reaction. Very few people enjoy pain, especially as part of sex, I was lucky to have found a way to make it work for me. 

A few years later I moved to the big city, made new – equally horny – friends, and started investigating the BDSM scene. I figured, if, for me, pain could be pleasure, then BDSM could probably teach me a thing or two, and I was right. My first submissive experience consisted of me on all fours in front of a crowd being introduced to a variety of impact toys by an experienced Dungeon Master and his hilariously evil wife. Each toy created a different sensation. Some irritating, some titillating, and some downright orgasmic. It was exhilarating to be welcomed into a world that understood that pain could be a source of pleasure. At 21, I was a young person on the scene and I was lucky to find people who helped me explore this dynamic in a safe and supported way. I found the space to accept and experiment with pain in all forms, both in and on my body. 

Penetrative sex, with penises or dildos, continues to be painful and pleasurable in equal measure. Most partners I end up with have fairly large penises (or impressive strap-ons). I like to think that’s just by accident, but there’s probably an aspect of challenge as well – I’m always pushing thresholds to see how I’ll respond. Occasionally the pain aspect becomes apparent, and it leads to awkward conversations – “no, I promise I like it.. you don’t have to go slowly… I promise I’ll say if it’s too much” etc. It’s a fair response to question why someone wants to continue with something that hurts, so I don’t mind explaining. I just wish there was more knowledge about conditions like this, so it wasn’t so awkward each time. 

1 in 5 people who have a uterus have a retroverted one, to varying degrees. I have no idea what percentage of those people experience pain, but I’ll wager it’s a lot higher than anyone realises. I’m fortunate that, unlike Lily and her vaginismus, the pain is something I can accept and enjoy. It’s a particular reaction that I doubt many people have. By the time I was diagnosed at 22 by a very caring sexual health doctor, who got very angry about the incompetence of all my previous doctors, I was happy to know what was going on… but mostly angry on behalf of those who may never realise, and possibly continue to think something is wrong with them or never find a way around it that works for them (like taking penetration out of the equation altogether). 

Luckily, series like Sex Education are bringing conditions that cause discomfort during sex out into the open. Shops like Sh! Women’s Store in London now stock vaginismus therapy kits. My hope is that more young people become aware of the wide variety of bodies and ways of experiencing pleasure, and come to understand themselves and find help much earlier than I did.   

Everyone should be able to enjoy sex, in a way that works with their body and desires. I’m so glad I can. 

R.T. Collins is a kink, porn and sexual wellness enthusiast based in London. Follow them @DiscoWrites or get in touch at rtcollinswrites@gmail.com

Ask Amy #5: “When should I start getting STI tests?”

It’s been a while, but it’s time for another reader question! Don’t forget you can submit your own questions to me to be answered – anonymously – via Twitter or email.

A red condom and some pills. For a post about STI testing.Today’s lovely reader asks:

I have a possibly-stupid question about sexual health testing: I’m quite new to having any kind of sex, and have never had PIV sex. What point should you start getting tested? I obviously want to practice safer sex, but should I get tested now or does it not matter so much until I start having penetrative sex?

We had a bit of back-and-forth discussion and then they followed up with a second question:

To complicate things a bit, I’ve also learned that I have vaginismus. I’m planning to go to the GP about this, but it made me realise that I have zero idea what would happen when getting a tested for STIs! I assume this would involves things going into my vagina?

First: on when to test

My view is that anyone who is having any kind of sex with other people should be getting tested regularly, whether that sex is penetrative or not.

Different activities carry different transmission rates: broadly speaking, anal is riskier than vaginal, which is riskier than oral, which is riskier than hand sex or toy sharing. However, any sexual activity with another person does carry a level of transmission risk, including – for HSV or herpes – any skin-to-skin contact.

Please don’t take this as intended to scare you, dear reader – forewarned is forearmed.  Knowing the facts means you can take steps to look after your own and your partners’ health.

What barriers and safer sex methods you use is entirely up to you. Personally, I use condoms for PIV and shared toys (unless they’re pure silicone and without a motor, which can be boil-sterilised) and have hardly ever bothered with barriers for oral or hand sex. I’ve always been fine. Your level of acceptable risk may be different, and that’s completely fine. A good rule of thumb is to let the most risk-averse person set the level of precautions (e.g. “I don’t insist on barriers for oral but I’ll happily use one if a partner wants to”). And of course, whatever protective methods you ultimately decide to use or not use, it’s vital that this goes hand-in-hand with an open and honest conversation about testing practices and sexual history with your partner(s).

For more info on how to have this conversation, check out Reid Mihalko’s ‘Safer Sex Elevator Speech’.

Finally, this bears saying over and over again: Most STIs aren’t that scary, and the majority can be cured with a simple course of antibiotics if they’re caught early. A huge percentage of the population (between 50 and 90% depending on who you ask) is carrying the HSV virus, and the majority will never have an outbreak and may never know they’re carrying it. Even HIV, which many regard as the worst of the worst, is completely manageable these days and those diagnosed can live a full and normal life.

Knowing your status is your first and best weapon in protecting yourself, so please start getting tested as soon as you start having sex with other people.

Now, on to the second question: what actually happens when you go for a test?

It slightly depends on the clinic.

I’ve been going for STI testing regularly since 2009. Back then there tended to be a full, clothes-off-feet-up-in-stirrups examination by a nurse. But that hasn’t been the case for years. And as someone who has moved around a lot, I’ve been to quite a few different clinics.

Every clinic I’ve been to in the last 6+ years has asked for either a urine sample or a self-swab, the latter being more common. This is a tiny tiny thing that you put in your vagina for a few seconds, swirl around and then pop into a sterile container and give to the clinic nurse. You do this in private, either behind a curtain in the consulting room or in the bathroom. (If you’re having anal or oral sex, they should do rectal and throat swabs too, though I sometimes have to prompt for this). They’ll also do a blood test, which is the most reliable way to screen for blood-borne infections such as syphilis and HIV.

The most important bit is to speak to the nurse/practitioner on the day about any concerns you have, including your vaginismus. The swab things are really tiny (much much smaller than even the smallest tampon), but if anything going into your vagina is a no-go for you, they should offer you another option such as a urine test. STI testing shouldn’t have to be painful or uncomfortable.

At some point during the test, they’ll ask you some questions about your sexual history, especially your most recent partners. Some of the questions might seem weird or irrelevant, but it’s important to answer them honestly. A good healthcare practitioner shouldn’t make you feel judged for whatever you tell them, and if they do, you’re within your rights to gently push back or even ask to see somebody else.

After that, you usually wait two weeks for your results. Some clinics will text you to tell you everything is okay, and others operate on a “no news is good news” policy. If there are any issues, they will call you and ask you to come in to discuss the issue and your treatment options.

And that’s it! Go forth, lovely reader, and have lots of responsible safer sex.

Again, please submit your questions to me for an anonymous answer on the blog. Patreon supporters get priority!