Avoiding Painful Sex

avoiding painful sex

This podcast is all about painful sex, with a focus on how to ensure that sex isn’t painful in ways that you don’t want it to be. We’ll do a future episode about how to bring pain or strong sensations into sex if that is something you want to do.

We start by unpacking what we mean by pain a bit. We’re focusing here on physical pain, but we can never really disentangle physical and emotional pain because bodies and minds can’t be separated. Emotional pain can often be expressed as physical pain, and can make existing physical pain a lot worse. If you’re interested in reading more about this check out Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks, and this free OU course about embodiment.

Peggy Kleinplatz is a sex therapist who writes a lot about how physical pain – and other difficulties – during sex are our body’s ways of telling us something important. That means that it’s really important to tune in and listen to those messages, not to push through and try to force our bodies to do things that they don’t want to do for important reasons. Unfortunately capitalism has given us a strong message that our bodies are machines and that we should force them to be ‘normal’ and ‘productive’.

Historically it has generally been assumed that women should feel pain – in general and in relation to sex – often due to beliefs about original sin and/or the pain of child-bearing. This lingers today in the way doctors take much longer to give women pain-killers than they do men.

Similarly there are many assumptions that it is right or normal for the ‘receiver’ in insertive sex of any kind to experience pain.

We need to challenge both these assumptions, and the assumption that sex should hurt the first time. They set up situations where people put themselves through unnecessary pain, often meaning that that kind of sex remains painful because they tense up remembering the previous time. As we’ve said many, many times of course there are lots of other kinds of sex than insertion if that is painful. And we shouldn’t be inserting anything into anyone unless their body is clearly inviting that to happen.

We talk on the podcast about how much pain people often put themselves through because they are embarrassed to admit it, or feel that they ‘should’ do a certain thing. People often suffer through pain to their penis or clitoris, carpet burns, painful positions, or feeling crushed by another person, for example.

We’d suggest – as always – being as present as possible to yourself and the other person. If anybody starts to feel physical and/or emotional pain, or starts to check out or withdraw emotionally because it’s bringing up painful things, that is the time to pause and check in with yourself and each other. It’s brilliant if you can then stop or go back to things which you can be present for and find comfortable. Sex would be so much better in every way if we could stay with whatever we can be present for instead of pushing to do what we think we ‘should’ be doing. That’s also a way better recipe for consensual sex.

Solo sex and self-pleasure can help a lot in learning how to do this: How to know when you are present or not, in some kind of pain or not. Professionals like sexological bodyworkers and other sex workers who work therapeutically, and workshops like tantra classes, can also be good places to learn how to do these things – but do make sure you check out anybody you work with in this way thoroughly and only do what you’re comfortable with.

To hear more of our thoughts on this, check out our podcast about having sex when you have  illness or pain, and our podcast about toilets which deals with how we can cause ourselves pain due to shame around that area.

© Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock, 2018