It's no secret that I have a bumpy history with sex. To make a long story short: I was a virgin on my wedding night. I hated sex and it was largely due to residual guilt from taking a purity pledge as a child. I knew something was wrong when things weren't improving almost a year into my marriage. In hopes that I could find some answers, I turned to the only person I could talk to about sex at the time: Although she probably still has nightmares about that first Pap smear she gave me; it was that bad.
While checking in for my first annual visit since I got married, the nurse asked if I was sexually active. It's a routine question asked at the beginning of any OB-GYN visit -- a question that for me always had the same answer: But I couldn't say no, not anymore. As soon as I said yes, I could feel the familiar shame rising up in my gut. I held back tears. Even though I'd been married for almost a year by this point, I still cried every time I thought about losing my virginity.
I made it through the exam before the tears finally let loose. I wanted to breach the subject delicately but instead it all came blubbering out in a fit of incoherent sobbing. She didn't even flinch. She smiled and patted my knee in a way that makes me believe she's had this conversation with many other women. Then she said, "You know, lots of women don't enjoy sex until they start trying for a baby.
There are a thousand questions I should have asked. What about lesbian couples? What about transgender women? What about women who masturbate?
Are these groups of women excluded from sexual pleasure as a curse for not wanting or not being able to conceive a child? How the hell does the ability to have children correlate with the ability to feel sexual pleasure? But these are questions I ask only looking back. I was young, emotional, and struggling with what I considered to be an embarrassing and uncommon problem.
At the time, I just nodded mutely. If no one understood, not even my gynecologist, I was obviously a freak. Not only did this solidify my decision to struggle silently, it made me feel like this was somehow all my fault. I left the office in a daze with more questions than answers. Should we ditch the birth control and start trying for a baby now? Would this miraculously cure my problems? I was only It would be another year before I finally got the help I needed. I realize that I struggled a lot longer than I had to because the healthcare industry failed me as a woman.
When I approached my OB-GYN about my sexual problems, there should have been a lengthy discussion about exactly what was wrong. And even though it was just a fleeting thought, I did consider it. If I actually decided to become a mother because a doctor told me my maternal instinct would kick in and help me enjoy sex if I was trying to conceive? How is an industry that is constantly on the cutting edge of technology, which consistently funnels billions of dollars into research, still living in the dark ages when it comes to female sexuality?
How can a doctor, who is not only a female practitioner but also a gynecologist tell a woman who is struggling with sexual anxiety that the answer to her problems is to want children? I think that when it comes to sex, and specifically, enjoying sex, women are not provided with the same attention that men receive in a similar situation. The same also exists for women but we never hear about them. There are no commercials for those types of medications.
We are conditioned to believe that men are sexual creatures and that women play the "I have a headache" card in order to escape male libidos. Sexual health cannot continue to be part of a gender construct. Until it gets better, we have to push to be heard. If I had pushed harder, if I had called my gynecologist out on the information she was trying to sell me, I could have gotten the help I needed a lot sooner than I did. Make your doctor listen. You are allowed to be sexual.
You are allowed to enjoy sex. You have a right to be sexually healthy.