Fathom Mag

Having Painful Sex

Emotional healing from naïve expectations

Published on:
February 12, 2018
Read time:
4 min.
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God designed sex for marriage,” the pastor said. “Save yourself for marriage and have great sex on your wedding night.” These words enthralled me as I prepared to take my vows. My husband-to-be and I had read books, attended seminars, and completed pre-marital counseling, all in the hopes of setting up the best scenario for our marriage.

In one of the classes, the instructor actually said, “Do you have a vagina?” Yes. “Does he have a penis?” Yes. “Then sex will work.”

In one of the classes, the instructor actually said, “Do you have a vagina?” Yes. “Does he have a penis?” Yes. “Then sex will work.”
Joy Pedrow Skarka

His good intentions led to bad results: he reaffirmed my naïve expectations. Yet, far from a simple math equation, sex requires more than body parts. Challenges surround sex, and that includes sexual pain. In fact, sex can cause burning sensations that create fear and tear-inducing pain for a woman. And not just on the first experience, as many are led to believe.

When I got married, I had no idea. For me, poor sex education started as a child. As an eleven-year-old, I first saw pornography that included perfectly waxed naked bodies and perfectly timed orgasms. Hollywood portrayed sex in the same way. I watched the Gilmore Girls episode when Rory Gilmore sleeps with Dean for the first time. She wore nothing but joy on her face as they snuggled up during the afterglow. Rory never experienced sexual pain or shame, and she had sex out of wedlock with a married man. The media screams, “Nothing brings more pleasure than sex!” And I believed the people they showed me. So, my naïve expectations set me up for emotional devastation as a new bride.

Chained to Shame

After our wedding, riding the elevator up to our hotel room, I looked into my groom’s eyes and saw excitement. We had looked forward to this night during our engagement, and, in reality, for years. And on that night especially, I believed God would bless our new marriage. We’d waited after all. Walking into our hotel room in my white dress, still sweaty from dancing at our reception, I felt my heart race as I anticipated husband and wife becoming one flesh.

Sex requires more than body parts.
Joy Pedrow Skarka

When the physical pain of sex caused tears to streak my wedding day make-up and forced me to whimper, “We need to stop,” I felt betrayed.

Months went by—the pain continued.

I spent hours reading medical articles. “Keep trying. Stretch. It will get better over time.” I opened up to friends, and each one shared their own opinions: “Drink more wine. . . . take a bubble bath. . . . relax. . . .” I tried to relax and drink more wine, but intercourse never improved. Instead of offering me freedom, their advice chained me to shame.

Alone in the Pain

I begged God for a way to go back to a life in the Garden of Eden: “The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).

Naked and not ashamed.

But then they sinned. And for the man and woman moments later, shame surrounded their sexuality.

God asked the man, “Where are you?”

The man replied, “I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” (3:10).

As with the man and woman in the Garden, shame surrounded my sexuality. As time went on, I piled shame on to my physical pain. My emotional health deteriorated, and the physical pain stayed constant. Lies entered my brain: “Does God punish people because of past struggles with pornography?” “Am I the only one struggling with sexual pain?” “Is this my fault?”

As with the man and woman in the Garden, shame surrounded my sexuality.
Joy Pedrow Skarka

I lacked the knowledge that pain during intercourse plagues many women. I felt alone, with no one to turn to. So, I turned to research. I searched everywhere for answers. And I discovered this: Nearly three out of four women have pain during intercourse at some time during their lives. For some women, the pain lasts only for a time; for twenty to fifty percent of these women, the pain remains over time. Knowing this, I finally felt some peace. I decided to consult a doctor.

My doctor reassured me that no amount of wine or bubble baths could rid me of pain. One fact at a time, she slowly removed the shame I experienced from feeling broken and she proved to me that I am not alone. She met me in that pain, and she provided comfort and education to help heal both the physical and the emotional pain.

Without knowing Jesus, she had told the truth, and thus pointed me to God.

Naked and Not Ashamed

From this moment on, my husband and I started out on a journey to live naked and unashamed. We surrendered our ideals of sex and turned to God’s word to better understand the divine design for sexuality. Transformation happened: I found freedom from the shame of sexual pain, and our intimacy grew stronger, further stitching us together as one flesh. We discovered the beauty of sex.

We began to live free from shame and discovered something we’d never thought of before—amazing mutually satisfying sex can exist without intercourse. We changed our mindsets and removed the media’s portrayal of perfect pornographic sex, instead discovering that biblical God-honoring sex looks very different. The media portrays sex as the most pleasurable thing in the world; however, by finding out how beautiful satisfying sex could be I discovered that intimacy with my spouse, rather than the act of sex, is the most pleasurable thing in our marriage. My husband sacrifices intercourse, because of my physical pain, to enjoy sexual intimacy with me in other ways. This selflessness between husband and wife makes sex beautiful.

God’s glory radiates when he transforms our brokenness into beauty.
Joy Pedrow Skarka

God’s glory radiates when he transforms our brokenness into beauty. Now, when I share my story, I include that intercourse is painful for me, to let women know that other women struggle too. I educate those experiencing sexual pain with resources to help them find healing, and I teach a theology of sex that makes sex more than just a math equation.

My husband and I discovered the beauty of sex, because we understand that physical connection increases intimacy and brings us closer together. God freed me from the chains of shame, even though the physical pain will continue. I press on with the goal to live naked and not ashamed.

Joy Pedrow Skarka
Joy Pedrow Skarka loves creating spaces to bring women freedom. She is a doctoral student at Dallas Theological Seminary studying women’s ministry, sexuality, and shame. You can see more of her work at https://joyskarka.com  or tweet at her @JoyPedrowSkarka

Cover image by Jordan Bauer.

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