Hey all! I've found myself troubleshooting the same concern for a lot of people recently - Something so common and so distressing to many that they may even seek medical treatment (when there may not even be anything wrong with them at all!) Today, I want to give voice to a common potential contributor to painful penetrative sex.
As a disclaimer: Certain medical conditions, such as vaginismus, can cause painful penetration, which can vary from pain on any kind of insertion of another object no matter how small to only experiencing pain from more intense stimulation. Whatever you're dealing with, if you're thinking it could be serious, it's far better to play it safe and check it out with a doctor. We cannot diagnose you.
With that said, plenty of people with concerns about painful penetration do not actually have anything wrong with them at all. On the contrary - Typically, it means they need to slow down and let their bodies catch up to their brains. You can use all the lube in the world but if your body isn't ready, you may still encounter pain and cramping.
This whole topic can boil down to slowing down and focusing on the pleasures your body and mind can feel in the present moment. It's a gem that I picked up from a class Amy Baldwin recently offered (if you haven't been to one of these, they kick ass!) With that goal, there are a few key players:
1. The brain (mind) is the biggest sex organ. If it isn't on board - whether you're distracted trying to remember if you fed the dog, or whether you're not feeling great about being sexually active right now for some other reason - Penetration in particular may well pose a challenge for you.
There are some great, easy tools you can use to help keep your partner (or yourself!) in the present.
First, and it may sound cliche: Compliments! Tell them you think their body is beautiful. Tell them you could chow down on their pussy forever. Whatever it is that rings true for you, this helps keep your partner's mind stay in the present and also helps them attend to the physical pleasure in their body.
Second, if you find you are the one whose mind is wandering, sharing your internal monologue with your partner can help bring you back into the present with your partner. A protip Brene Brown offers for dealing with anxious or distracting thoughts is to verbalize them with the phrasing, "I'm having the thought that _____." For instance: "I'm having the thought that I'm taking too long," or "I'm having the thought that I forgot to feed the cat." It's ok to put things on pause to take care of important house and relationship needs. You can always resume things afterward.
Last, you can make sexual intimacy a sort of body-scan meditation. Consider how certain kinds of touch feel across various external parts of your body. Consider how your partner's breath feels on your skin. If your partner is stoked to be there, rejoice that there's nowhere else this person might rather be.
2. Vaginas and vulvas need a lot more time to fully engage than penises may appear to. This is especially true if you're menopausal, but it's not exclusive to middle age - Not at all. Bottom line: it's OK to take your time. Pressure and hurriedness will not magically make your pain go away. Don't miss out on the journey for focusing on the destination.
The important thing is to start as easy as you need to get your whole body in the game. An oft-forgotten aspect of human bodies is that we have other body parts that enjoy physical touch, too - not just genitals! One of my most satisfying encounters with my partner began with touching her arms and neck, for crying out loud. Shoulders, wrists, hands, waists, backs, ribs -- All fair game. A great approach is to start by lavishing physical attention on body parts that aren't explicitly part of your erogenous zone - Gradually, you will notice yourself warm up, and you'll be amazed that it was that easy.
3. If you're dealing with a situation that feels like too much too soon, it is always OK to dial it back. If you're experiencing pain that can't be aided with lubricant, or you're feeling physical discomfort; that's usually a sign of too much too soon. This doesn't have to mean ending a sexy encounter fully, if you don't want! If you were doing penetration, you can move to external rubbing. If you were having your vulva massaged and it began to feel too intense, you can ask your partner to move back to touching your stomach (or whatever feels good for you.) Whatever feels genuinely the best for you is perfectly valid. If your partner is invested in your pleasure (as they should be,) they'll be thrilled where your pleasure journey takes both of you.
If you're not convinced, here's a personal story to illustrate: My partner and I have been together a long time, and we love each other very much. She feels pretty safe with me, and has a pretty solid sex drive of her own. All in all, her overall libido is just fine. But if we don't start out with easy, slow foreplay that starts slow and builds; or if she goes into her head while we're fooling around; her vagina tenses up, and any penetration at all hurts - to an extent that even made her look into vaginismus as a cause. For us, the factors that make our best penetrative sexy situations possible are 1. a safe space for intimacy and consent; 2. taking it slow, even beginning with touching non-erogenous zones; and 3. Keeping us both in the present, in her mind and in her body, and away from mental chatter like "Am I taking too long, is she gonna think I'm weird for wanting this, I think my partner just wants to xxx already," and so on and so forth.
So today, this is my gift to you: permission start slow and maximize your pleasure. Your journey doesn't have a due date and by rushing it, you may shortchange yourself on realizing your body's maximum potential for pleasure -- Or even cause pain. Why not give the slow road a try?
For additional tips on how, exactly, one can pleasure a vulva and vagina without putting fingers, penis, or toys inside of it, I highly recommend one of our classes, either in-store or online. Orgasmic Bliss, How to Drive a Vulva, and Amy's recent G-spot, P-spot, and Squirting classes are incredibly informative and helpful. Get playing!