Personal Stories Sex + Body Positivity

On Sex Beyond Pleasure And Heteronormativity: Vaginismus, Painful Sex And Boundaries

As someone going through so many changes in my body – both physically and mentally, I didn’t know how I was supposed to react to all this. Even till my late teens I was some what of a prude, the idea of sex scared me because of my own self esteem and body issues.

Sometimes I wonder if hook up culture and sex positivity have done anything to sexually liberate us as they claim. As conversations surrounding sex and sexuality have found place in online spheres and liberal circles in cosmopolitan cities, it makes me think if anything has been done to truly talk about sex audaciously or as freely. There is so much more to sex than just consent, pleasure and fun. Why do we not talk about the ugly parts of it?

 “Consent is sexy” is a phrase that is rampantly thrown around on social media nowadays to get the message across that yes, consent is essential; however there is something extremely horrific about such taglines. Are people inept to understand something as bare minimum as consent without attaching sex and desirability to it? Why should we glorify consent so much? Glorifying something like consent only makes it seem like it is unachievable. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that talking about consent is integral, and we need to include it in our sex education curriculum. I just believe that it should be done in a way that makes consent seem achievable for each and every person. This can start with teaching consent as a concept without attaching anything sexual to it and making sure its something everyone can relate to.

On the other hand, I do think that there is more to consent than just simple “yes” or “no”. When there are talks about consent surrounding sex, it is often overly simplified, while ignoring the nuances of it. There is more to consent than just asking if the other person wants to proceed and waiting for them to respond with a “yes” or “no”. We barely talk about sex beyond pleasure: about painful sex, vaginismus, and how sex like everything else in life can be messy too.

Similarly, a lot of sex talk in the mainstream rarely highlights the experiences of queer people. For the longest time, as a queer person I had zero idea about how sex works in settings besides P-in-V interactions. Most of what I read in magazines always centred around heteronormative sex. Although lesbian sex was a popular category on porn websites, the way it was fetishized by the cis male gaze, made me distance myself from it.

Growing up was a confusing time, it was even more confusing when I hit puberty. The boys in class had started watching porn and people were slowly beginning to talk about the “s” word. I still remember people in class looking it up in the dictionary and laughing amongst themselves when they read the definition of “it”. As someone going through so many changes in my body – both physically and mentally, I didn’t know how I was supposed to react to all this. Even till my late teens I was somewhat of a prude, the idea of sex scared me because of my own self-esteem and body issues. It was only later when I graduated from high school that I started to explore my sexuality. Even then, I was certain that I did not quite enjoy the idea of sex. The funny thing here is that I really had no one to talk to about all this. Its true that sex talks at large were not common, but the dissonance here was the fact that we did talk about sex among peer groups – the only difference is that sex was still something very scandalous. It wasn’t something that just existed, it was talked about in hushed whispers, or as something that was a big deal. People talked about who finally did “it”, who were the first ones to do “it” from the batch and what not. So typically, there were two sides of this coin – one where sex was something completely invisibilized from our lives, while also being associated with something immoral. On the other side of the coin was how sex was talked about while boasting about one’s escapades and by introducing an element of scandal to it. Both sides of the coin prevented me from viewing sex for what it really is for me and instead tainted my views about it.

I think the reason that made sex so scary for me was also because of the way I saw guys in my peer groups talking about having sex and “scoring” girls. It was hard to not have trust issues after hearing boys in class talk about getting laid with so much pride. My fragile self-esteem was already in the gutter when I used to overhear them talking about women’s bodies, rating them according to how sexually desirable they were etc.

When I finally stepped out of my fear of having sex and dating in general, life did feel good, but the aspect of penetrative sex used to make me nervous. I couldn’t date a particular person for a long time because of me being apprehensive about sex and sexual things. It was hard to differentiate if it was because I truly did not like sex or if I was avoiding it because of other issues. It’s not like I had a problem with sexual things, the penetrative aspect however would keep me away. Each time a man would try to penetrate me, it felt like my vagina didn’t want the penis to go inside it. This made me even more scared. It made me question if I’m built differently or if my vaginal anatomy was different and needed some kind of a “fixing”. Only later did I find out that the condition that I had was vaginismus. Upon learning about vaginismus, I tried to do everything in my capacity to overcome this fear of having something inserted in me, like trying to masturbate more often and be more in control of my body.

Vaginismus refers to the muscles of a vagina contracting when something is trying to enter it. The intensity depends on person to person and can range from mildly uncomfortable to painful. This is especially apparent when vaginal penetration is being attempted.

After learning more about where my vaginismus stems from (trauma, anxiety and apprehension), it made me question why “penetration” was the most important aspect of sex. Why was there this pressure to end sex with penetration to the point that the other person is uncomfortable and pressured. While I found ways to deal with vaginismus, I also found out that it wouldn’t just go away so quickly. On the other hand, sex and dating dynamics with a fellow queer person was a lot easier and fun, and my whole idea of sex also became more fluid after such experiences. Sex with cis-men on the other hand was still a hit or a miss. 

Therefore, I keep thinking about consent beyond a simple yes or no binary. Defining consent like that can often pressurize the person to go ahead despite feeling uncomfortable. We don’t talk enough about how sex can be painful and there is more to sex than just pleasure. Sometimes, boundaries are also not maintained. It should be a given that the people involved in the act make sure that the other person is comfortable, like ensuring if they want to go ahead or just stop and asking if they are feeling good while at i. It is about time we stop thinking that sex only exists to be pleasurable because in many such harrowing incidents it is traumatizing. We have romanticized the idea of hook ups so much to the point that we have internalized the kind of violations we face during sex under the guise of “sex positivity”. These conversations need to go beyond the idea of just pleasure and we need more conversations about consent, boundaries, dealing with pain during intercourse and practicing bodily autonomy. We need to create and foster an environment where sex just exists, as a choice.

2 thoughts on “On Sex Beyond Pleasure And Heteronormativity: Vaginismus, Painful Sex And Boundaries

  1. I really liked this while article I could relate to most of its parts and as a cis het man who’s never been a part of the alpha male hookup group I’ve witnessed how boys love to brag about it which made me uncomfortable, anxious and conscious about my body since I always saw sex as something intimate rather than surrounding it around pleasure, being with someone who’s been a part of the whole “hookup culture” also opens up your views around sex even if it makes you uncomfortable the point is educating yourself.

  2. It was such a beautiful article ….i pretty much am struggling to figure out about my sexuality and intimacy
    TW!!!…..i had a traumatic experience of emotional abuse via social media and dating apps where the guy pressured me to send my body pics even though I clearly said NO…..he said that if you have made the first move then you should oblige to this thing….i have got sexually harrased by someone by them sending me explicit images and forcing me to have sex with them …. without my permission….i am sorry that I am sharing this ….but reading your article really brought the emotions to the brim ……keep doing the good work:)

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I am a final year Psychology student from Fergusson College, Pune. I occasionally write in the area of gender, sexuality, politics and mental health. Besides writing I like doing art. I dream about queer liberation and constantly talk about the eradication of compulsory cis heteronormativity 😌.

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