It was eight weeks past Em's birth when we finally had sex.
My husband had been awaiting this day with bated breath, counting down the days until we could safely do the deed.
I myself wasn't nearly as excited. When Em was born, there had been some tearing, and enough blood to make even my doctor look nervous. The thought of being penetrated there, at the spot where I had been ripped apart, was a terrifying one.
Especially considering that, once upon a time, I had struggled with painful sex.
The problem began almost 15 years ago. Back then, I was in an unhealthy relationship with a man who coerced me into giving up my virginity to him, and who then spent the entirety of our relationship making me feel self-conscious about my lack of sexual experience. This impacted every subsequent intimate relationship I had.
When I told my gynecologist I was experiencing painful sex, she took a look down below, shrugged her shoulders, and told me everything looked okay. I got an ultrasound and the report was much the same. “Things look just fine,” the tech said. “Maybe it's psychological?”
But years with the same clinical psychologist didn't help. Neither did homoeopathy or hypnotherapy. I even became a sex writer, throwing myself into my work in an attempt to “cure” myself. Nothing worked.
I knew this would become an even bigger problem when my husband and I decided to start building a family. Much to my surprise, however, this is what eventually healed me.
The more often I pushed myself to be intimate in the pursuit of pregnancy, the less trouble I had with libido. And the more I allowed myself to relax into this intimacy, the more I was able to relax my body. The more I relaxed my body… well, it was similar to what I later learned in my hypnobirthing classes: if you relax the mind, thus allowing the body to relax, your muscles won't tense up and cause you pain.
Still, the first time we had postpartum sex, it hurt. A lot. This despite the large quantities of personal lubricant we both used. And I had flashbacks to the days when I was afraid I would never be able to find pleasure in sex.
Had all that progress been wiped away?
The next time we tried, I didn't have much hope that things would be any better. Standing beside our bed, I stepped into a pair of oversized sweatpants, pulling them up over my worn, cotton bikini briefs, and then pulled on one of the maternity tank tops now relegated to bedtime use because of all the extra fabric around the middle. Despite the lack of sexy, my husband pulled me close and kissed me. He rubbed his hands up and down my back. He grasped my side, grasped a thigh, and pulled my body in even tighter.
And then—in the midst of all my skepticism—I began to feel something stir down below. I let him pull my granny panties down the length of my legs and toss them to the side. Finally, with the help of a generous dollop of Sliquid, I slowly eased him inside me.
The more I focused on my breath, lengthening out each inhale and exhale, the more I was able to relax my thighs. With this concession, I also relaxed my white-knuckled control.
I let him deeper inside of me.
In the end, there was no porn-worthy, full-throated release of pleasure.
But there was the knowledge that I didn't have to hurt anymore.