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First-time Blues

Dear Rachel and Claire,

I'm a 22-year-old woman, engaged to a wonderful 25-year-old man. I finally feel ready to have intercourse.  The problem is that I’m a virgin, and he's had intercourse only once in his life. Together, we’re practically clueless. I am very, very tight (for lack of a better way to put it). Going to the gynecologist is really painful and scary for me. We've tried several times, but it doesn't seem to get better; he can only get in a couple of inches, even after I’ve had an orgasm through oral sex, so I’ll be more relaxed. What are we doing wrong?  What can we try? I thought about buying a small dildo to use at home alone so that maybe I’ll get more relaxed with the sensation of something being in me, do you think this is a good idea? What should my fiancé be doing?  Should he go fast, like ripping off a Band-Aid, or should he go in slowly?


Thanks for your help,

A Little Stuck

A:

Dear A Little Stuck,

I’ll bet my Rabbit Habit that your discomfort is from your hymen, not a "very, very tight" vagina. The hymen attaches to the vaginal wall in a ring of tissue about an inch inside the vaginal opening. We are taught to understand the hymen as a virginity-protecting piece of Saran wrap enclosing the vaginal opening that inevitably hurts when it is "broken." In fact, the hymen varies a lot from woman to woman. Most women have openings in the hymen, which can accommodate fingers and tampons. Others may have partially intact hymens even after penetration with dildos or penises. Still others have intact hymens until they give birth.


The experience of breaking the hymen can also vary from woman to woman. Many women break their hymens using tampons or having penetrative sex. For some, breaking the hymen is pretty uneventful, while for others it can be accompanied by quite a bit of bright red blood. For still other women, like you, rubbing or pressure against the intact hymen can hurt. When pieces of the hymen are still attached to the wall of the vagina, it keeps that area of the vaginal wall tight: think of a purse string, or a non-elastic thread in a seam. When the hymen tears or stretches, it releases the ring of tension in the vaginal wall. To get a better sense of what’s going on, you can check out the illustrations in The New Our Bodies, Ourselves, or The V Book; you can also look at your own body with a mirror.

Get your boyfriend to agree there will be no "pulling off the band aid," and proceed slowly. Fear of pain can put a big damper on the dampness, so use lots of water-based lube, and have him use his fingers for penetrative sex to start with. Relax into the good feelings of your sexploration. It's very possible that the hymen will just "give" as it’s being stretched during sexual activity. Masturbating with appropriately sized dildos can also be effective.


Both Silk and Siren are very smooth and provide a good range of sizes. Women with very thick hymens sometimes have them surgically removed—but that’s a last resort. I'd suggest you explore the more pleasurable methods first.


Good Luck!