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First person

Sex hurt until I realised the reason why



Nobuhle N Nyoni writes about bad sex and how she mistakenly assumed the absence of happy endings were par for the course.  

Growing up, the advice our aunties gave about having good sex was: “Pull your labia to make the sex better and learn how to whine that waist”. I skipped the labia one but definitely practiced the whine – I had to be somewhat ready. 


But when my first time finally came, I was left wondering if I had played myself by not pulling on my labia. I thought the pain I experienced during sex was cosmic payback for not listening to the aunties. 

My sexual experiences hurt, so I tried to take the pain and use it as a talking point. But when I tried to tell the girls ‘My vagina hurt,’ they misinterpreted the source of my pain to be a large male appendage. I went along with it. After all – nobody wanted to listen to sad sex stories, it was always about the pleasure, the squirts, the moans. I had to fit in. 

I found comfort in the fact that women do experience pain after having sex for the first time, until the pain just did not go away after sexual encounter number four and penetration still felt like a spiky cucumber. I would gasp and the guy would obviously think it was for other reasons. The first ten strokes (yes, I counted) felt unbearable but I soldiered on until the pain became a part of the process.

‘You are so tight, oh my gosh,’ he’d coo, and I would just smile, saying a prayer for him to finish so it could all just end. At some points the pain intensified, and it felt like the penis had doubled in girth and still I lay there, mourning from the pain.

I can’t explain why I never spoke up about the pain or asked these men to stop. It felt like I owed them good sex even though I was barely getting happy endings myself. Days after I would still be in pain and sometimes urinating hurt.

Then I met Jay*. 

After our first night together, he asked me if I was nervous about us having sex. Performance anxiety is a thing for everyone so of course I was nervous. As the conversation went on, I realised my body was betraying me more than I imagined.

“Your vagina kept pushing me out and when I tried to go back in at times it felt like it had closed up. That is why I kept trying to stimulate you with my finger,” he said.

Naturally I apologised, unsure for what. It made me feel like I was broken, if I wasn’t in extreme pain I was involuntarily pushing his penis out during sex. Jay placed the blame on performance anxiety and I hoped that was it. 

This would not be the first or last time my body betrayed me in this manner with the same man; he was patient, but I always felt guilty. Through Jay’s communication I realised why the pain intensified in previous encounters, what those men thought was my vagina being tight was actually the part when it clenched up. Instead of them stopping when they felt that it gave them pleasure and so they kept going. 

Once, I was introduced to the beauty that is tampons by a good friend of mine and I was excited to try them out. My period finally came and in went the tampon. The pain I felt was excruciating. ‘Is it supposed to hurt?’ was the message I sent to her right after. Her obvious response was ‘no’ and I assumed I had gone too big for a first timer so I purchased the regulars but that changed nothing. I loved the ease they brought, but I often questioned if the pain was worth it. 

I was aimlessly scrolling on Twitter when I came across a thread by a girl who was giving an account of how sex was painful for her. Outside of the fact that I love a good thread, she was speaking on a matter that I absolutely understood so I kept reading. She described everything Jay and I had felt. From the pain to the random tightening which sometimes ended up being a complete clench. This was the day I learnt that I was living with Vaginismus. 

Vaginismus is described as the body’s automatic reaction to the fear of penetration which causes one’s vaginal muscles to contract and the person has no control over it. It is a very common condition. The causes of this condition range from anxiety disorders, childbirth injuries, trauma from sexual abuse and/or rape. The pain differs from one woman to another with some cases being severe. There are multiple solutions to this condition including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Sex therapy and Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy.

The hardest thing about living with vaginismus is trying to unlock the hidden memories that have caused this anxiety and fear. It can be heavy on your soul because it calls for reliving experiences that you would rather just bury. Pairing therapy with pelvic floor physical therapy is also helpful. You may even start with PFPT as these exercises are available on YouTube – that’s where I started! It is a great way to relax your pelvic muscles. 

Living a vaginismus free life is a long journey, so if you find that you are indeed living with it tap into your bucket of patience. The last thing I would say is, do not let anyone invalidate your condition. It takes you backwards on your healing journey and I guarantee you it is not worth it. 


*Names changed