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when sex hurts

February 27th, 2018 | 2 min read

By Matthew Loftus

This essay from Joy Pedrow Skarka about pain and sex says some things that need to be heard:

After our wedding, riding the elevator up to our hotel room, I looked into my groom’s eyes and saw excitement. We had looked forward to this night during our engagement, and, in reality, for years. And on that night especially, I believed God would bless our new marriage. We’d waited after all. Walking into our hotel room in my white dress, still sweaty from dancing at our reception, I felt my heart race as I anticipated husband and wife becoming one flesh.

When the physical pain of sex caused tears to streak my wedding day make-up and forced me to whimper, “We need to stop,” I felt betrayed.

Months went by—the pain continued. I spent hours reading medical articles. “Keep trying. Stretch. It will get better over time.” I opened up to friends, and each one shared their own opinions: “Drink more wine. . . . take a bubble bath. . . . relax. . . .” I tried to relax and drink more wine, but intercourse never improved. Instead of offering me freedom, their advice chained me to shame.

I wish this essay was twice as long (there are more thoughts on a similar subject in this essay), because Skarka is just cracking open some of the difficulties that emerge around pain and sex. As a young man growing up at the turn of the millennium, I sought out a lot of what you might call “sex-positive” talk about marital intimacy (some useful, some vapid) and I think maybe once or twice I might have heard a parenthetical aside about pain and sex. It’s a problem that most married couples are going to have to navigate (at the very least post-childbirth) and some couples may struggle with it for the entirety of their marriage, like the author. Yet it still seems to be under-discussed when Christians are charging young couples to enjoy sex.

Given the sensitivity of the subject and the variations in experience (some women might just need a little wine, others might need a medical evaluation), I think that while it will certainly be useful to generally spread the word that sometimes a woman might need a medical evaluation for pelvic pain or dyspareunia, what’s more important is that we train men to be compassionate and understanding with their wives in general so that they’re able to sacrifice their own desires for the sake of their wives. (This is similar to what I was chasing after with my bigger essays about preventing sexual assault.) Not only will this allow women to take whatever steps are necessary to deal with their pain, but it will also forge the character necessary if the pain doesn’t get better or something else prevents intercourse for long periods of time.

Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at