Ask Professor Foxy: Working it out in Florida

Welcome to the first edition of our new series, Ask Professor Foxy. If you have questions, send them to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.
Hi Professor Foxy,
I’ve been married for about eighteen months now, and my husband and I have yet to have intercourse (there may have been a few times when he got in a quarter of an inch or so, but it really hurt and I’m not even sure, which is telling). Admittedly, I’m very ignorant about sex. No matter how much I read about it or how many diagrams I view, I still feel clueless and incompetent.
I don’t have any sexual trauma in my background (except maybe my first gynecological exam; they haven’t stopped being painful). But I guess you could say I was a typical abstinence fan. I was raised with the expectation that I wouldn’t have sex till I was married, and it never really occurred to me to seriously question it. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned on Feministing yet is how the abstinence movement gives you the impression that sex will be perfect if you can just wait till you’re married. Now, of course, I feel like a gullible idiot. My husband (also a virgin at marriage) has been completely supportive and understanding (and thinks it’s somehow his fault), and our marriage is great aside from this, but it’s incredibly frustrating, and it makes us both reluctant to even try. I don’t know if it’s just that we’re both clueless or if there’s something worse going on.
As much as I don’t “get” books about sex, I’d also appreciate any reading recommendations you may have for people like me.
–Not Doing It in Florida

Hey Florida –
I want you to stop thinking about having sex. Just stay with me here…one of the things that the abstinence-only movement, and frankly most of our culture teaches us, is that sex is VERY, VERY, VERY SERIOUS. And I am going to tell you a little secret – sex, really, really good sex is fun and funny and involves intimacy and laughing and oops moments and funny noises.
So this is what I want you and your husband to do. I want you to take the pressure of penetration off the table. First, learn how to enjoy each others’ bodies. Practice sex not being serious.
I want you to spend one week, a minimum of an hour a day, kissing and cuddling. Nothing more. Week two – I want you to have a week of nipples. His or yours or both. Enjoy them, see what you like, are either of you ticklish? Week three – keep up the kissing and exploring, but go below the belt line. And by below the belt line, I mean you for you: masturbation. You may have never touched yourself, but it is hard to tell someone what you like if you don’t know yourself. No need to penetrate, find your clitoris, look at it with a mirror, move in circles or back and forth. Find what feels right.
Then, if you feel ready, week four, below the belt with him but no penetration. Half an hour you, half an hour him. Play around, see what works. Do you see where I am going here? Stop worrying about penetration. Practice sex not being boiled down to penetration.
Once you feel relaxed being naked and touching him and maybe even yourself, I want one of you (which ever of you has the courage) to go out and buy some water-based lubricant. They sell lube at drugstores now. I want your husband to insert one, heavily lubed finger into your vagina. I want you to breathe deep and I want you to relax with that finger in you. Throughout this entire process, I want one of you to be playing with your clit. When you feel like nothing is in, I want him to go to two. And repeat until you are up to about four fingers. This may feel uncomfortable, but keep adding more lube, relax and breathe. When you are relaxed and comfortable with this level of penetration, try with his penis.
And you know what? If it doesn’t work, stop punishing yourself for it (same for him). Start again. Tickle each other, have another hour of nipples. Stop taking it so seriously and eventually, with the love that you clearly have, it will work. You’ve made a commitment to him and he to you and you have time to make this work and you can discover great things along the way.

Join the Conversation

  • johnny303

    Prof. Foxy,
    I think that was very good advice delivered in a very empathizing and thoughtful language. Being a guy, I would only add one thing – to emphasize also for her husband that he should not feel pressured and that there is no one “at fault” in such a situation. I have a feeling with your advice these two will be a sexually happy couple in no time!

  • Danyell

    I also loved this response. But I wonder if “Florida” & her husband try any kind of foreplay before attempting to penetrate. I wonder if it is a simple case of just being 100% dry down there. But, if it is something like vaginismus, then she may never be able to have non-painful intercourse, in which case all the previous advice still stands.
    Other than that, I think this advice is excellent. There is plenty of fun to be had, never having intercourse. (Just plain humping is good too!) The most important things are love, trust, communication and patience!
    And I do think it’s very sad that we lie to kids and tell them marital sex is the best thing ever when that isn’t always true. We teach kids nothing about sex and then just expect them to figure it all out? What’s wrong with more experienced people passing down their learned wisdom? Isn’t that was learning is?

  • K.Rae

    Yeah, mine wasn’t either.

  • AllyB

    I want to second Johnny303’s advice. It’s interesting to me that no one else (other than Professor Foxy) suggested that “the problem” (and the solution) might involve Florida’s husband in a significant way.
    I was not raised in an abstinence-only household, and was relatively sexually active before meeting my first long-term partner, but I’d never had penetrative intercourse. My partner had, but his experience was in many ways more limited than my own. We had great trouble having sex, and I experienced it as largely my problem: it felt uncomfortable/painful, and when I expressed discomfort, he’d get frustrated and lose his erection. I really thought I was too small, or something.
    When I eventually DID have penetrative intercourse (in my next relationship), it was incredibly easy and natural, probably in part because I’d spent years engaging in other forms of sexual intimacy with that first partner. What I learned was that, for me, at the moment of entry, there IS a little discomfort, but it’s not a big deal. But I think my first partner was really afraid of hurting me, and anxious about being good himself, and our mutual uncertainty and embarrassment exacerbated the situation.
    I’m not ruling out a medical problem in Florida’s case–I’m just saying that I thought I might have one, and didn’t.

  • Lorelei

    uh, actually, she HADN’T mentioned that she’d been to a doctor, just that she’d been to a gynecologist once upon a time.
    i don’t know what the hell would have been so bothersome for you to just say something like, ‘welp, if it turns out to NOT be in your head like everyone thinks it is, you might wanna see a doctor, because it could be this, that, and the other thing!’
    i’m fuckin sorry but as someone with a mystery problem that causes intense vaginal pain, i’m extremely offended. why would you be ‘cute’ about something that is ruining someone else’s life? i mean, you SERIOUSLY listed only one reason she can’t have sex, which is ‘it’s all in your head.’ which is honestly just as bad as ~*medicalizing women’s bodies*~.

  • Kate

    I don’t know. I understand your point and I think it’s fine to say what you believe in your response, (objecting to medicalization of women’s bodies) but to withhold information that you’re aware of and could potentially help Florida is downright irresponsible.
    Your personal beliefs are important, but her need to know all the possibilities behind her question trumps that 100 times over. If you can’t be honest with her, you shouldn’t be writing this column. I think what anyone would need in this situation is someone giving them all the facts, not withholding information to push their own agenda and beliefs. That’s probably what she or other women like her have gotten from some doctors.
    I really hope your future articles are less selfish than this one.

  • Katt

    I agree a lot with what has already been said. I think it’s important to see a doctor for any medical related problems down there that might be causing the pain. I had a close girlfriend who needed to have her hymen surgically broken because it was so hearty.
    I’d like to share my story of how I finally had intercourse. I have been obsessed with sex since puberty and had read tons of literature on the subject. I also got to know my body really well and masturbated often throughout my teen years. When I was 17 I started dating my first serious partner and we went really slow (even though we were both so interested in being sexual together, we waited until there was enough trust established). We had still only gotten as far as oral sex by the time we were 19 when we made the decision to start trying intercourse. We finally felt ready and comfortable to try it. Up until that point we had an abundant and thriving sex life filled with all the things listed in Prof Foxy’s advice, none of them being intercourse.
    I do not have an actual “first time” experience. It was more like between January and March we finally we went from just having the tip of the head press against my opening to having it go all the way in without pain. For each of our “intercourse sessions” (after foreplay) I would get on top of him cowgirl style, grab his penis, and rub his head against my clit and lips (making sure both parts were well lubricated with a water based lube, I recommend Liquid Silk). Then I would gently ease the tip in a little bit, take it out, and then repeat unless it started to hurt (which is when I would immediately stop. We would then say “we can just try again next time!” and continue to have awesome non-intercourse sex). At first I was only putting in a couple millimeters of his penis, then a couple weeks later I could get the head in, and then a few weeks after that I could part of the shaft in, etc.
    Eventually after doing this process for a few months, we were able to make the fit and have intercourse. He would also massage my opening with lube when he went down on me to try to make the skin have more give.
    It still took about a whole year of experimenting until intercourse was as enjoyable as all the other sexual activities we did together. This is mainly because it’s hard for me to have an orgasm when my clit isn’t being stimulated, so I have to find positions that enable me to get a hand or a vibrator down there.
    Now I am 23 and enjoy intercourse just as much as all the other sexual acts. It took a long time, lots of trial and error, an ability to not take any of it very seriously, and just to focus on the enjoyment of bringing pleasure to me and my partner. And yes, sometimes intercourse still hurts! Which is why it’s always important have foreplay and lubrication!
    Hope that helps a little.