They each had a Ph.D, had been married for three years, and obviously trusted and loved each other. And neither one knew a vagina from, well, a hole in the ground.
Their parents were pressuring them to have children immediately, but it “just wasn’t happening,” so they figured they’d have to go through artificial fertility treatments. Su’s gynecologist suggested they see me before they did, “just in case” I could say something helpful.
After some pleasantries and a few simple questions about their history, their typical day, and whether they got along (and yes, they both wanted children), I gently asked, “So, I guess you haven’t had much sexual experience together?”
HEAVY BREATHING & A FEW HAND JOBS
As I expected, no they hadn’t. In fact, she hadn’t been sexual with anyone, except for some heavy breathing and mutual hand jobs during grad school. Max had been with one woman before Su a single time, and ejaculated while trying to put his penis into her.
Su and Max had “tried” to have intercourse with each other multiple times the year they married, but “it didn’t work.” They were nervous, they weren’t sure exactly where his penis should go, maybe her vagina was “too tight.” They stopped trying about 2 years ago.
They were a combination of shy, ashamed, and desperate.
What could I say that would help them?
“Let’s go slowly,” I started. “I’ve talked about this a million times, of course, but you’re new at it. Right?” They liked this.
To their surprise, I didn’t want to talk about sex right away. We talked about kissing, affection, nudity, self-consciousness, nipples, and menstruation. You know, your average conversation between a couple and a stranger.
I sent them home with the assignment to talk with each other in a more open way, each one picking an intimate topic they hadn’t discussed before.
The following week we talked about arousal, pleasure, and physical discomfort. I explained that if they did things that got them aroused, they could simply enjoy that without having to have sex (“intercourse,” we started calling it). This was a revelation to them—pleasure for its own sake! So I made it their homework—“if you’re comfortable with that.” Sooner than they expected, they were.
Then it was time to talk vaginas, because this was the big mystery for both of them. I felt sure we’d get to the clitoris, labia, and the rest of her vulva (and his genitalia), but they were both particularly curious about her vagina.
READY FOR THIS CONVERSATION?
They weren’t sure they were ready for the conversation, but I assured them they were. And that “just like with touching, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, and you can stop whenever you wish.” They liked the sense of control this gave them, and they liked the way I equated sexual agency and verbal agency.
“Feeling like a grownup,” we decided to call it.
Gradually but perceptibly, they were increasingly keen to talk about sex.
Since neither of them had ever really looked at Su’s vulva (or Max’s penis, for that matter), I took out a large laminated line drawing. I showed them the vagina—its opening, it’s ridged interior ending at the cervix, the way its length oozed lubrication when aroused, and the muscles wrapped around it.
On the same wonderful old line drawing, I introduced them to the other adjacent organs that are not the vagina, such as the labia and clitoris. I promised we’d back to them, and we eventually did.
For now, they needed to not be so intimidated by the whole business. And that meant bringing vaginas down to human scale. Especially hers. So their next homework was for both of them to get to know Su’s vagina better. For that they needed some time, some light, a mirror, and permission to giggle, and to stop if they felt like stopping.
A GUIDED TOUR
And together, one weekend, they gave themselves a tour of her vagina. She discovered as much as he did: the actual color of it, the location and shape of the opening, the other anatomic things going on down there.
For their next home assignment, with the samples of lube I’d given them, they took turns gently stroking a finger on the outside of Su’s vaginal opening. I also had them take turns rubbing a finger across the outside of the pursed lips of their mouths, to compare the texture—and again, to bring the vagina down to earth as a normal body part.
They came back to the office full of questions, and full of discoveries. They excitedly pointed to the line drawing again. They had found where she peed! Where menstrual blood came out! Where his penis would (someday) go! And by the way, the vaginal opening really was far away from her anus, just as I predicted!
So far, so good. Again, I was confident we’d get to the rest of her vulva soon enough. For now, they were eager and open and I wasn’t going to take them in a different direction.
Back to the drawing, I pointed out that the vagina itself—call it a canal, a tube, a barrel, whatever—is not at right angles to the woman’s torso. That is, if a woman is lying on her back, her vagina doesn’t stick straight down, perpendicular to the bed. While they were digesting this news, I asked him if his erection pointed straight out from his body. Predictably, he said no.
“Well, that means getting Max’s erect penis into Su’s wet vagina will take a bit of maneuvering. Cooperative maneuvering. Relaxed maneuvering. And definitely using someone’s guiding hand. Whose hand do you think would be more helpful here?” They each immediately said “hers.” Great.
To get a sense of the angle of her vagina, their next assignment was to take plenty of lube and gently insert her finger just an inch into it, getting a sense of the actual internal architecture. After removing her finger, he could do the same. They could each do it one more time.
By this time in our work Su no longer worried that this would hurt, and she no longer had the alleged “tight vagina” that had made intercourse impossible. She knew how to relax, they knew how to stay connected when fooling around, they agreed that lube was mandatory regardless of how wet she got, and they felt confident that “sex” would ultimately be pleasant (not just something to endure or “succeed” at).
So relaxed, confident, playful, connected, and knowledgeable—that became our template for what intercourse would be like sometime in the future, when they were ready. They predicted that would be soon.
NOT THE PRIMARY SEX ORGAN?
Now that they were relaxed and curious, it was time for an important surprise. I said “You know, for many, many women, the vagina is NOT the primary sex organ.” Indeed, they were surprised and confused, and…
Fortunately, they said they wanted to continue therapy. And so our next journey would be The Clitoris. Were they in for a treat!