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Every time I have sex it hurts

October 12th, 2012

Dr Petra

Today at Telegraph’s Wonder Women I tackle a reader question about pain after sex.   You can read the question and my reply here.

As I explain in this previous post, media advice giving is not something that is regulated nor supervised. So I rely on professional colleagues, readers and friends to give me feedback on whether my advice is adequate or could be improved.

Here is the feedback I have received about today’s letter, which has really helped me think about how I might give advice on this issue in the future. This feedback unpacks and challenges some of ideas I was trying to share in my reply. It also demonstrates the tensions around ensuring people (including advice givers) think about ‘sex’ as something other than penetration and focus on other pleasurable activities which might prevent sex being painful; while also ensuring that medical help could be sought in case of an underlying serious problem.

Meg Barker
“Obviously you’re spot on that it’s important to check out any underlying medical problem. In my experience there are a large number of people who have such experiences without such problems and it is entirely down to having a kind of sex they don’t really want to have because they feel they should, often coupled with having little idea of their own sexual desires. Good to see you tackling this here. It’d be nice to see an even stronger messages out there that (a) people don’t have to have sex, and (b) having sex doesn’t need to involve penetration”.

‘I like the reply. I’m trying to think, as someone who is generally scared of doctors who might put their hands on me, whether it would help me to overcome that, and I think marginally so – the approach of explaining what might happen is good. I’m also a fan of “write down what you want to ask”‘.

Ronete Cohen
“Maybe I would have acknowledged her fears before saying she has to see a doctor so that she feels that she’s being listened to and not dismissed for being afraid of going to the doctor (which could or not be happening with her boyfriend). Maybe accentuating the fact that whatever it is can be treated (e.g. by putting possible problem nearer to its solution, or even a reassurance that there is treatment available) would avoid overwhelming her with the idea that she could have something terribly wrong with her. It is a shame that there isn’t more room to explore sex that is non-penetrative (because it’s so ingrained in us that sex=penetration and otherwise it isn’t real sex), but word counts are the enemy of all us agony aunts”.

“As somebody with a cervical fibroid, I read it with interest I agree with Ronete that it would have been nice to explore non-penetrative sex more, but it’s more important to get any medical cause checked out, especially if the pain during sex is a new thing”.

Leonore Tiefer (of the New View Campaign and Selling Sickness)
“I think your column today is much too medical model. You have to work hard hard hard careful not to fall into the biomedical trap. Doctors should never go in the first sentence. Bold headers are not about conditions or diseases but about experiences, perspectives, diversity. “Pain” can mean many things. And “sex” of course should never be assumed to be intercourse”.

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