“Am I normal?”

– everyone

Who hasn’t has asked this question at least once when it comes to their sex life.

It’s a right of passage to wonder how we measure up to our peers between the sheets.

One of the main areas that people feel compelled to compare, is the frequency of sex. 

We tend to worry that we’re not having “enough” or, at least, “as much” as our peers. Sometimes our libidos are to blame; When our sex drive is low, it’s hard to get in the mood, for a variety of reasons. (you can read more about that HERE).

What can feel even MORE frustrating than battling low libido, is feeling that you really WANT to have sex, but you CAN’T. Why? Because your body just isn’t cooperating!

What do we mean by a sex hurdle? Well, in this case, a health-related sexual hurdle?

Have you ever had a chronic bout of an IBS flare-up just before a date? 
Has there ever been a time where you had to lock yourself in a dark room due to a migraine?
Have you ever experienced pain during penetration that’s left you wondering if you’ll ever enjoy partnered sex?

Meet Kelsey, Emerson, and Sara (3 of the incredible members of Team RW) as they discuss some of their health-related sex hurdles to sex and what they do to overcome them.

Sara, 36, Migraine sufferer

Selfie of Sara Cornwall at a beach wearing a black t-shirt and necklace.
Photo provided by Sara Cornwall.

Hi! I’m Sara, and I’ve been getting regular migraines since I was 9 years old. It is no exaggeration to say they are the bane of my existence!

My biggest migraine trigger is alcohol, especially wine, which is a MAJOR bummer. 

I can’t split a bottle of wine, which isn’t ideal on dates, and I really can’t have more than 2 drinks unless I can afford to write the next day off.

Sometimes they come out of nowhere, even if I’ve been avoiding triggers, getting sleep, eating well, drinking water, etc. 

This means I sometimes have to cancel plans so that I can medicate and hibernate. 

One of the more insidious effects of my migraines has been the impact on my mental health. 

Knowing that a migraine could be lurking around any corner gets me down. 

I get so frustrated and just plain sick of dealing with it; I can get into a pretty negative headspace

Integrated with the effect on my mental health, migraines have had a major impact on my relationships and sex life. 

People say orgasms are supposed to relieve migraines, however, I’m not so lucky! 

Sex is the last thing on my mind when a migraine hits; All I want to do is lie in a dark room until it’s over. 

That’s it. No loud noises, no strong smells, and not even the faintest hint of light. 

This has been challenging for previous partners; I go from my usual bright, bubbly self to a miserable hermit in the blink of an eye.

I find that it’s important for me to disclose to any serious partners that I suffer from migraines and to explain what that entails. That way, they can be prepared for the fact that I might need to cancel plans at the last minute or even leave in the middle of a date or planned activity.

This information has been particularly important to share with my Dom, so that he can make safe, informed choices about our play. 

For example, we’ve learned that choking can trigger migraines, so he has modified his technique, reduced the frequency, and increased check-ins. 

I recently let him know that I started a new medication that might cause tingling in my fingers and feet – this might impact our ability to play with rope bondage safely because I won’t necessarily be able to discern if I’m losing circulation or if it’s the medication!

Chronic health issues interfere with life, and sex is a part of life! 

For me, it comes down to accepting the fact that I will always have to deal with migraines, and that I need to be patient and gentle with myself. 

The partners who are right for me will understand, and will be patient and gentle too!

Kelsey, 23, IBS sufferer

Hi everyone! I’m Kelsey! 

kelsey feldman rachel wright mft
Photo provided by Kelsey Feldman

For as long as I can remember I have suffered from major stomach problems. 

Right after high school, things started to take a turn for the worse; I was in immense pain, nauseous every day, and losing weight like crazy because I couldn’t eat! 

To add insult to injury, I also have major Emetophobia (fear of throwing up), so as you could imagine, being nauseous every day began to take an extreme toll on my mental health. 

Things got so bad that I started to become slightly agoraphobic (fear of leaving your house) as well. 

Some days I could not tell the difference between the nausea coming from something wrong with my stomach, or nausea coming from the anxiety resulting from my Emetophobia. 

As you could imagine…I felt like I was on a hamster wheel with no end in sight.  

Throughout my journey to finding out what was truly causing me to be sick, I took multiple trips to the ER, visited countless specialists, and even dabbled in naturopathic solutions but nothing helped and nobody could give me any answers. 

All the while, dating, and sex were the last things on my mind.

I was lonely and wanted companionship but every time I would plan a date, I would inevitably begin to feel sick and have to cancel the date. 

Many times, the people that I would go out with felt as if I had too many ‘problems’ and would never make it past the second date. 

As you could imagine, this did not help my self-confidence and made me want to stop dating altogether….and I did! 

The doctors eventually gave me a diagnosis of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). 

I felt at the time (and still kind of do) that this was a catch-all type of diagnosis because they could not figure out what was truly causing my pain and nausea. 

Nonetheless, with a diagnosis in hand, I could finally try to fix myself, which I did through exercise! 

Much to my surprise, the exercise not only helped my IBS symptoms but also helped me control my anxiety!  

Once I was able to manage my symptoms through exercise and therapy, I was able to re-join the dating world with a new outlook.

I was finally feeling healthy enough and had the confidence to go out without the fear that I may start to feel sick. 

For me, it is so important to share my story because sex hurdles come in all shapes and sizes. 

My hurdle had nothing to do with the act of sex itself but had everything to do with my physical health. 

Just because your ‘hurdle’ isn’t low-libido or lack of lubrication doesn’t make it any less important! 

Emerson, 21, Vaginismus sufferer

Emerson Karsh-Lombardo standing to the side, looking at the camera, wearing a green headband and black tank top in front of a white and grey striped wall
“The Kink Educator.” Photo provided by Emerson Karsh-Lombardo

Hi! I am Emerson and I have vaginismus! 

Vaginismus is a medical condition involving spasms and tightness in the pelvic floor muscles. 

I was diagnosed with vaginismus last year but have always struggled with painful penetrative sex. 

Vaginismus varies from person to person but it can make penetration of any kind difficult, painful, or even impossible. 

I can insert a tampon without pain but anything larger causes me pain. 

Some days my vaginismus is better than others, it just depends on factors like my period, medications, water intake, and stress!

One of the best ways I work with my vaginismus is through vaginal dilators

Vaginal dilators are used to expand the vagina’s width and depth, as well as help the pelvic muscles, relax with insertion. 

I have also worked with a pelvic floor physical therapist which has helped me tremendously in managing my pain during and after penetrative activities! 

Although the dilators and pelvic floor therapy were helpful, the largest thing that improved my sex life was unlearning and changing how I viewed and experienced sex. 

After my diagnosis I made a promise to myself that I would stop having painful sex- this completely changed how I had sex.

Rejecting painful sex meant taking penetrative sex off the table for a while. 

I analyzed how society defined sex as a penis in vagina but recognized that a lot of people have amazing sex lives with the absence of penetration. 

I changed my understanding and now define sex as an act of pleasure instead of a set of activities that must occur. 

The largest hurdle was navigating casual sex. 

I was upfront with all my potential partners and discussed how my vaginismus functioned.

I would explain to them how I viewed and defined sex.

If they were receptive to how I viewed sex I would then explain to them that if we did engage in penetrative sex it would have to be slow and gentle and that I may end it whenever I please if my pain decides to join the party. 

A lot of my potential partners were very understanding of this, a lot of them were not. 

For those who were not understanding, I simply did not engage in sexual activity with them. 

If I do decide to engage in penetrative sex, it is really difficult for me to have a “marathon” where I have penetrative sex multiple times. 

After sex, I experience a lot of discomfort, swelling, or stinging for hours or even days afterward. 

This inhibits me from having pain-less partnered or solo-sex for a few days or a week after sex. It sometimes even makes going to the bathroom difficult. 

When I have penetrative sex, I have to take into consideration how much my next few days will be impacted by pain and discomfort. 

Besides the pain during penetration, a large hurdle is the after-effects. It is a mental battle I have with myself every time I have penetrative sex.

Overall it may not sound like it since I am highlighting the hurdles I experience, but I have a very fulfilling sex life. 

Changing how I view and engage in sex has been truly life-changing. 

I experience the same amount of pleasure and joy during mutual masturbation as I do when having penetrative sex and I reconstructed how I wanted to experience pleasure in the face of pain; It has been amazing. 

I still encounter a lot of pain if I have penetrative sex but the most important thing is that is not the only way to have sex.  

If you’d like to learn even more about overcoming the most common obstacles to fully enjoying sex check Rachel Wright’s workshop, Overcoming Common Obstacles.

Thinking about diving even deeper into how your sex hurdles have affected your relationships, mental health, and overall sexual life? 

Rachel Wright’s upcoming 9-month deep dive, The Chrysalis Project might be the perfect fit! You can learn more about the offering and sign up for our Waitlist HERE