I’ll be the first person to admit: I got married young. I was engaged at 18, early in my second semester of my freshman year at college, and married by 19. I was also the first of my siblings to be married and the first of my friends. In fact, the first wedding I ever attended as an adult was my own.
Like many young LDS adults, I looked forward to my wedding and all the exciting changes it meant mentally, emotionally, and physically. I had no idea that I was signing on for a yearlong journey that would test my commitment to my husband and his to me as we struggled to figure out what movies and culture make look so easy: physical intimacy.
I bawled on my wedding night. And not the pretty “I’m so happy right now” kind of tears. On what was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life, I was wracked by heart-wrenching sobs born of a deep sense of inadequacy and emotional pain.
We couldn't make anything work.
You might say I should have been expecting that. And true, I had heard vague half-whispers that newlyweds’ wedding nights were nowhere near what the media would have you believe. But what I didn’t expect was that we couldn’t make it work even once, not even uncomfortably, or that this trial would last for more than a year.
In the weeks and months that followed, we tried everything. We met with my family doctor, counseled with a gynecologist, and even looked into different surgeries to help. I remember thinking to myself, “Kids in high school are doing this; how can I, an adult woman, not do this?”
I felt ashamed. And desperate. I researched online for hours, pouring over every blog, article, and expert column that talked about physical intimacy. And I ran into a lot of questionable material as I tried to find the answers I so desperately sought.
I’m glad to be able to say that, after trying dozens of different suggestions and simply taking time to work at it, eventually we were able to move beyond this trial. But I wouldn’t wish that heartache and frustration on anyone.
Not every newlywed couple will have the same experience I did. Many LDS couples won't struggle with physical aspects of intimacy as much as they will struggle with overcoming the taboo that often surrounds physical relationships in an abstinence-only environment--surely an emotional challenge at least as trying as my own physical one.
But for those who might be lost and looking like I was, I want to share some of the information and resources I found most helpful (and most faithful) for getting me through this difficult time in my young marriage:
What I Learned
The number one piece of advice I can give is to communicate. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Talking with my husband about everything I was experiencing both physically and emotionally helped keep me sane throughout this trial. It allowed him to respond to my fears, concerns, and anxieties. I also needed to hear what he was thinking and feeling to make sure that we, as a couple, were always on the same page. Working through our intimacy issues was something both of us needed to do--and are still working on in the wake of some of our continued failures and slowly-increasing successes.
Earlier I mentioned that I looked into surgical options to help alleviate some of my physical intimacy problems. While there are some medical procedures that can help, every physician I spoke to advised me not to have surgery. The gynecologists all said that I should wait at least a year before considering such an extreme option. (And they were right--I never had to get surgery. But for others, this may be a good option.)
Another thing I came across in my online searches was a condition called vaginismus, which causes the cervix to unconsciously constrict painfully during physical intimacy. This generally has a psychological origin more than a physical one--its causes include fear of painful intercourse and the belief that physical relations are wrong or shameful. Therapy can often resolve it. (As it turned out, I didn't suffer from this. However, it may be common among LDS and other abstinence-practicing couples given the current climate surrounding intimacy discussions and how many people are taught to fear and be ashamed of physical relationships.)
Above everything else, the support of my husband helped me most. His kind patience and love are what sustained me in times when I felt inadequate, embittered, and defeated.
If you're in need of more specific advice, you should definitely check out the resources listed below:
While this website is not LDS specific, it takes a respectful Christian approach to marital intimacy. I especially liked this site because it talks about specific intimacy problems and questions in detail in a way I couldn't find anywhere else--but that also means those who are not married should not visit it.
This site also has a great forum where you can ask your own questions of other faithful Christians.
"The Intimate Side of Marriage" on The Mormon Women Project
There's a lot of great information in this interview with LDS psychotherapist Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. For me, the best answer she gives is in the penultimate question, where she explains how having intercourse is like learning a new language. Others may find different parts of this interview more helpful.
And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage Through Sexual Fulfillment
This is a frank and still respectful look at intimacy from a female perspective. The part of this book I found most helpful for my specific issues was the part that addresses, with solutions, the emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy issues that plague many marriages.
The other two subsections of the book—focusing on marriage and parenting—are also great. You may also want to read Laura M. Brotherson's most recent book, Knowing Her Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage.
Between Husband and Wife: Gospel Perspectives on Marital Intimacy
This book is actually marketed to older LDS couples to "to improve or revitalize" their physical relationship--but it's also a great resource for younger newlyweds. The premise of the piece is to unite teachings of modern prophets with medical research to offer valuable and straightforward responses to questions like: Where does a Church member go for a clear, gospel-based understanding of intimacy? What information is available about the differences between men and women, and how does it impact intimacy? What medical insights are available for LDS couples who want to improve this aspect of their relationship?
Real Intimacy: A Couple's Guide to Healthy, Genuine Sexuality
I wish this book had been around when I was struggling with marital intimacy.
Based on doctrinal principles and years of professional experience, counseling real people, this uplifting volume approaches marital intimacy with a genuine desire to help couples. Learn to lovingly discuss your physical relationship with your spouse, identify false worldly ideas about sex, and reconcile your differing perspectives. Informative and engaging, this book will answer all your questions as you learn to truly become one. Another great resource is Sexual Wholeness in Marriage: An LDS Perspective on Integrating Sexuality and Spirituality in our Marriages.