When Pleasure is Pain


This is the month you will find allll the recommendations on how to spice up your sex life. And while I’m a typical contributor of such advice, I wanted to do something different this February. As a military spouse, our loved ones often return home from war changed. There’s just no fluffy way around this reality. Traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, limb loss, the list could go on and on. 

Maybe you’re navigating a diagnosis right now. Or maybe you’ve been facing the fallout of this new normal for years. I want to first say that this month, with so much emphasis on love and sex, can trigger a lot of feelings. Honor whatever those feelings are that are coming up for you and know that each one is valid. It is absolutely ok to be angry. To be sad. To be confused. To feel torn. You are not alone in those feelings.

One of the things I’m passionate about is helping my clients pivot. When things turn out a bit different than we expected, we have the power to redirect. But if you don’t believe that you can take control of your life, that you’re a victim to your circumstances, then all the advice in the world won’t help. I truly want to see you experience pleasure and joy. So I’ve come up with a few ways to make that happen this month (or any time of year):

Identify pleasure: I once had a friend tell me that cooking for her was better than sex. The whole process for her- creating the menu, preparing the meal, tasting, plating, serving, and finally seeing the reactions of others to her food-that was a type of orgasmic experience for her. That may not resonate with you and that’s totally fine. I would encourage you to identify what does bring you pleasure. What feels so good to you? What fills you up and makes you want to burst? Give yourself permission to explore what that looks like.

Change the goal: If you had sex education growing up, you’d have been taught that sex is essentially inserting Tab A into Tab B and that results in orgasm. The end. Thanks for playing. And I see many individuals continue to approach sexual activity this way. Instead of making orgasm the goal, what if we just made pleasure the goal? What if there was no pressure for either partner to climax? How does that feel? For many, especially those who struggle to orgasm or experience pain during intercourse, this new approach is a relief. There should never be any pressure in sex. No one should feel like they have to perform. Sex, however that looks for you and your partner, should be a fun and fulfilling experience. If it’s not that right now, ask yourself, how can I make it just 10% more fun? Just 5% more fulfilling. And do that over and over until it starts to reflect your desires.

Identify your hang-ups: I can give you all the advice in the world. You can go out and buy the latest gadgets or sexiest lingerie. But if you don’t identify what’s pressing your brakes, it won’t help. Think of your libido like a car. You can push down on the gas to get yourself going (turned on), but if your other foot is on the brakes, you ain’t going nowhere (turned off). The same goes for sex. You can find something that brings you pleasure, but if you’re thinking about how fat you look or worried that one of the kids will walk in on you, you’re not going to go anywhere. And it’s not going to be very enjoyable. 

Some hang-ups are easy to fix. Afraid the kids will walk in? Lock the door. Other hang-ups are deep-rooted and require healing. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sex just because you have a past trauma you haven’t dealt with it. It just means that that may press on your brake and will continue to unless you work through it. 

Brainstorm: If certain positions are painful or make you feel uncomfortable, sit down with your partner, bust out the notes app on your phone, and get ready to brainstorm. If you’re not used to talking about sex and pleasure, this conversation may feel a bit awkward. Do it anyway. Push through that embarrassment. Your relationship matters and deserves you fighting for it. It will feel super awkward at first. So acknowledge that, laugh about it, and think up ways you can please each other while respecting the wounds (physical or otherwise) they have. 

It’s incredibly important that neither of you are judgmental. If you both don’t feel safe to throw out ideas, then you’re not going to accomplish much. Be vulnerable. Be vocal about what you’d like to try. And be open to what your partner wants to share with you. This brainstorming process can be incredibly erotic even if neither of you touches one another. Enjoy that!

Get Unconventional: I’ve been in the sexuality field for 15 years. I have heard and seen just about anything you can think of when it comes to couples creating something that works for them. You would honestly be surprised how many couples copulate outside the box or push against what society has prescribed as what they “should be” doing. Find something that works for you and your partner. You are the ones that get to make that decision. No one else. Question everything. Why do we do it this way? Why can’t we try this? See what comes up and remember to be gracious towards each other as you do. 

Final thoughts: navigating sexual intimacy when both partners are emotionally and physically healthy can be challenging. Throw in physical ailments, untreated trauma, and the volatility of military life-you’re facing an uphill battle. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Because I wholeheartedly believe that it can. I’ve seen it countless times. It just means you have to do things differently and as a military spouse, pssh, you’re a pro at that! So don’t give up. Dive in. Fight for yourself and your relationship, and know that I’m cheering for you.