A few days before my wedding, a family member I love asked me if I had any questions about being physically intimate. She told me that sex would hurt, that the pain would be similar to that of childbirth.
Sex didn’t stop hurting for the longest time. Any attempt would cause me pain no matter how badly I wanted the act to happen. Forgive the graphic description, but I would feel like I was being stabbed with knives. Initially, even admitting to doctors in Pakistan that I was having this problem was inviting myself to criticism from people I had otherwise trusted to have scientific observations – not judgmental social commentary.
“Doing it” in my mind wasn’t as straightforward a process. It wasn’t a matter of Biology 101, it was about making sure both of us were happy.
What pleasure could a man derive from insisting on doing something which was causing his wife so much pain? I struggled with these questions because I was raised to believe that I was reserved for my husband in a way that would please him. My own pleasure was never even an expectation I had. At most, the thoughts I had before I got married ranged from: ‘Holding his hand would be so lovely’ to ‘Oh, I would like to kiss him’.
For my husband, it was the bare minimum for me to enjoy what was my right. His patience, kindness, and love shine like fairy lights when I look back into that room of my brain where all that physical pain still lives.
It’s those conversations that ensured our relationship was healthy and fun for the both of us, in fact, it helped me get the help I needed.
On reading accounts of others experiencing sexual health issues, the active concern and presence of partners was something that stood out. What I thought was the most isolating and draining physical condition for me as a newly married woman, was also something that affected my husband. I soon realised I didn’t have to go through this alone.
It took me a whole year to find the help I needed – plus one helpful gynaecologist who found out what the intense agony I experienced was after she attempted a pap test.
Dyspareunia is a symptom caused by many factors. I was recommended to go for pelvic physiotherapy and googling that treatment horrified me. The videos seemed so invasive, so clinical.
Still, I gathered whatever little courage and resources I had in order to find and book the appointment. A year later, I can say with gratitude and confidence that it was one of the best gifts I have given myself. I was able to reduce the pain significantly.
What worked for me might not work for you because every woman is unique. My pelvic floor muscles are as unique to me as the rest of me. I manage the pain by going for pelvic physiotherapy, practicing deep breathing, and doing simple exercises to relax and strengthen those muscles.
As a Muslim woman, I realise a lot of this open conversation is still a bit taboo, but hey – I could have benefited greatly from this piece if I had it three years ago while I scrolled through the internet trying to best understand if I was broken and how I could fix myself.
Alhumdolilah finding voices of Muslim women like The Village Auntie was reassuring and refreshing. I was able to find resources in Muslim men as well who made the discussion on good sex a priority: the Prophet (peace be upon him) was my go-to source for finding comfort in the fact that I deserved to be taken care of, not only emotionally, but also physically. In fact, it was a book called ‘Islamic Guide to Sexual Relations’ by Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari where I came across a hadith I had never been taught: Imam Ibn Qudama, the renowned Hanbali jurist, mentions a narration in which the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, “Do not begin intercourse until she has experienced desire like the desire you experience, lest you fulfil your desires before she does.” (Al-Mughni 8:136)
Even more recent content like the updated and revised version of Dr Yasir Qadhi’s “Like a Garment” course is one I’m hoping to watch and learn from to navigate my marriage. The Prophet was out there preaching the deen in the most wholesome ways he was taught by our Creator. And here I am 1400 years on, weeping quietly on public transit, wondering why I put so much pressure on myself and didn’t ask for help earlier.
The fact that I have spelled out actual health concerns in this piece might not sit well with those sisters and brothers amongst us who would rather I use the word “intimacy” instead of “sex”. Of course, I’ll always use the former when I can because I don’t want helpful content to be blocked in Muslim countries where internet usage is censored by automation instead of human intelligence. You see, we’re supposed to be having sex but not really discussing what are the best and most loving ways to have it. We’d rather have a pornography addiction crisis on our hands than address what are good ways to channel our desires. We are loud and public about some of the least meaningful parts of marriage. We tell two people who love each other that they’re not ready to commit when it’s us, not them, getting cold feet. We distract them with talk of money and what they need in order to begin thinking of marriage. We compound anxiety about healthy physical intimacy by refusing to give any tarbiyyah other than a
talk one night before the wedding. We dial up the pressure to find in themselves fertility as earliest as they can. We prod and probe their private lives to measure them against our own experiences. We all know that the circus won’t stop until we refuse to run it. When talking to women I trust, the stories I hear remind me why we must keep sharing our truths. Even if we don’t have similar experiences, our ummah’s compassion strengthens us. It’s messy but necessary: my dyspareunia reminds me every day of my life that I don’t want to be a part of this circus that does not address women and men’s health issues.
By The Amaliah Podcast
By The Amaliah Podcast