I was enjoying the film, Something's Gotta Give, until the menopausal character was portrayed in the throes of pleasure from her first sexual experience in 10 years. Especially in a film focusing on the realities of an older woman's personal life, why did they choose to glorify what is potentially an uncomfortable physical and emotional experience? Perhaps a less than orgasmic experience doesn't have the same comic potential as a woman explaining that menopause is her form of birth control. It got me thinking about the sexual myths perpetuated about the first sexual experience, the first sexual experience with a new partner, as well as sex after menopause.
Frequently, in books, films and talk among friends, we encounter the myth of the first time being wonderful. The first time is usually not all fanfare and fireworks.
First, for a woman who has never had sexual intercourse before, the hymen may not be broken. The hymen is a membrane that covers and protects the vagina and uterus through childhood and adolescence. There is a hole that allows the passage of your menstrual blood flow each month, and you can use a tampon with the hymen intact. It may be broken by activity or exercise. If it is not broken, the first sexual experience can be not just "uncomfortable" but painful as the hymen tears. You may even notice a little bleeding. Sometimes, the hymen does not need to break much, and you may feel just a little sore. Other times, the torn area is painful enough that you might not feel like continuing with vaginal intercourse. So if you are not prepared for this, you can understand how both of you might be disappointed.
Then, there is the orgasm. As most women tell you, it takes some time to learn how to get the right stimulation, physical and mental, to have an orgasm. You may be thrilled to experience an orgasm the first time with vaginal stimulation, but don't be disappointed if you can't get it all together the first time.
Another, myth related to sex is that you cannot get pregnant your first time. Big, big myth. Ideally, if you are going to choose birth control pills, start taking them at least a month before your first time. You can also get a sexually transmitted disease the first time so make sure you have condoms.
Sex can also feel like the first for sexually experienced women in their reproductive years in at least two situations:
After a baby is born
After a sexual hiatus
The importance of communication
Having a sense of humor can also lift your spirits when things don't go the way you dreamed. If I were to rewrite the menopausal woman scene, the man would stop, look down and say, "Wait a minute, I've gotta let the Viagra kick in," and the woman would rummage through her drawers for some K-Y Jelly and a condom. Because it is fun and funny, as long as you know what to expect, and it's the couple who are truly close that can share this flip side of life.
Aside from tearing the hymen, whenever sex is painful, you should make an appointment to see your health care professional. But warning signs to get seen sooner are:
If you have bleeding during intercourse when you are not having your period or if you are postmenopausal, you should call your health care professional for advice.
Just because you're a realist doesn't mean you can't be a romantic. Physical intimacy for the first time with anyone is a special experience when you love each other, and it allows you to share a special sense of closeness. That is no myth.
Alice Y. Chang, M.D. is a former instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. She is currently associated with University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Her clinical interests and experience are in the fields of primary care, women's health, hospital-based medicine and patient education.