In late December, I told the world that I find sex difficult via a TV documentary called The Diary of my Broken Vagina.
A few days later, messages from strangers started arriving in my inbox. Many were from women with similar stories to my own.
One third of young and middle aged women – and roughly half of older women – suffer from pain during sex, low arousal level and difficulty achieving orgasm, so I was not too surprised to receive these messages.
What was new for me was the overwhelming number of messages from men.
Up until this point, when men had commented on my already-established stage show about my ‘broken’ vagina, I’d often receive comments like ‘you must have a fanny like a clown’s pocket’, or they’d offer me their own sexual services as a remedy. One man told me I should use lard as a lubricant.
However, this time men were truly opening up and recognising how commonplace sexual problems are.
‘I don’t know what I’m doing in bed… I don’t think that my partner is having a good time’.
‘I really struggle to finish’.
‘I don’t want sex as much as my girlfriend does’.
All these men were happy for me to share their stories anonymously, and I am grateful that they felt they could open up.
I felt a deep compassion and understanding that they didn’t feel they had anyone to talk to. It was a position that felt very familiar.
But I shouldn’t have been the first person they felt able to talk to about their issues. I am not medically trained or a psychosexual therapist – I trained as an actor and comedian.
I pointed these men in the direction of fantastic organisations like Relate, Brook and The Havelook Clinic, which specialise in helping people with their relationships and sexual wellbeing.
Yet men find it hard to talk to doctors, with one study finding 40 per cent of men wait until a problem or symptom becomes unbearable before getting help. Another found that men who hold traditional views about masculinity are least likely to seek medical care.
It means that stigmatised conditions like erectile dysfunction are often left untreated due to embarrassment, which is not only a shame but potentially dangerous since the condition can be an early indicator of heart disease.
Many of the men I spoke to could have spoken to their partners first, but I understand that can often feel like admitting failure. I haven’t been entirely honest with many partners about sex. Often when I began to share my problems, they would take it as a criticism of their sexual prowess or see me as a puzzle that they needed to fix.
The reality is I often find it easier to talk to a room of strangers about my sex life than the person I’m being intimate with and that definitely should not be the case
Just like men feel uncomfortable talking to doctors, many also find it hard to speak to their friends and partners. The study also revealed that nearly 50 per cent said they felt unable to confide in mates about any of their problems. One man complained that there were a range of teenage magazines where girls could learn about their bodies, but he had found nothing like this for himself or his son.
‘We just don’t talk about sex,’ one of the men who contacted me wrote. ‘Unless it’s about how great you are at it. It makes you feel pathetic’.
But it isn’t ‘pathetic’, especially when talking about things could improve your sex life and health.
I’m not suggesting people strike up a conversation with their parent, CEO, or taxi driver (it might not be good for your rating). I’m not even encouraging all men to take a show about their penis on tour and call it ‘Phallus: The Musical’.
A good place to start would be safe spaces for men to find advice and information. Other than that it is just practice and knowing that there is good help available.
The reality is I often find it easier to talk to a room of strangers about my sex life than the person I’m being intimate with and that definitely should not be the case.
For me it means admitting I sometimes feel intimately broken at my very core. It has, however, made me realise I’m not on my own with this and there is strength in talking about something that I was very quiet about for many years.
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