The concern all started with an Eilat trip. I was on my period and about to go there for a few days with my friends, and being that I never mustered up the courage to learn how to properly put in a tampon (it hurt once when I was 11 and then again at 13 and I gave up trying), this was the perfect opportunity to try. It also helped that I was dating my soon-to-be husband at the time and knew that getting a tampon in was probably a necessary first step before marriage.
I had four friends coaching me at different times, each one stepping up to the plate after the previous one had failed, and all with claims that they were able to teach even the most scared girl in their bunk at camp. I guess I was even more of a scaredy-cat because it did not work. At all. And that’s when I had an inkling that maybe something was wrong. Maybe it was more than just the fear of sticking an unknown white thing into my body. Because I knew the right angles, knew the best positions to stand in, and really, truly tried to get it in. But it hurt. Really hurt.
Fast forward. I went back home to New York. Things have gotten more serious with my boyfriend and I knew that my engagement was just a matter of time. The little tampon incident was at the back of my mind, and I tentatively brought the subject up to my mother. I told her that I was scared to have sex because I wasn’t sure how it was going to work if it hurt to even try to put the smallest size tampon in. Luckily, my mom is incredible and didn’t chalk it all up to fear and nerves. We set up an appointment with this woman in my community, I’ll call her Sarah- she’s not a doctor but a pelvic floor PT, so she’s an expert on the vagina and all things having to do with it. After checking me out, she said my hymen was too tight and I wouldn’t be able to “do it” naturally. She said I should have my hymen cut –“but,” she said, “double check with your rabbi first if it’s ok”. She recommended going to this Chassidish lady in Borough park who breaks hymens for a living. Obviously, this news brought on an onslaught of mixed emotions- on the one hand I was excited to potentially not be in niddah right after getting married (according to Sephardic law), and on the other hand, I felt a little bit guilty and upset. My whole life there was a certain image in my head of how marriage and my wedding night would play out and it always involved my husband taking my virginity, not some doctor or Chassidish lady. After calming down a little bit, I realized that having my hymen broken before didn’t really mean too much- after all, so many people have it accidentally broken without even knowing. We scheduled an appointment with the Chassidish lady and all was good.
That is, until I got there. When she examined me the woman told me that my hymen wasn’t just tight- it actually was a Septate Hymen, meaning that there was a band of tissue going down the middle, creating two small openings as opposed to one larger one. This was out of her league.
It was time to call in the big guns- we got in touch with a gynecologist and scheduled an appointment. He offered me two options- cutting off the tissue right there in his office or scheduling a surgery of sorts in a couple of days where he would be able to use numbing cream. After a few minutes of deliberation and some panicking, I opted to remove the extraneous tissue in his office. I survived the “operation” but the real bad news came when we sat and discussed my next steps. He informed me that he would not be breaking my hymen. In his opinion, if it can be broken naturally, which was now possible due to the removed band of tissue, then let it be natural. After a week of hyping myself up, I was devastated. And scared. I was ready for all of the good things that come with a pre-broken hymen- no niddah, less painful sex, and probably the biggest factor- peace of mind. I had to quickly backtrack to what my mindset was originally. Natural is good. It’ll happen like I always thought it would.
Over the next few months, everything seemed great. I was able to use tampons with no problems and nothing in my vaginal area hurt. I got checked out by a doctor, I was ready to get married. And so I got married. When we got the hotel room, I was prepared. My husband and I had talked about all of our expectations, we knew there was no pressure to “perform” that night if we didn’t feel ready, and if I liked wine, we would’ve ordered some to our room.
Over the next few nights, we tried to have sex, wanted to have sex, and we kept trying but we just couldn’t. It hurt me so much; I would close my eyes and clench my fists and tell my husband to just go for it, just get it in once and the pain would be over. But he couldn’t do that. There were so many nights that we just cried, not knowing what to do. He thought that there was definitely something wrong with him but I kept remembering my tampon issues, my septate hymen and then my unbroken hymen and had a feeling it was me. After a few weeks of tears and many attempts but no success, I called up Sarah again. That appointment brought on the most relief I’ve ever felt. After examining me and confirming that my hymen was one of the smallest she’s seen, she asked if she could break it for me. And she did (with numbing cream). It was the best decision I ever made! It wasn’t smooth sailing after that- I had to do exercises and use dilators in order to make sex tolerable, let alone enjoy it. But it was an incredible start.
What shocked me the most was when Sarah told me how lucky I was to have come in so soon after my wedding. She mentioned that people have come in after being married for a year, sometimes longer, and have been going through so much pain for the entirety of their marriage. I couldn’t wrap my mind around that fact. It wasn’t a pleasant experience by any stretch of the imagination. There was this constant feeling of guilt on both sides- him feeling guilty for hurting me when we would try to have sex, me feeling guilty for being unable to have sex, and on top of that, a feeling of incapability. What was wrong with us that we couldn’t manage to perform the most basic, primal act between two people?
Looking back, just like Sarah mentioned, I consider myself lucky. I was blessed with the right practitioners and I knew to get help fast. My husband and I definitely grew from this experience; we were forced to properly communicate from the very first day of marriage, and on a topic that was slightly awkward for us at first. However, with all that, I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. Make a gynecologist appointment before you get married, make sure everything is ok. And after your wedding, if things aren’t what they should be, don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it be your doctor, a person such as Sarah, or your Kallah teacher. They’re all there for you, for us, to ensure that our bodies can work the way they’re supposed to.