Q I’ve always been a bit over the top when it comes to personal hygiene – and my doctor has advised me to stop washing and douching so much before and after sex because it’s making sex painful (and I’ve been getting sore and swollen). I get paranoid about being smelly. I know I can’t be because I’m uber clean and use wipes, scented body lotion, talc etc. This is now becoming a problem with my partner because I can’t be spontaneous and have to visit the bathroom for a while before sex and again afterwards – when we should be enjoying the mood. On one level I know I’m creating this problem myself, but on another I just can’t stop doing this in case I were to smell and turn him off me.
A By being ‘over prepared’ you are also under-prepared for the moment-by-moment experience of sex. I think your concerns are shared by many women – although perhaps not to the same extent.
(You’ve seen your GP and you haven’t mentioned to me a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – so I’m assuming that this isn’t the issue here.)
We all have natural and beneficial bacterial – and mucous membranes which lubricate the areas that need to be kept moist – and you are making life very difficult for them to do their job!
To be honest I used to feel similar to you many years ago – until I realised that it wasn’t just about being spotlessly clean and fragrant. Underneath that it’s often also about how we present ourselves and how ‘perfect’ we try to appear to be, so as to please someone else and make them (in fantasy at least) want us to stay around.
The paradox being that in striving for perfection I – perhaps like you – created an imperfect, or at least impaired, sexual experience because my focus was upon myself and how I might be being judged, and less upon enjoying the moment – fluids, natural odours and all!
You already realise that your behaviour has become ‘out of hand’ for you and that you need to reduce it – to the level of personal hygiene which shows respect for your partner and their sensory experience of you. It’s all about deciding what and where that level is.
This is a mutual thing too by the way. Is your partner taking responsibility for their own personal hygiene and cleanliness, or might you be overcompensating for him in some way?
I’m also wondering what other possible associations your brain is making here. Have you ever felt repulsive to someone else, or been thoughtlessly rejected by them and guessed that this was to do with you not being clean enough?
Have you been touched by someone in an unhealthy and unwanted way – and you still feel stained, tarnished or contaminated by that touch?
Were you unclean and not properly taken care of as a child – which was my own underlying reason for similar behaviour – and you felt ashamed amongst your peers for your appearance, cleanliness or smell?
What did you experience as a child or growing teenager that might have created this shame-based perfection-driven behaviour?
There may be some other buried reasons for this thinking process of ‘I’m not good enough for you unless I’m perfectly prepared and presented’. So, I’d suggest you dig around in the dirt (so to speak) to find out where this has come from.
If and when you locate it, then check in with your inner ‘little girl’, and speak to her like a loving mother would. Assuring her that she is fine just as she is, that she only needs to take care of her daily cleanliness – and to stop punishing herself with ‘uber’ cleanliness.
I hope this will free you up to know that you can be prepared for sex without the old distracting (and unhealthy) ritual getting in the way of foreplay and afterglow. You will then enhance the bond with your partner and dissolve that tendency to judge yourself and assume someone else judges you in the same way.
Those extra cuddles will go a long way to healing and soothing you too. After 20 seconds of hugging a hormone called Oxytocin is released in our bodies (and at other times too – especially after sex) which helps us to connect on a deeper level – as well as being vital for our physical and emotional well-being.
I hope that helps. Clean enough is fine… you are good enough just as you are without repeatedly washing away any imaginary dirt from the past.
And remember – there is no ‘perfect’ way to present yourself anyway, so stop
wasting your time trying!
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)