On Being Broke and Wanting Kids, and on Myths of Tightness

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.


Dear Roe,

I’m 35, married, and my husband and I are just scraping by. At the moment, we don’t have kids but it’s something that we’ve talked about a lot and I really want at least one. He thinks there is still time and that we should wait until we’re more stable. I’m worried that we’re running out of time and that we will never be in the perfect position. We just can’t see eye to eye on it and I don’t know what the best way forward is.

Dear Letter Writer,

Debating over whether or not to have kids, or when to have them, is one of the biggest conversations a couple can have, and I’m sorry that you’re in the midst of it while also having some financial troubles.

Here’s what immediately struck me: you’re right, there is rarely a perfect time to have children. And if you really want a kid, and the only thing that’s stopping is you is your finances, you should have one.

It is going to be hard as hell, the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but very few people regret having children because they’re expensive. They hate the system that made it so expensive, they hate other smug parents who throw around money like it’s nothing, they hate having to scrimp on stuff that other families enjoy without a thought – but they don’t regret having the children.

(Well, at least not when the children grow up a bit and have a bit of a personality. When it’s still larvae-like and it’s woken you up for the eighteenth time in one night when you haven’t slept in a week and your house is covered in filthy nappies and everything you own is covered in milky vomit – yeah, you may have a moment or two of regret. But I think that’s a universal emotion rather than a finance-based one, to be honest.)

On the flip side, if you’ve been talking about having children for years and you’re aware of your financial situation and you’ve thought realistically about the sacrifices you’ll have to make, and you still want one, then you want a child. And not having one is something you’ll regret.

So. How to proceed.

If you’re sure that your husband does want kids and isn’t trying to stall, I think you both need to have a very detailed conversation about your finances, and not in a “should we have a child” mindset, but a “how can we plan for having a child” mindset.

Shifting your thinking in this way rids the conversation of its hypothetical safety net and makes it concrete, which will help you plan, save and take a cold, hard, look at your finances. Is extra work a possibility, or seeking out a raise?

This will also help you research money-saving tips for when the baby arrives, and help you think about stocking up or making items in advance. Ask your parents and family members and friends with children about their experiences and how they manage the cost of it all.

It’s also important that this plan has a goal, time-wise. This will help you and your husband think in concrete terms about when certain financial changes need to take place.

But there is also a bigger issue at play here that could affect both your ability to have children, and your finances, and that is fertility.

As a woman in your mid-thirties, you’ve reached a milestone when it comes to having children. After 35, many women experience a decline in fertility and women who do get pregnant can experience other issues with the pregnancy or foetus, such as ectopic pregnancies and a higher chance of foetal abnormalities.

This of course varies from woman to woman, but it’s important for you to head to a doctor who can evaluate your chances of having a child right now. You might be completely fine, but there might be issues to be aware of.

If there any fertility issues that might make it more difficult to conceive later on, IVF and other procedures may be more prohibitive cost-wise than having a child now.

Unfortunately, sometimes the “when to have kids” conversation can morph into the “we can’t have them” conversation, and that sounds like something you want to avoid.

Time for a very serious conversation. The best of luck.

***

Dear Roe, 

This seems like such a stupid question but it’s something that bothers me. I am a tall woman (6ft) in her late 20s, and sometimes I worry that my vagina is “looser” than others. I’ve been with both women and men and have found that I am not as tight down there as some people. I have trouble orgasming from penetrative sex and worry that this may be because of how my body is. My boyfriend has never mentioned this but I worry that I do not measure up and sex may not be as good for him. Am I being stupid or should this be a real concern?

Dear Letter Writer,

No. This should not be a real concern.

Vaginal tightness is a disturbingly pervasive myth that’s been used against women for centuries. Virgins (another misogynistic myth I’ve previously dissected) were rumoured to have “tight” vaginas, which was somehow an indicator of their purity, whereas calling a woman’s vagina “loose” was an insult that implied that she was promiscuous and in need of social shame and holy water.

These ideas are ridiculous, have been repeatedly disproven by doctors, and yet they persist because misogyny persists.

Vaginal muscles are like any other muscle: they loosen and contract and return to their natural state. One thing that can affect vaginal tightness in the moment is anxiety, which can cause the vaginal musculature to clench.

This is why some young women can experience discomfort when they first use tampons, or if a woman isn’t aroused during a sexual encounter the vaginal muscles can contract and make it difficult for anything to penetrate her vagina.

So lads, if you’re trying to shame a woman by saying other women you’ve slept with were “tighter’, maybe it’s just that your assholish, woman-hating dickheaded self was so terrible in bed that you made her physically clench up.

(This isn’t universal, by the way. Women’s physical reactions to physical and emotional discomfort don’t always result in the vaginal muscles clenching. This is why when politicians like Republican Todd Akin in the US try to blame women for sexual assault by saying that “if it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try shut that whole thing down”, they’re also perpetuating rape culture and weaponizing information about women’s bodies to excuse sexual violence.)

So when you tell me that you’ve “been with both women and men and have found that I am not as tight down there as some people”, I’m curious as to how exactly you have found this out. Have your partners told you that you’re not tight?

If so, those people are: a) delusional and terrible and using misogynistic language to try and body-shame you for reasons best known to themselves; or b) they may be confusing your lubricated, aroused vagina with previous experiences where their partners weren’t excited to be with them (possibly because of the character traits described in the previous option).

As to your other concern that you find it difficult to orgasm from penetrative sex: welcome to the club, girl! Over 75 percent of women cannot achieve an orgasm from penetrative sex. We need clitoral stimulation and foreplay and oral sex and a myriad of other activities that aren’t just a penis or object jackhammering away in our vagina.

I’m curious if your partners who decided to tell you that you were loose knew or cared about this, and whether their accusations that your body was damaged were actually trying to blame you for not orgasming from their lacklustre sexual efforts.

Now, you’re in a relationship with a man who has not complained about your body because he has no reason to, and who hasn’t complained about sex because he has no reason to. I hope this is also coinciding with him providing you with tons of clitoral stimulation and orgasms, and marks a decided shift away from the inconsiderate partners you previously endured.

You can do Kegel exercises to increase the control you have over your vaginal muscles, and allow you to squeeze tighter with them. Kegels involve repeatedly clenching and unclenching your vaginal muscles, as if you were stopping a flow of urine mid-flow. You can do this anywhere, and it can be enjoyable for your partner if you squeeze his penis while he is inside of you.

But, really, right now I think it’s far more important for you to do some work on your self-esteem, and learn to love and appreciate your body. Trust me, you’re good.


Do you have a question for Roe? Submit it anonymously at dublininquirer.com/ask-roe

Author:

Roe McDermott: Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

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