If we were to believe everything we saw on TV and in the movies, we’d think sex is a young woman’s game. Sure, men are portrayed as having a sex drive at any age, but when it comes to mature women, we’re expected to gradually lose interest as we age or just turn into maternal asexual beings.
There is a lot wrong with that picture. Aside from it being an unfair stereotype, it also neglects the fact that sex can be really painful for a lot of women — especially as we approach menopause. But because we’re just expected to sexually wither anyway, a lot of people pass off pain or discomfort as being normal. Also damaging, a lot of people don’t talk about this at all, which only adds to the stigma.
But Cheryl Hines is trying to change that. The Emmy-nominated actor wants us to start having real conversations about painful sex. To help prompt the discussion, she has teamed up with Amag Pharmaceuticals’ “Painfully Awkward Conversations” campaign, starring in a series of videos featuring women getting frank about when sex hurts.
When it comes to painful sex, Hines tells SheKnows it’s not something we should be embarrassed about — even if talking about it feels awkward.
“It’s important to use humor because it’s not intimidating and it’s inviting and… makes it easier to talk about,” she explains. “There are no wrong answers. There are no wrong questions. And sometimes, things do sound funny when you talk about them, and that’s OK. I think humor is such a great icebreaker, and when people are more at ease with themselves, they’re more likely to be more vocal about something and be more willing speak up or ask other people about it.”
Hines is also vocal about the sexual double standard when it comes to women talking about wanting a fulfilling sex life.
“It feels like men have come to a place where they aren’t embarrassed or shy to talk about issues that they might be having concerning sex, so I don’t know why women would be embarrassed or have issues about it,” she says. “Hopefully, this campaign will guide women down a path where they feel comfortable reaching out, talking about it and finding answers.”
Of course, playing Larry David’s wife (and later ex-wife) on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Hines is no stranger to painfully awkward situations — sexual or otherwise. She refers to her involvement with the campaign as “synergy,” acknowledging she’s a natural fit to bring a lighthearted touch to a serious conversation.
Though there are plenty of awkward sexual situations in Curb, Hines points to a season four episode in which her character gets poison ivy on her vagina, and her husband asks a man named Wandering Bear if he knows of any remedies for the rash, explaining the vag situation. Then later in the episode, Wandering Bear asks Cheryl (also her character’s name) how her vagina is doing.
“I only bring it up because, years later, I’m walking around Vancouver minding my own business and somebody came up to me asking how my vagina was doing,” Hines says. “At first, I thought ‘Wow, that was a weird question to ask someone on the sidewalk,’ and then realized, ‘Oh, they’re a Curb fan.’ And I said, ‘Thank you for asking. My vagina’s just fine.’”
Though she notes this “wasn’t the most empowering moment for women” in the show, it’s a good example of how it did take on similar issues that people might have otherwise been hesitant to talk about.
“There are moments on Curb that spill over into your real life, and it can be painfully awkward,” she says. “Curb does not shy away from sexually awkward situations.”
Speaking of Curb, Hines says they’re shooting the next season right now. And we have an added bonus to look forward to: She is directing an episode of the show, making her the first woman to do so. Aside from that, she wants to keep the conversation about painful sex going.
“I hope the women that see the campaign will be inspired to talk to their health care provider if they’re having painful sex after menopause, because nobody should suffer through that if they don’t have to,” Hines explains. “We deserve better. Women deserve to have a great, fun sex life, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed or afraid to talk about how we can achieve that.”