Its a simple three letter world. The media loves it. It sells products. And TLC made a hit song about it in the 90s.
If you haven’t guessed it, I’m talking about sex.
Yes, this shy, introverted youth pastor’s wife is writing an article about sex. I never thought I would see the day but honestly it is a part of endometriosis that needs to be talked about.It is a very real and very painful part of having this disease however I think that many women, myself included, find it hard to talk about. I remember feeling so awkward talking to my doctor about it the first time (then infertility happened and after fertility treatments all modesty and privacy regarding sex went out the wind0w). I think many of us consider our sex lives private and dealing with unbearable pain is bad enough but the disease impacts our most private and sacred aspects of our lives, it can be very hard to deal with.
My husband and I waited until we were married to have sex. While it made for a somewhat awkward drive to the hotel on our wedding night, I think that we both had this vision from Hollywood where everything would be perfect and magical. Little did we know how far from the truth that would be and how endo would be an unwelcomed guest on our honeymoon (and lives thereafter). I think the phrase “that hurt like hell” was mentioned at some point.
Do you want all the details from my wedding night? Of course not but the point is pain associated with sex because of endometriosis is a real problem that impacts your life in many ways, as well as your partner. Obviously there is the physical pain but also it is very hard emotionally to feel as though you cannot perform or provide intimacy in your marriage or relationship like you would like and emotions such as guilt, shame, and even anger emerge. It can be mentally challenging to feel as though you do not fit the role that you should be. I mean I always think that we are a couple of young 20-somethings that should be in our prime right? Not having to medicate before hand and sit on an ice pack afterwards., right? We cannot leave our the spiritual aspects as I think it impacts the spiritual realm as well.
So what is a girl to do? I am by no means an expert but in my 5+ years of struggling with this, here are some suggestions:
1- Talk to your doctor. You have to. He or she needs to know all of your symptoms. Not only could it give insight to the placement/severity of your endometriosis, it could point to other issues such as Interstitial Cystitis (which is extremely common in endo patients – half of endo patients also have IC – which also has the symptom of painful sex) or an infection.I have learned that post-menopausal women are prone to vaginal infections (which can cause pain and irritation) so if you are on a treatment, such as Lupron, that puts you into a menopausal state, that could be a factor with the pain. Your doctor will also be able to provide suggestions how to lessen the pain and discomfort, such as physical therapy.
2-Talk to your partner. Communication is absolutely essential. Obviously if you are speaking to a man, he will have absolutely no clue about what you are experiencing unless you tell him. He still won’t be able to fully understand but having the conversation is crucial. Men think about sex 99% of the time. The other 1% is reserved for food and sports. They have a true biological need for sex and that need not being met can make for one unhappy bear.Will explaining to him how much sex hurts make his need go away? No, but it helps him to be more understanding . I know it took my husband a while to understand that rejecting sex was not the same thing as rejecting him. Its not that I didn’t want him but I physically could not handle the pain. He did not get that until I explained it to him and I don’t think he is the only man that thinks this way. He began to understand that just as it was frustrating for him not to get any, it was equally as frustrating for me to not be able to dish it out. As important as it is for you to convey your feelings about how painful sex is impacting your relationship, it is equally important to take the time to listen to your partner’s feelings. While I often get upset during these types of discussion, I know that it is helpful and healthy to allow my husband to put his feelings out on the table as well. He needs to vent and be heard as much as I do. Communication is so vitally important and it is important that the communication goes both ways.
3- Let go of the guilt and shame. As I stated just a moment ago, when my husband and I talk about our sex life (or lack thereof), I often end up hurt or upset because I feel guilty for not being able to provide like I think I should be able to. We often hold onto these lofty ideals of how we think we should be as women, wives, and mothers (and all the other roles we fill) and most of the time it sets us up for failure as when we can’t achieve these ideals we feel guilty and ashamed. You are not to blame. You are not a failure as a woman, wife, or partner because you deal with painful sex. It is an unfortunate aspect of living with endometriosis and while it stinks big time, it has no impact on who you are as a person. It is important to make that distinction.
4. Be creative. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on this one because I am a shy, introverted youth pastor’s wife but I think you get the idea. It may be a game of trial and error but find out what works for you!
While it may not be the most comfortable thing to grab a girlfriend and say, “can I talk to you about how much sex hurts,” it is important to have support from someone. While it may be your doctor, a best friend, or an online fellow spoonie, it is important to be sure that you have support and have a place where you can safely share your feelings about all aspects of chronic illness. I welcome you to email me, leave me a comment, or hunt me down on twitter anytime!
<hugs and painfree wishes>