The first time I had sex, it hurt. And despite what the media tells girls these days, it’s not supposed to! Little did I know that it wouldn’t get easier over time, as the media also told me. The reason why? Pelvic pain caused by my endometriosis.
It’s amazing how quickly my doctor could pinpoint the pain I was feeling during my exam. What’s less amazing is how long it took me to be heard in the medical system. I was still in high school when I first started seeing doctors for the pain I felt during sex. By the time I was in college, I was avoiding sex regularly due to the pain I was in.
I distinctly remember telling myself at one point that I could live without sex — and sure, I could. But that isn’t the point. I shouldn’t have to, and neither should you. That’s why sex is an important quality of life measure when doctors are assessing the extent of chronic pelvic pain: sex matters!
Sex allows us to build and deepen relationships, provides health benefits and relieves stress. Plus, it just feels good — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
As someone living with chronic pelvic pain, I know it can feel like sex is a part of life you’re doomed to miss out on. But despite those feelings, it isn’t. You can and will enjoy sex! You just need to understand where your pain is coming from and how to manage it — not to mention, how to cope with the difficult emotions surrounding your sex life.
Pelvic Pain and Your Emotions
When sex feels painful or even impossible, the emotions that arise can be equally painful. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, you’ll likely feel a sense of loss or frustration, among an amalgam of other complicated feelings surrounding sex. Here are just a few of the ways pelvic pain can impact the emotions that surround our sex lives.
Conditions that cause pain during sex — such as endometriosis, pelvic floor dysfunction and vulvodynia (I have all three because I’m #blessed like that) — can also cause lack of interest in sex, difficulty becoming aroused and inability to reach orgasm. If you suffer from one or more of these side effects of pelvic pain, you might feel guilty for the way they affect your sex life.
As someone in a relationship, I know how difficult it is to feel like you’re the one always saying no to your partner’s advances. Or, you might feel bad for “taking too long” in bed or needing more stimulation to remain aroused during sex. You may even feel guilty for caring so much about your sex life in the frst place. Whatever it is, sexual guilt only furthers the problems caused by pelvic pain. In order to reclaim your sex life, you must let go of the guilt, and allow it to give way to pleasure.
Dealing with pelvic pain sucks, especially when it feels like you just can’t catch a break. Low libido can result directly from pelvic pain, or from the feelings of depression associated with pelvic pain. When our pelvic pain leaves us feeling hopeless and disinterested in our usual activities, of course our sexual desire is going to plummet as well. The subsequent relationship problems caused by constantly avoiding sex then maintain the depression, creating a vicious cycle of loneliness and low self-esteem. In these cases, learning to cope with the limitations of pelvic pain and finding happiness in what you can do may increase your libido and improve your sex life.
When you suffer from any chronic condition, at some point you will probably find yourself wishing you could just be “normal” again like everybody else. These feelings can easily give way to frustration and resentment, especially if you fall into the comparison trap. Pick up the latest issue of Cosmopolitan and skim through the pages — I guarantee you’ll feel like everyone is having more orgasms than you, or at the very least having more sex (and enjoying it more, too).
However, it’s important to remember that you are more “normal” than you think, and that these media tropes are merely a mirage! In reality, 75% of women cannot climax from penetrative sex alone, 10-15% never climax at all and 20% experience some type of pain during sex. It’s natural to be frustrated by the pain you face, but don’t forget that you are not alone in your suffering. No one’s sex life is perfect, no matter what they say in public!
Tips for Pain-Free Sex
If you suffer from chronic pelvic pain, you probably think you’ve heard it all: try a different position. Try woman-on-top. Apply heat or cold after sex. Achieve orgasm on your own if you can’t with a partner. But these tips aren’t the end of the line when it comes to enjoying pain-free sex. If they were, most women with chronic pelvic pain would never learn to enjoy sex again!
Sadly, many women do give up and avoid sex altogether — but you don’t have to be one of them. Instead, you can decide to fight your chronic pelvic pain and reclaim control of your sex life. Empower yourself not to give up on sex by trying some of these tips to manage the pain you feel during sex:
- Reduce external irritation. Amy Stein, author of Heal Pelvic Pain, recommends in her book applying pure Vitamin E oil to the vulva twice per day to reduce any external irritation. It’s also important to wear 100% cotton underwear, to switch to menstrual products free of fragrances or chemicals and to never, ever douche. EVER!
- Use a quality lubricant. A safe, water-based lubricant is a must-have for any woman experiencing pelvic pain! Stein suggests avoiding lubricants with propylene glycol, an irritating ingredient.
- Explore your sexuality outside of penetrative sex. If penetrative sex is too painful, Howard I. Glazer and Gae Rodke, authors of The Vulvodynia Survival Guide, recommend trying oral sex, mutual masturbation, sensual massage or even talking dirty to your partner to keep that spark of passion alive.
- Set the mood. If you are going to have penetrative sex, go into sex as relaxed as possible. Light candles, put on sexy lingerie, use an aromatherapy massage oil…. Whatever you can do to reduce stress and promote relaxation prior to sex will help loosen your muscles, preventing the worst of your pelvic pain.
- Bring props into the bedroom. I’ve previously written about the Ohnut, a flexible disk worn at the base of the penis to help partners explore comfortable penetration depths during sex. You can get $7 off your Ohnut purchase by using my promo code LOVELYLAZY7 — click here to check it out! If you (like most women) can’t orgasm from penetrative sex alone, you may also consider bringing a vibrator into the bedroom.