Sometime after my second child was born, my endometriosis, which had lain in slumber after surgery and two successful pregnancies, came back. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had also developed adenomyosis, a painful condition with growths in the uterus lining which makes it hard for the uterus to contract. Both these conditions caused excruciating period pain to begin with. But over the years, as I tried many times unsuccessfully to get treatment, the pain changed from being a once-a-month unpleasantness to an everyday horror.
As you can imagine, this enormously impacted my sex life. When the endometriosis had been kept in check, my husband and I were very sexually active. I was – and still am – extremely orgasmic; I’m able to come three or four times a night. Hubby was always up for it as well, his sex drive high as it had been when we were in our early twenties. We especially loved deep penetration, doggy style being our favourite position.
But then the pain set in. Initially I didn’t connect pain during deep penetration with endometriosis. Despite having been diagnosed, I didn’t receive any support. No doctor ever told me that there was an endometriosis society, and as I never really talked to anyone about sex – and definitely not about any problems with sex – I had no reference for either my endometriosis or my sexual pain.
And so I endured. It never occured to me to tell my husband that sex could be painful for me – even when it suddenly was every time. In the beginning I sometimes couldn’t help wincing, and my husband would always stop immediately when he noticed. He never tried to convince me to have sex if he thought it would hurt. But as the pain started occurring more regularly, I became better at hiding it. I also became very good at faking pleasure, as it would make hubby come quicker if he thought I was also into it. And the quicker he orgasmed, the quicker I could stop hurting.
I remember once telling my GP about painful sex. At that time I still hadn’t really linked it to my endometriosis, but neither did she. I was advised to take an Ibuprofen a half hour before having sex, so it wouldn’t be so painful. I am staggered now that a doctor would offer this advice rather than try to get to the bottom of my pain, but at the time it seemed like a sensible thing to do, so I followed that advice and drugged myself in order to endure sex.
When even the strongest dose of painkillers couldn’t mask my pain any longer, I came clean and told my husband how much pain I was in during sex. And, reader, he was horrified. He asked me again and again why I hadn’t told him, as he would never knowingly hurt me, especially not during an act that is supposed to give us both pleasure. The answer to his question is complicated; I think at the time I said that I didn’t want to deprive him of sex, but the reality is a lot more complicated and goes back much further than when I started to have pain.
Women are conditioned by society to believe that they owe men sex, especially in a relationship or marriage. As a teen/young adult, I had read enough “advice” columns telling me that if I wanted to keep my man happy and faithful, I needed to give him lots of sex. And blow jobs. Whenever a man (a celebrity usually) was caught cheating on his wife, and it later turned out that he and his wife hadn’t had sex in a while (months? years?), a lot of the time this fact was used to excuse the cheating husband. “Oh, she didn’t put out, what can she expect?” was the oft-heard question. Men have urges and I needed to fulfil my husband’s or risk him straying. I was never told this explicitly, but magazines, online gossip blogs and even books made sure I got that message loud and clear.
And I had internalised that message like the good little girl I was. I believed that my sweet, loving, caring, considerate husband would leave me and find someone else to have sex with if I told him I was in too much pain to fulfil his desires. Turns out I was absolutely wrong about that, but I didn’t find that out until after several years of painful sex.
It’s bizarre actually when I think about it now, with my sex-positive, feminist hat on. What the hell was I thinking? Why would I put myself through that? But I know I am not the only one. I know there are more women out there who, rather than offend the man they are with, endure painful sex and fake an orgasm. And for what? Just so the man can keep his fragile ego intact?
This is why there has to be better sex education. This is why we have to talk about sex with each other. And this is also why doctors have to be better about diagnosing female pain. Women shouldn’t be made to suffer just so that men can have an orgasm. My husband refused to have sex with me after finding out it was painful, unless I absolutely assured him it didn’t hurt (which was rare, but it did happen). Luckily, my endometriosis and adenomyosis have been taken care of now, but for years the only release my husband had was either self induced or from a blow job (given by me). Does he deserve a medal for that? No. It just means he is faithful and considerate, which is what I expected him to be when we entered into a mutually agreed monogamous relationship.
Let’s keep sharing our sexual experiences with each other so that situations like this aren’t the norm for anyone, any more. If you experience pain during sex: talk to your partner about it. Talk to your GP about it, and don’t let yourself be fobbed off with an excuse. Painful sex is not normal, and should be investigated. I only wish I had received this message years ago.