– BY LAURA MILLIONS CONE –
Sex. Whether you’re married, dating, single, or somewhere in between, it’s constantly in our lives. It blares out from advertisements, movies and music. Pornography, sex toy parties and non-creepy sex stores show how open we are about sex. It’s something that friends can talk about with friends, and parents with children. But what happens if you CAN’T have sex, for some reason?
‘‘Regular’ people have no idea what sex is like with chronic pelvic pain’
For most people, sex is a deep and primal necessary thing. Something that doesn’t just offer pleasure, but also intimacy and connection. Not too long ago, a friend was jokingly-serious about not being able to have sex with his wife for two weeks. That night, my husband Brad and I laughingly spoke about how ‘regular’ people really have no idea what sex is like for a person with chronic pelvic pain. Just the healing time required from my surgeries easily amounts to more missed sex than most couples could likely imagine. Sex is as complicated as each individual, so for me it’s a journey with bumps and turns. That at least is what I tell myself when I’m frustrated with how my body affects my sex life. ‘You’ll get there, keep moving. It’s a journey’ I repeat to myself, even though my heart wrenches at how powerless it feels.
‘Like my horrible periods, when sex was painful I assumed it was normal’
I’ve always been aware of my sexuality. I even remember the first time I tried to masturbate – and how I just couldn’t make anything work. I couldn’t recreate that arousal response, which was frustrating, but something I assumed was normal. As I matured I tried a few more times, to no avail, and like my horrible periods, when sex was horribly painful or at best felt OK, I just assumed all the other girls had the same problem. Although I learned to use lube and the importance of foreplay, I was subject to frequent and painful tearing around my vagina opening. Eventually I found some point of bliss, so I assumed I wasn’t missing much. Compared to everything else I was dealing with at the time, seeing specialists and getting tests trying to figure out what was causing my period pain, sex wasn’t my primary concern.
‘At 21 I achieved orgasm. It was amazing! I saw stars! And then I got cramps…’
It wasn’t until I met my husband that I achieved orgasm. I was 21 and it was amazing. I saw stars! Then, I got cramps… And so went my sex life. Sometimes, the pain wasn’t so bad afterwards, sometimes only initial or deep or sideways penetration would be uncomfortable. Or painful. Or excruciating. Sometimes I’d feel nothing until afterwards, other times we’d have to stop halfway through, or minutes in. But as my endo journey and the disease progressed, sex became more and more difficult. Only much later I learned more about pelvic damage and dysfunction, and how it was affecting me. My disease progressed quickly and I soon started having trouble achieving orgasm, my spasming, pain riddled body too overstimulated, my pelvis too tight from constant cramping.
‘Surgery put me into full-blown menopause, which didn’t help our sex life’
After receiving my partial hysterectomy (leaving half an ovary) in 2014, I started to feel like the sexual goddess I knew I was again. I felt more whole than I ever had: powerful, free and in control. Then, the endo came back, requiring another surgery, which removed my remaining ovary putting me into full-blown menopause, which is hard enough on the sex life. Added to that came impingement surgery for both hips and a whiplash caused by a car accident. The chronic pain has worn me down. Menopause has worn me down. I’m tired, and I hurt so damn much.
‘We’ve had to learn how to be flexible – literally and figuratively’
When my hips were at their worst, we had to learn how to get creative and get intimate without me having to spread my legs too much. Or sometimes even move too much. We’ve worked with a pelvic floor physiotherapist, regular physio, coupling therapy, doctor and surgeon, and a million and one more therapies. We’ve had to learn how to be flexible – literally and figuratively. Along the way we’ve learned to be more attentive to each other, but that doesn’t mean it’s always been good. There have been times when I’ve pushed through the pain, and times that I’ve been physically OK but simply too bloody tired. We fumbled for a long time. I’m not sure where I would be without my partner. His patience, empathy and compassion has always struck me.
‘Pelvic floor physiotherapy made a major difference’
Pelvic floor physiotherapy with someone who understands chronic pelvic pain and disease also made a major difference. Many medications have the side effect that they dry you out and a dry vagina means chafing, tearing and painful sex. I didn’t know how important oestrogen is for healthy vaginas, and that I have severe vaginal atrophy until I was 32. I also didn’t know there was treatment available. Thankfully, I was able to find a Women’s Clinic for menopausal women. Medications which have helped improve both my sex life and my life in general include baclofen/diazepam vaginal suppositories, estradiol gel, estragyn vaginal cream, xylocaine ointment, cannabis oil and constella linaclotide capsules.
‘I recommend trying anything and everything. There are things out there that can help!’
Apart from these medications, I also do mental and personal exercises to improve my sex life. My pelvic floor therapist has recommended specifically-styled sex toys and exercises to help my body process. Deep squats against the wall or headboard supported by pillows reduces spasms afterward. Using a glass dildo for internal physio means I can cool or warm it up beforehand. Using a TENS machine on my back, hips, thighs and abdomen interrupts nerve pain and spasms, and helps the muscles relax. Against muscle soreness I don’t just use cannabis oil vaginally, but also on my belly, back and hips. Other things, like chiropractic, massage and acupuncture have also been helpful. I really recommend trying anything and everything you can. Sex is important for many of us, and can be a lot of work if you’re experiencing chronic physical issues. But there are things out there that can help. Just remember: you aren’t alone.
About the author
Laura Millions Cone has struggled with pelvic dysfunction caused by endometriosis and related conditions almost her whole life. Working as an advocate for pelvic pain and conditions, she co-founded the support page Saskatchewan Pelvic Pain & Endometriosis Warriors. She shares her journey in the hopes of educating, informing and motivating others on Live Like Lotus. Laura is Canadian, 34 and lives in Saskatoon with her husband Brad and their animals.
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