March is Endometriosis awareness month, highlighting and raising awareness of a condition that affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide.
Although any women will experience a unique range and variety in their symptoms, endometriosis is characterised as being a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Endometriosis can have huge impact and debilitating pain on many of it sufferers; however, as many of the symptoms are related to discomfort from sex, periods, and the pelvic and genital area many women leave it a long time before seeking medical help or advice, putting their own health at risk.
We also see this pattern in the take up of smear tests to detect cervical cancer, with as many as one in three women not attending tests due to embarrassment because it’s to do with ‘that part of the body’.
Symptoms of endometriosis can include:
- Pain during or after sex
- Heavy periods
- Pelvic pain in your lower tummy or back, which can be particularly worse around your periods
- Severe period pains
- Difficulties getting pregnant
- Pain when going to the loo when you are on your period; or passing blood in urine when you are on your period or struggling with bowel movements such as diarrhoea or constipation.
Like so many women’s health conditions related to the vagina, reproductive system or genitals, we have less visibility of what is going on as a lot of our structures, including the majority of the clitoris, are internal. This just hammers home the importance of knowing your body and what feels normal for you. Not what you think is normal based on other people’s experiences, but based on yours.
Only if you know your body yourself will you be able to recognise when something doesn’t feel right; and, as you would if there was something not right with another body part, do go and seek medical advice. A body part is a body part to doctors and medical professionals, they would just rather you put your health first.
You may also like: Endometriosis, first hand.
This topic of conversation did go public earlier this month on the Channel 4 programme The Sex Clinic with a couple discussing the difficulty that they were experiencing with painful sex as a result of her endometriosis. The amazing Sexpert Alix Fox, offered advice about how they could be creative and continue to have a sex life together, treating endometriosis as something that could be got around, not the end of the road. Many people fear that conditions like this can completely write off their intimate relationships, which just isn’t the case.
As Alix discussed on the show, sex is not all about penetration, mixing things up and focusing on non-penetrative sex can be incredibly pleasurable for both partners.
You can add in different textures such as lubricants (recommended you use something natural and unflavoured and unscented to avoid any irritation), sex toys such as vibrators which can provide clitoral stimulation, which is the primary route to orgasm for most women, but also vibrators can be fun to play with as a couple.
Tracing their use all over the body, the skin is the body’s largest erogenous zone and breaking away from a model of sex which is focused completely on penetration can really help to emphasise this. We know that desire, and anticipation are the most natural of aphrodisiacs, and nowhere in this definition does it suggest that sex has to include intercourse to be satisfying.
For more on endometriosis, visit: Endometriosis UK has a pain and symptoms diary
Some anal plugs will also have a vibration function. If that’s the case, you’ll experience the power of the vibrations through to your prostate gland or clit - at a certain point the clitoris bulbs are close to the anus area. You may want to use vibrating anal plugs throughout the entire sexual experience, as the vibrations provide deeper stimulation, especially with the option to change the vibration settings using a remote control!