Today is a guest post from a reader. This is someone who, despite issues around sex, made themselves a priority and kept searching for answers and found some solutions. I am so thankful they are willing to share their story. I hope your month has pushed you to make yourself a priority for YOU.
If sex is painful - there is very likely a physiological reason and there are things you can do to get better. For many many years, sex was painful for me but whenever I talked to my primary care physicians (incidentally and sadly, all of whom were women) I was told something along the lines of "sex is painful for a lot of women. Just keep doing it and it will get better." I tried that. And guess what - it didn't get better. In fact, I came to dread sex and wanted nothing at all to do with that part of my body, which was obviously a strain on my marriage.
Finally I raised the issue yet again with my doctor, who sent me in for various tests which found that I had endometriosis, which can cause pain. She put me on the generic version of Seasonique birth control, which controls my menstruation so I only get my period 4 times a year. That helped the endometriosis, but I still wanted nothing to do with sex. When I spoke to my doctor again, she gently suggested that at this point the problem was probably mental/emotional and I should see a sex therapist. My medical diagnosis was "dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse)".
It took all my willpower and love for my husband to research sex therapists and make an appointment with one. I did NOT want to be there. The sex therapist was wonderful however! One of the first things she asked me was "have you seen a physical therapist?" I looked confused; she looked sad. She explained to me that you can get physical therapy for pelvic floor problems and she recommended an all-women practice for me to go to.
Another difficult appointment. I cried during the first visit with my so-nice physical therapist as I explained how I felt about "that region" of my body. She understood! She explained that this wasn't an uncommon thing. If a women experiences pain with sex at some point for various reasons (could be endometriosis, could be abuse, etc.), her body becomes defensive in order to protect itself. The pelvic muscles tighten, which leads to sex being even more painful. The cycle reinforces itself. Meanwhile, the brain, to protect itself, disassociates from the entire region, making it very difficult to relax "down there". And here's the thing - just having more sex doesn't make anything better. In fact, it just reinforces that cycle. But physical therapy can help. I've undergone manual therapy (used by the physical therapist to relax pelvic floor muscles both externally and internally), biofeedback to help me see and understand how to relax my pelvic floor muscles (which I was so initially disassociated with I couldn't feel them), and exercises to use at home to reinforce the physical therapy sessions. Down the road, I'll work up to dilation to be used for stretching and desensitization.
I'm no longer seeing the sex therapist but I'm seeing the physical therapist regularly. And I'm making great progress. That is wonderful but I'm really saddened that it took nearly two decades before a medical professional came up with a solution other than "just keeping having sex and it will work itself out". I was in pain because I had actual physical issues. And those issues can be addressed and resolved. I want to share this so that someone else might benefit and not spend twenty years feeling like all the problems are just in her head.