My goddam uterus
Written by Rebecca Maher
Illustration by Chloe Turner
When I was at school, we had a “sexpert” come to give a presentation. He began by having us scream penis and vagina, consecutively, louder and louder, until any and all of our child-like inhibitions fell away. The idea was that the more you vocalised it, the less nervous you were – the less scary and awkward and uncomfortable it was. As a 12-year-old, you can imagine the hilarity and red faces that ensued. The sexpert had good intentions, but poor execution: ascribing body parts their anatomical description did little to dismantle our pre-conceptions of sex, our insecurities or our fears.
In the years that followed, it was conceptually easier to think of ourselves as Barbie dolls. Sexual activity was yet to commence, and boys still sat well below us on the totem pole of maturity; and if we’re honest, they were mostly unavailable, too. Yes, it was and is, the 21st century, but it seemed that, as young teenagers and women, we didn’t quite have the vocabulary and understanding to articulate the changes happening to our body.
It would be many years before I knew that the vagina alone was not the sum of all my parts, I was comprised of a vaginal cavity and urethra and labia minora – and majora! – and a clitoris and a vulva. Each component was fundamental to sexual function, a cog in a machine of female sexual experience. A bunch of interconnected essential and glorious nerve endings contributing to that big O. The one you see in movies. In pop culture. Everywhere. The fireworks elemental to and definitional of female pleasure.
The real sucker punch for me – in amongst the complex landscape of my internal organs – was my goddamn uterus. As a female teenager, you prepare for your first period like you’re going to war. You read Girl Stuff by Kaz Cooke and Hair in Funny Places by Babette Cole; they tell you it’ll be scary but exciting, that you’ll likely become very familiar with the Libra section in the supermarket. They’ll tell you the length might differ; the flow might be heavy or light. You could be 11, you could be 16. The pain though, the pain was popularised and universal but, most importantly, normal.
Once a month like clockwork, I was encumbered by visceral shooting pains and cramping. I simply thought the much-anticipated war had arrived and the battleground was situated squarely within my pelvic region. Awoken by the pain in the early hours of the morning, hobbled over on my bathroom floor, heat pack in hand, I was sharing – albeit so I thought – in that uniquely female experience. As I popped nurofen like tic-tacs, it became slowly, but surely apparent, that my friends were not afflicted by the same rapid fire of monthly ammunition. Perhaps, my pain was different.
At 18 I began taking the contraceptive pill as a means to mitigate the pain: and, low and behold, it mostly subsided. My GP reasoned that endometriosis was the likely culprit, with exploratory surgery the only certifiable way to achieve a diagnosis. 5 years after that initial appointment, I officially joined the endo club – one with no waiting list and no exclusive criteria, all I needed was an internal biological mishap.
The aforementioned uterus, or the womb, has an inner lining: the endometrium. The layer consists of two sub-layers: one that is always present, and one that sheds during menstruation. Endometriosis occurs when that pesky endometrium exists outside the uterus. Uninvited, it latches on to other body parts, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes or bowel, as well as the tissue lining the pelvis. This condition impacts between 10-20% of women.
What does it have to do with sex?
Among the many symptoms of endometriosis – see back pain, heavy menstrual bleeding, infertility and fatigue – endometriosis can cause dyspareunia, or, pain during sex. In the context of heterosexual sex, penetration and other movements, as well as particular positions, can stretch and pull the endometrial tissue. As described by Taylor Andrews at Cosmopolitan, where the endometriosis exists on sexual reproductive organs, it can feel similar to “Freddy Krueger stabbing you with his weird razor hand over, and over again, right in the uterus.”
In more clinical terms, women with endometriosis may experience acute pain, pain deep in the abdomen, pain during deep penetration, or pain after sex. It’s varied and it’s individual, but it has implications for sexual enjoyment and pleasure; the intimacy of the experience often superseded by discomfort and pain.
Sex toy aren’t a cure – but they can certainly help
Certain positions – those that involve shallow penetration – are certainly more comfortable. At Medical News Today, they recommend:
- Using plenty of lubrication
- Extending foreplay
- Practicing forms of sexual activity that do not involve penetration
- And, excitingly so for our purposes, using toys
Thankfully (and certainly not owing to old-mate sexpert), I’m increasingly comfortable with the way my body works; though she’s sometimes a little aggravated, she’s now well equipped to cater to the pain.
The following toys are designed for and cater to sensitivities and to pain:Toys that offer external clitoral stimulation; avoid internal stimulation
Wedge (click image for link)
Suction toys - air stimulator
Melt (click image for link)
Toys with different intensity levels
Wand (click image for link)