A little spoken of symptom of endometriosis is pain with sex. In medical terms, it is called dyspareunia- meaning pelvic pain that occurs before, during, or after intercourse (although similar pain can also be felt with an exam or insertion of a tampon). Deep dyspareunia is “a cardinal symptom of endometriosis” (Wahl et al., 2020) with more than half of women with endometriosis experiencing it (Yong, 2017). This can play a significant role in the quality of life and relationships (Denny & Mann, 2007). The pain has been described cramping, stabbing, or stinging- among other things.
Yong (2017) proposes a classification of four types of deep dyspareunia in people with endometriosis: “type I that is directly due to endometriosis; type II that is related to a comorbid condition; type III in which genito-pelvic pain penetration disorder is primary; and type IV that is secondary to a combination of types I to III.” Fritzer and Hudelist (2017) found that “surgical excision of endometriosis is a feasible and good treatment option for pain relief and improvement of quality of sex life in symptomatic women with endometriosis.” Excision surgery for endometriosis overall shows improvement in pain with sex; however, other factors such as adenomyosis or painful bladder syndrome (interstitial cystitis) can continue to cause symptoms and should be addressed (Crispi et al., 2021). “Myofascial or nervous system mechanisms may be important for deep dyspareunia in women with endometriosis, even in those with moderate-to-severe disease (Stage III/IV)” (Orr et al., 2018). While it may feel embarrassing to bring up, it is an important aspect of your health to discuss with your provider. They might suggest pelvic floor therapy, medication, or other options to help. But it is important to address any underlying conditions.
In the meantime, some things to try:
- Have open communication with your partner about what you are feeling and your needs
- Experiment with different times of your cycle that may be less painful (such as the week after ovulation or the first couple of weeks after your period)
- Use of a lubricant
- Try different positions to find which is best for you
- Utilizing forms of intimacy that does not involve penetration
Crispi Jr, C. P., Crispi, C. P., de Oliveira, B. R. S., de Nadai Filho, N., Peixoto-Filho, F. M., & Fonseca, M. D. F. (2021). Six-month follow-up of minimally invasive nerve-sparing complete excision of endometriosis: What about dyspareunia?. Plos one, 16(4), e0250046. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0250046
Denny, E., & Mann, C. H. (2007). Endometriosis-associated dyspareunia: the impact on women’s lives. BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, 33(3), 189-193. Retrieved from https://srh.bmj.com/content/familyplanning/33/3/189.full.pdf
Fritzer, N., & Hudelist, G. (2017). Love is a pain? Quality of sex life after surgical resection of endometriosis: a review. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 209, 72-76. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejogrb.2016.04.036
Orr, N. L., Noga, H., Williams, C., Allaire, C., Bedaiwy, M. A., Lisonkova, S., … & Yong, P. J. (2018). Deep dyspareunia in endometriosis: role of the bladder and pelvic floor. The journal of sexual medicine, 15(8), 1158-1166. DOI: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.06.007
Wahl, K. J., Orr, N. L., Lisonek, M., Noga, H., Bedaiwy, M. A., Williams, C., … & Yong, P. J. (2020). Deep dyspareunia, superficial dyspareunia, and infertility concerns among women with endometriosis: a cross-sectional study. Sexual medicine, 8(2), 274-281. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esxm.2020.01.002
Yong, P. J. (2017). Deep dyspareunia in endometriosis: a proposed framework based on pain mechanisms and genito-pelvic pain penetration disorder. Sexual medicine reviews, 5(4), 495-507. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sxmr.2017.06.005