I cannot remember who found “who” first. Rachel Meeks and I have exchanged emails and virtual “high fives” for a couple of years now. She is the talented and witty author/owner of “Do I Look Sick?”. You can check out her blog here: http://doilooksick.com/ Rachel has a knack for telling things like it really is. Folks with invisible illness and disability have trouble articulating what it is like to live “this way”. Rachel doesn’t have that problem and welcomes dialogue and comments on her blog. Recently, SEX was discussed here at Hearing Elmo. Even folks without disability or invisible illness shy away from the topic. Not us. It is Rachel’s – and my own – hope, that by openly talking about this topic, people may discover they are not alone and that there are others who deal with the same issues. Hearing Elmo, welcomes Rachel as a guest author this week!
Just after I got engaged to my high school sweetheart, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. All chronic illness has an effect on sex, but endo especially so – it’s a chronic pain condition in which the lining of the uterus ends up outside the uterus, causing intense pain centered around the uterine area – AKA all your sexy bits are the parts of you that are “sick” and hurting. That’s not really something you want to tell someone who thought they were marrying a…to be frank, normal person. Sex isn’t everything in a relationship, but it is a lot – especially to men. I’m not saying that to be sexist or anything, I just mean that there’s scientific proof that men have a greater physical need for sex, and that their minds are more geared towards sex romantically speaking. The way that long talks and thoughtful gifts say “I love you” to a woman is the way that sex says “I love you” to a man.
That’s what I’ve come to know after almost four years of marriage. But when I was a 19 year old fiance, I had a very different idea of the role sex plays in a relationship. In my mind, sex was like, the second most important thing just under love. And I had grown up believing the stereotype that men enjoy sex more than women, and that it was mostly an act of giving. That’s a nice fluffy way of saying I didn’t know anything about it because I didn’t think I was supposed to. I didn’t know what I liked or didn’t like sexually, I wasn’t very familiar with my own anatomy, and sex was actually even embarrassing just to think about, much less talk about. So now, I wasn’t faced with talking about sex – no, it was worse. I was going to have to talk to the one person who I really desperately wanted to like me and only know the best things about me, and explain things I barely understood. I’d have to explain the gross stuff that makes up my period was all over my gross organs. I’d have to use the word “uterus.” I was embarrassed enough to die. Luckily, he really loves me and never had a thought of calling off the wedding – even with a foreboding sexual forecast and the possibility of fertility problems down the line.
“Coming out” to him about my condition was a pretty good indicator of how our sex life was going to be, even if I never had endo. I’ll be blunt – sex was awkward for us. We had passion and desire but we also had totally unrealistic expectations of TV sex that’s always perfect. We both really wanted to have that wordless, passionate sex that you see in movies. Without any feedback or communication, neither of us was getting a lot out of our sexual experiences. They were nice. They were just ok. They were….very odd. So we thought we must just be bad at it. It also didn’t help when it was extremely painful because of endo. We both felt like such losers. You never hear about this kind of thing. Couples get married and you just assume that because they’re in love, sex is smooth sailing. It’s actually really complicated, and I wish the world was less hush hush about it. At the very least, I wish things were open enough that we would have somehow known we weren’t the only ones.
After we became disillusioned about magical movie sex, we got bitter and mean. We wanted to have sex, but I was always hurting and we didn’t know how to talk about it so usually when we’d try, it would turn into a fight. What’s interesting is that when you get angry, you also get honest.
After our stormy stint of fighting over sex, we went through a dry spell. We lost the anger, but kept the honesty. I started talking to him more about endo and even bringing him to the OBGYN with me. We’ve always been best friends who could talk about anything – except sex. Once we started talking about endo, we broke down the last barrier between us. We became closer than ever. And we brought that talking to bed with us. We let each other know what feels good and what hurts. We give a heads up when we’re going to change positions or we want to try something new. We actually tell each other what we want and what we like. If I didn’t have endo and we didn’t have to go to the hospital and I didn’t need his help, I might never have opened up and talked with him like this. Now that he has a chance to fully understand my disease, he can help me with medical decisions too. But most importantly, we can both have a real sex life now – not only a fulfilling one physically, but also emotionally.
Endo sucks, and it sure makes sex a challenge. But I can also look at it as an opportunity for us to grow closer. When it feels like your illness is in the way of intimacy, try to see the way around it. It may just be better than your original plans.