Pelvic pain interferes with sex and intimacy in a way that no other chronic pain does.
I know. I’ve been there.
And if you’re suffering with pelvic pain right now, you’re already well aware of this too!
It’s not only the physical pain (and fear of pain) that can get in the way of wanting to have sex or be intimate with a partner, but also all the other mental and emotional stuff that goes along with it. Like feeling guilty, broken or not good enough, worrying that you’re letting your partner down, or the persistent fear that at some point you’re partner may get sick of it all and leave.
Not only that, but overcoming all this, and finding new ways to connect and be intimate when you’re in pain requires tuning into your body and your needs, communicating about those needs, asking for what you want, navigating old negative beliefs about sex and your body, and other things that a lot of women find really difficult – even when they’re not in pain!
It can all be so overwhelming that it’s just much easier to avoid the topics of sex and intimacy altogether.
No communication about either.
Unfortunately all this avoidance comes with a price.
While it may seem easier, suppressing your emotions, avoiding your partner (or the possibility of finding one), and overall not actively engaging the process of healing your relationship with your body and your sexuality, leads to more disconnection, and more pain.
It disconnects you from your partner (or the possibility of an intimate relationship), and worse from yourself and your body’s wisdom – which you need to heal. At the same time suppressing all those thoughts and emotions creates physical tension, stress, anxiety, and a sensitized nervous system that ultimately cause more pain and interfere with your enjoyment of life!
If you’re feeling guilty about not having sex, or you’re having sex even though it hurts (or will hurt later), or if your afraid to talk (or even think) about reconnecting with your partner and your sexuality……..
You’re not alone!
And you deserve better.
Your pleasure, your sexuality, and intimacy with your partner are important.
They are important for you, for your healing, and for your relationships, and even though it may feel hard, it is definitely worth facing all those emotions and putting time into this!
Even if you’re in pain.
Especially if you’re in pain.
In my opinion and experience, pelvic pain will only go away when you start finding your way to a healthy, whole, and joyful relationship with your body and your sexuality – whether you’re with a partner or not.
I could write an entire book (and probably will some day) about how and why anything less than learning how to fully embrace your sexuality (and your vulva and vagina), and healing any underlying trauma that is interfering with that, can cause (or at least contribute to) pelvic pain in the first place.
Or more accurately, how pelvic pain can be a message from your body and soul that something around how you relate to and experience your sexuality needs healing, so that you can experience the fullness, joy, pleasure, connection and creativity as a woman THAT ARE YOUR BIRTHRIGHT TO EXPERIENCE!
But for now, I want to help you start, from right where you are, taking some baby steps towards re-connecting – with your vulva, with your desire, with pleasure, and with a partner.
The first step is to decide to start giving this very important part of your life the attention in deserves.
Reclaiming Sex and Intimacy When You’re suffering with Chronic Pelvic Pain
I’m going to give you the 5 key steps to rebuilding a positive connection with your sexuality and with a partner when you’re suffering with pelvic pain. These are steps that I have worked through myself, and that I have taken many clients through, in the process of helping them successfully relieve pelvic pain.
A note before we dive in: We all have different past experiences around our body and sexuality. We are all unique and ultimately our path to healing will be unique. It’s important to honor and acknowledge your experiences and go at a pace with these steps that feels right to you, in particular if you’re aware of any sexual abuse or other traumatic experiences in your past. If you’re aware of any unhealed trauma in your past, or working through these steps brings up extreme anxiety or overwhelm, consider getting support from a qualified therapist or coach to help you work through them. Take it slow. And as always, honor your body and yourself. Your inner wisdom always takes priority over anything I, or anyone else, recommends!
Step 1: Accept Where You Are Right Now
You are where you are with your sexuality and relationships right now, and you can get to where ever you want to go from where you are – and your body will actually help you! But first you have to drop the resistance to where you are.
Honoring and even embracing where you are right now – with your symptoms, your sexuality, and your relationships – will allow you to tune into what’s actually going on, and the next right steps for you.
Step 2: Reconnect with Pleasure
When you’ve been in pain for so long it’s pretty normal to begin relating to your body as a source of pain only. But the truth is, that even while you’re in pain, your body can be a source of pleasure –not only sexual and sensual pleasure, but all kinds of pleasure, from the joy of soaking up the sun or filling your lungs with fresh oxygen, to the coziness of a warm embrace or snuggling up with a good book. It may take some conscious attention and practice to experience regular pleasure in your life and in your body again – but it couldn’t be more worth the effort. Pain is not your only option!
Step 3: Reconnect with Your Vulva and Vagina
Your pelvic bowl is deeply connected to your identity, confidence, energy and creativity as a woman. In many cultures it is considered the seat of life force energy. Unfortunately, as women in this culture, and as the result of experiencing pain and other symptoms in this part of their body, many women have a lot of shame around their sexuality and have completely disconnected physically and energetically from their vulva and vagina.
Ever notice how many women can’t even say the words vagina or vulva without feeling uncomfortable? Maybe that’s been true for you. Although now, if you’ve been diagnosed with pelvic pain, you may find yourself discussing your vagina and vulva in more detail and with more people than you ever thought you would.
In order to heal, and live a full vibrant life, you need to reconnect to your vulva and vagina in a positive way – physically, energetically, and emotionally.
Note that while this step is an important prerequisite to enjoying sex with a partner, this work is not for your partner. It is for you and your body.
I’ll be writing lots more about how to do this in future posts. So make sure to stay tuned.
For now, just notice how the idea of reconnecting with your vulva and vagina makes you feel.
Step 4: Identify and Question Your Beliefs About Sex, Sexuality, and Your Body
As part of reconnecting with pleasure and your vulva and vagina you’re inevitably going to become more aware of negative beliefs that you have about your body, your sexuality, and your role as a wife or partner.
So many women carry shame and negative thoughts around about their body and sexuality. Beliefs like “Sex is dirty.” Or, “I’m a slut (or dirty/disgusting) if I enjoy sex.” Or “It’s a sin to touch yourself.” Or “It’s my duty as a wife to provide sex for my husband.” These thoughts, learned through religion, culture, and our families, linger in the background and create tension, shame, pain, and avoidance.
Don’t get scared off! The thoughts ARE NOT TRUE, and in order to change them, so you can feel good about your body and your sexuality, you need to start by identifying what they are. (Note: pretending they don’t exist doesn’t work!)
To uncover the negative beliefs that may be interfering with your connection with your body, your sexuality, and a partner, here are some questions to consider….
- What are your thoughts about your vulva and vagina? Do you love and appreciate this part of your body and how it looks, or do you think it’s disgusting, different, or broken?
- How do you feel about sex and sexual pleasure? Do you enjoy sex? Are you in touch with your desires and able to ask your partner for what you want? Did you enjoy sex before your pain started? How has sex changed for you since your symptoms began?
- Are you comfortable communicating authentically and openly with your partner about sex and intimacy? Are you able to set boundaries and ask for what you need? (You may be surprised to know how hard it is for MOST women to do this!)
- Self-pleasuring. Do you self-pleasure now? Did you before your pain began? Do you have any negative beliefs or judgments about self-pleasuring?
Negative beliefs around your body and sexuality impact your body, your behavior, and you’re relationships whether you’re aware of them or not. Identifying what they are gives you the power to question and change them!
Step 5: Reconnect with your Partner: Sex and Intimacy
So many women with pelvic pain end up avoiding their partners entirely because they are afraid that any intimacy at all will lead to sex (and ultimately more pain)– or to facing their own guilt (about not having sex, or not “doing enough” in general) or their partner’s disappointment.
It may not be easy or comfortable, but starting to share your feelings and listen to theirs is an important step towards reconnecting. Once you have a better understanding of what you’re each going through, you’ll be surprised at the creative ways you can come up with to begin reconnecting – in ways that feel safe and good for both of you.
One thing I like to recommend for rebuilding intimacy is to go back to basics. Start with simple things like talking, snuggling, and kissing, without any pressure or expectation for more. If you’re worried that this may lead your partner to want more, talk about it ahead of time. Ask them what they think. How do they feel about snuggling or kissing alone? I often have my clients come up with agreed upon code words ahead of time that they can use in the moment to create clear expectations and boundaries in a lighthearted way.
Start building this foundation of intimacy. When you’re ready to explore sex, start with what feels good and doesn’t cause more pain. There are so many ways to connect sexually that don’t involve penetration or anything else that hurts. It’s surprising how many women think that the only thing that’s going to satisfy their partners (or themselves) is penetration. This is not usually true, and if you or your partner thinks it is, than this may be an opportunity for both of you to explore, play, and learn new ways of experiencing pleasure together.
Pelvic pain is an opportunity to reclaim your sexuality, redefine sex, deepen your connection with your partner, and learn how to infuse creativity, curiosity, and play back into your sexual relationship with your partner and yourself!
Go slow. While this work is important, it’s equally important to go at a pace that feels good. As with all Mind Body work, it’s not more effective to push yourself through. Stay connected. Make space for your emotions. And enjoy the process of rediscovery.