Sex became too painful so I learnt how to find love without it
When my first serious boyfriend left me, we hadn’t had sex for six months.
For the previous two years of our relationship, I had been in and out of hospital, trying every contraception method available, and spent countless hours being prodded with ultrasounds in an effort to get my painful periods under control.
I was told it was likely I had endometriosis, which occurs when cells that resemble the uterus lining grow in other parts of your body. In my case they grew on my sex organs, which made intercourse extremely painful.
I searched desperately to cure myself. I pumped my body full of hormones, spending hundreds of pounds visiting multiple specialists. When nothing worked, I came close to tears by trying to let my boyfriend penetrate me.
The guilt when he couldn’t was enormous. My boyfriend was never vocal that he needed sex in order to stay together but I convinced myself that was the case.
The proliferation of online porn and the pressures of social media made me feel like everybody else’s relationships were dandy and their sex lives must be crazy good.
We started to argue regularly, triggered by my fears that he would leave me and eventually the spark dwindled. I was heartbroken when he ended it and as the months of singledom dawdled on, I really missed the feeling of physical intimacy.
It’s great that women are encouraged more and more to talk about sex and that TV shows depict and celebrates female orgasms. Female pleasure is being taken far more seriously and that can only be a good thing.
Yet hearing my friends talk openly about their mind-blowing orgasms when I couldn’t even enjoy a second of foreplay without writhing in pain left me feeling small, and overwhelmed with jealousy. Masturbation was possible sometimes but at least if it didn’t feel good, I was only displeasing myself, and could try again another time.
I felt like half a woman, certain that sex was necessary for somebody to love me. Endometriosis also affects fertility and I convinced myself I’d be part of the 50 per cent of women less likely to conceive because of it. I couldn’t have sex; surely no man would want me if I couldn’t give him a family, either.
With my boyfriend gone, I scrolled through dating apps listlessly, condemning every man because ‘he wouldn’t get it’, or ‘he looks too fun to understand’. And with no one there to keep me glued to my phone or consume my weekends, I had no choice but to start listening to my body.
I started eating better, doing more yoga and began taking the advice of my doctors to slow down rather than trying to rush to feel better.
My endometriosis would never go away and the fear that I would be single forever as a result didn’t abate, but I came to understand that I could at least be healthy again if I realised my limits.
Then I met Jasper*. We were introduced through friends and he seemed to be everything I’d ever wanted. My friends assured me that he was a good guy, and from early on I could see that he had the kindest heart.
I was open from the beginning about my endometriosis and how it would affect our sex life. He listened carefully and replied that he didn’t think it was a big issue. I was shocked – I was so sure that nobody would ever even want to try and understand.
In fact, he wanted to try and help me find routes to make things more bearable. He kept trying in a way that made me feel sexy and wanted, but never pressured.
With Jasper I discovered that intimacy, real intimacy, isn’t based solely on sex; it’s about trust and feeling comfortable with somebody.
It stems from the pillow talk afterwards; from cuddling and staying up until 3am laughing. These things are all about vulnerability and emotion, not physicality, and when there is an emotional connection, you get the magic.
I realised that my body was nothing to be ashamed of, that post-sex-blood on the bedsheets was not my fault. I knew I could say ‘no, not tonight’ and not feel guilty about it. I could come home from a bad day and cry to Jasper, and the love would still be there.
Slowly, I learnt that any guy worth my love would understand and respect my body, and that I am at my happiest when I do things to please myself rather than men.
Our relationship lasted a year and we ended amicably knowing that it simply wasn’t right long-term. Now I’m dating somebody new, and I’m in a really good place.
I’ve found a balance of holistic and medical approaches that work for me and am confident in being open about my pain. I do want to have children some day but am slowly coming to terms with the idea I might not, especially as there are so many different routes to take to become a mum.
Crucially, not feeling like I have to ‘give in’ to sex makes me more able to relax, and makes it easier as a result, so that sex – when we do have it – is brilliant. People expect me to be vanilla, as though you can only be sexually adventurous if you have sex every day but I still crave it, even if my body says no.
For so long I bubble-wrapped myself against men, denying myself love and affection because I felt so embarrassed by my condition. The natural assumption is that healthy relationships come with good sex, and that couples who are truly in love have more sex than their miserable counterparts.
Of course, we want to have sex with the person we cherish but it isn’t the be all and end all. I know now that while I may have less to offer in the bedroom, I can love wholeheartedly, make my partner laugh and treat them with respect – and that’s a pretty sweet deal.
Last week, in Love Or Something Like It: I fell in love with a friend who didn’t love me back
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Love, Or Something Like It is a new series for Metro.co.uk, covering everything from mating and dating to lust and loss, to find out what love is and how to find it in the present day. If you have a love story to share, email [email protected]
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