I Have Endometriosis. Here's What It's Like Trying To Date When Sex Is Painful
It was a Thursday morning, and I was lying on my back with my left knee bent and my left foot resting against my right leg. My physical therapist had one hand inside my vagina and the other hand on my abdomen. I had been in pelvic floor physical therapy in Los Angeles on and off for four years at this point, and I had made a lot of progress. Though I was still unable to have penetrative sex, a fact that my brain reminded me of every time I started to feel optimistic; I was orgasming with less intense pain, and orgasming more often. At age 27, I had discovered the art of using a vibrator just two years prior and had been trying to use it every day for the previous six months or so.
"When I first started to see you, you weren't able to handle this level of insertion from my finger at all." I looked up at my physical therapist and felt myself smile. She was right. And while my brain had been focusing on the fact that a finger inside my vagina was still painful, I reminded myself to celebrate the small stuff. It had been a long journey. A journey that I was, in many ways, still on.
"Have you gone on any more dates recently?"
I felt my body tense. She felt it too. I broke my eye contact with her and looked to the side. "It's just really hard. Even though I know there are lots of different ways to have sex, it doesn't make telling someone any easier."
Why did Jeff from Hinge get to know intimate details about the way in which I was able to have sex before I even knew his middle name?
Although being in a long-term relationship where I did not have penetrative sex helped me realize that a sex life is very much still possible without penetration, it was still hard for me to see myself as someone who could be desirable to someone else long term. Regardless of how much progress I'd made in talking about my pain—and I'd made A LOT over the previous four years—it still never felt easy to disclose this part of my life.
People ask me all the time: When is the right time to tell someone? And I'd tried each option: telling someone right away via texting in a dating app; telling them in person on our first date; letting them know when we decided to become intimate by blurting it out right as they were kissing my neck or not saying anything at all and running out of the bedroom crying with no explanation after we started getting physical.
As much as I hate to say it, there is no correct answer here. There's no easy or surefire way to tell someone about this stuff. I don't think it's ever going to feel like the right time because it will always feel like boiling-hot water burning your tongue after you spit it out. Your stomach will feel tight, your hands will clench in your lap. If you're face-to-face, you'll do your best to avoid eye contact because you don't want to see that look. You know the look I mean.
What I have come to realize, after forcing myself to continue dating and putting myself out there, is that there is no right way to tell someone. There just isn't. There's no magic time for letting someone know.
The only rule that you should follow is telling someone whenever the hell you feel ready. Whenever you feel comfortable and ready to share that part of your life with them, tell them. If you don't feel ready, then don't. Ryan from Bumble isn't showing up at this bar and sitting across from you and immediately telling you about his deep-rooted issues with his absent father that can cause him to have trouble trying to get close to someone. Most people do not go on dates and throw all their baggage out there for the other person to sort through and decide whether or not they can handle it right away. We don't have to either.
I used to share because I felt like I had to. It felt as if I were keeping a secret from my dates if I didn't let them know upfront. I shared this with my therapist once, and she asked me why.
"Why do you think you owe them this explanation before you even know if you like them?"
I thought long and hard about it. Why was I sharing this info with people so quickly? Why did Jeff from Hinge get to know intimate details about the way in which I was able to have sex before I even knew his middle name? I vowed to stop doing this.
Most people do not go on dates and throw all their baggage out there for the other person to decide whether they can handle it right away. We don’t have to either.
But trying to stop, after more than five years of doing it, was like my attempt at quitting sugar cold turkey. It was fucking hard. I had to start by identifying the ways in which I presented my Vagina Problems as a huge, daunting secret—one that I felt obligated to share with all my dates immediately. Every time I caught myself wanting to tell them upfront, or apologize prematurely, I had to resist the urge. It was like resisting a gooey, warm chocolate chip cookie from Subway when I was two days away from starting my period.
I did my best to retrain my brain so that when I felt the urge to apologize, the words would feel like acid on my tongue. Reminding myself of what my therapist said helped. It was like a mantra that I began repeating to myself: He is trying to impress you too. You don't owe him an explanation. He hasn't earned one yet. He has shit too! Everyone does! Yours isn't any worse than anyone else's! It's just different!
Jake, the dude sitting across the table from me at the bar, is not some fucking god who doesn't have any trauma. If we're being honest, Jake probably has more baggage than I do. Jake has probably never seen a therapist and will get too drunk and tell me about the girl who cheated on him when he was 17 years old. He's 32 now, but he's still not over it. Sure, my vagina hurts, and therefore I can't have a penis inside me, but at least I'm not 32 years old and still unable to deal with someone cheating on me when I was 17. Perspective.
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