There’s a lot of communication that goes into a new romantic relationship, and even more so when you are dealing with any chronic illness. It seems like the older I’ve gotten, the more there is to talk about with a new partner.
Last year, I found myself dating someone new for the first time in over a decade — and for the first time since chronic illness entered my life. In addition to all the normal things we had to discuss in getting to know each other, I had to explain my chronic illnesses and how they may affect our relationship. Discussing endometriosis was the most difficult because it’s a condition connected to sexual health, which, despite being over 40, I still find difficult to discuss with new people.
I was raised in a generation where we were taught that you simply don’t discuss sex or sexual health. This created a lot of shame around sex and sexual health. Unfortunately, many women can’t even comfortably discuss their periods with their doctor, let alone with a sex partner. Thankfully, it’s part of the doctor’s job to address these subjects. My doctors have helped me with overcoming the shame that surrounds sexual health by listening openly and without judgement.
We can only hope that someone without that training would respond in the same open and non-judgmental way.
Thankfully, my boyfriend did just that. Although he was the first new partner who I had to explain endometriosis to, he’s not the first partner I’ve had to discuss female issues with. Even so, I was still uncomfortable and worried about the response I would receive.
There were a few things I needed to do to help these discussions go as smoothly as possible. Hopefully these three tips will help you as you approach similar conversations in your own relationships.
Understand what endometriosis is for yourself first
It’s a lot easier to talk about something that you understand. It’s even easier to talk about something when you feel you know more about the topic than the person you are talking to. As someone living with endometriosis, it’s a pretty safe bet that you know more about endometriosis than your partner does, especially if they’re a male.
If you’ve not already done the research to understand just what is going on in your body with endometriosis, now is the time to do so.
A simple explanation is that endometriosis is when the tissue that should grow inside the uterus grows outside of it as well, according to the National Institutes of Health. This tissue continues to grow and break down just as normal tissue does. However, instead of being shed during your period, this tissue has no way to leave the body. This can result in adhesions and cysts throughout the abdominal and pelvic cavities. These can cause displacement of internal organs and can also cause those organs to stick together.
Endometriosis can cause pelvic and abdominal pain and cramping — throughout your cycle, not just when you’re on your period. It can also cause pain during sex, pain during bowel movements or urination, and heavy bleeding during your period, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The condition can also cause general fatigue, digestive issues, fertility issues, bloating, and nausea.
Understand that sexual health is a normal part of life
The conversations I’ve had with men about sexual health have led me to believe that men have a lot less stigma and shame around sex than women do. To many, it’s just a normal fact of life. Our conversation may have been the first time my boyfriend had ever heard of endometriosis, but it wasn’t the first time he’d had discussions about sexual health.
I’ve found that men are generally open about these discussions. I’ve luckily never had a man recoil or respond in any way negatively. Generally, they seem to be more comfortable than I am having the discussions, and that has helped me grow more comfortable and confident.
I find it easiest to stick to the facts when I discuss endometriosis with my partner. I explain it as simply as possible, sticking to the two most relevant issues:
- If pain occurs during sex, they should understand that they aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong.
- But, that said, the pain may mean we need to stop or change positions or activities.
Choose the right time to discuss endometriosis
The most difficult part of any conversation is finding the right time to have it. Some conversations require more timeliness than others.
I felt it was important to discuss endometriosis with my partner as early in our sexual relationship as possible. I didn’t want to wait until I experienced pain during sex and then stop to explain what happened while he wondered if he’d done something wrong.
That said, this conversation definitely wasn’t first date material, either.
I’d recommend finding a time early on in the relationship, when you feel comfortable enough and trust your partner enough to bring up the subject. A good partner will be open and understanding.
The bottom line
The more I have discussions about how endometriosis and chronic illness affect me, the easier it becomes to have them. Understanding my illnesses makes a difference and puts me in control of the conversations. As others respond positively, I become more confident and the discussions become easier.