Having sex as a woman is high maintenance, okay? It’s not just one and cum like our male counterparts—there’s levels to this shit. Pregnancy. Prevention of pregnancy. UTIs. Periods. PMS symptoms. Yeast Infections. It’s fun and games, yes, but it’s not all fun and games.
And for a lucky bunch of us, we might also get the pleasure of a chronic reproductive disorder (or two, or three) to really make us question why we have a uterus in the first place.
When I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) in 2015 and again with Endometriosis in 2018, my doctor had a candid yet professional conversation with me about how to manage pain and limit complications with my conditions. Lucky enough to not have a serious case of either, I quickly developed a management plan to take care of myself and my reproductive health. What no one told me though, is how disheartening it was going to be to develop relationships while managing my “disorders,” and the frustrations that come along with them.
Starting to date is objectively awful. Every first date, no matter how strong the spark, feels slightly like a job interview. I’m always wearing too much bronzer so as to make myself look like I have cheekbones. I’m too preoccupied in not oversharing my childhood traumas that I barely eat. I inevitably drink one too many cocktails. But once I’ve found a stride with someone, then sweetie buckle up, because I’ve found my bliss.
I fall head over heels quickly and easily. I ignore all red flags and focus on the good, baby! And then, just when I’m starting to believe that maybe I am capable of receiving love, it happens like clockwork: I’ll have to endure a side effect of my chronic illness while trying to sail through the honeymoon stage of a relationship. And every time, no matter how much I know the person I’m with will understand, I feel insecure and annoyed with myself. It feels like my body is my worst wing woman—like, just let me have fun, is it that difficult?
I have two main symptoms associated with PCOS and Endometriosis—irregular and prolonged bleeding, along with postcoital and premenstrual bloating. How’s that for a match made in heaven? I’ve struggled with how I cope with these symptoms with each relationship I’m in. Although I’ve become more forgiving of myself, it never gets easier.
My first relationship post-diagnosis was expectedly the most unhealthy way I managed my symptoms. Unable to have an honest discussion with my new partner about my situation, I let the anxiety eat me away until I took to Webmd for a cure. I read that ibuprofen helps to limit bleeding, which sounded perfectly healthy and totally doable for a woman at the ripe young age of 22. So, before every date I’d take six or more NSAIDs to the face and hope the bleeding stopped before we made it back to my apartment. Not only was I literally poisoning my body but I was spending the entire night running to and from the bathroom making sure I wouldn’t have to say, “sorry I’m bleeding for the ninth day in a row, can we just put a towel down?”
By my next relationship I was deep in the endometriosis era. Although I had become more confident in my ability to say “put a towel down or you’re not having sex tonight,” my uterine bloat that made me look 6 months pregnant was a new adventure in my womanhood. Every, and I mean every, time I’d have sex my stomach would look instantly impregnated. I’d lock myself in the bathroom and lay on the floor (crying: optional) and pray my stomach would magically deflate. I’d panic that he’d wonder why I trapped myself in the bathroom for so long; sometimes I would fantasize about jumping out the window and starting a new life somewhere far, far away. I began to have so much anxiety about my stomach I couldn’t even enjoy our evenings together.
Last month, I bled for 3.5 weeks. I made a conscious decision, a whopping 4 years after I started having reproductive issues, that I was going to be honest with the person I’m with from the start. I was so sick of spending my energy focusing on how to address my shortcomings with my sexual health instead of actually focusing on my health, I no longer wanted to resort to slamming pills or writhing on a bathroom floor at 2 am. And while it felt liberating to not feel held back by the ebbs and flows of my illnesses, I was still overcome with frustration.
I was in pain for so long last month that I stopped feeling like myself. I was bloated, angry, I couldn’t work out (not that I was planning on it, but the option wasn’t even on the table), and I started to internalize my anger. Finding myself in these inhibiting “ruts” that leave me feeling so disconnected from my body has been difficult enough, but having to work through those emotions when I just want to be ~~young, wild and free~~ feels downright unfair.
I am sure that the way my chronic pain intersects with my relationships will continue to change over time. While I can only hope that it becomes something that affects me less and less, I am becoming more understanding of the fact that this will always be a little speed bump on my journey.
I also don’t think that this mentality shouldn’t be reserved for chronic pain or illness. Women have to be more forgiving of the routine traumas our bodies put us through through in exchange for being able to literally breathe human life into the world. It can be exhausting dealing with the “management” our bodies need, at the very least we should be able to talk about it with our partners and one another.