Endometriosis Affects Sexual Function: What You Need to Know

Endometriosis Affects Sexual Function: What You Need to Know

Many people know endometriosis as a “menstrual” disease or associate it with painful periods and/or infertility; however, endometriosis impacts many aspects of one’s life, including sexual function and intimacy.. This article aims to shed light on the complex interplay between endometriosis and sexual dysfunction, highlighting the critical points from recent scientific findings and providing an empathetic and informative perspective for those affected by the condition.

Impact on Sexuality

Endometriosis is notorious for causing severe pelvic pain, which is often exacerbated during menstruation. However, its effect extends beyond physical discomfort, with a significant impact on a woman’s sexual function. The correlation between endometriosis and sexual dysfunction is a compelling topic for scientific research, as it profoundly affects the quality of life of those living with this condition. One of the primary clinical manifestations of endometriosis is dyspareunia. What is important to know is that the lesions may directly cause deep dyspareunia (pain with deep thrusting), though the lesions as well as ‘treatments’ for endometriosis may also impact sexual functioning and leads to a decrease in sexual desire or arousal, resulting in a cycle of distress and avoidance of sexual intimacy.

Beyond Pain: Emotional and Psychological Effects

The effects of endometriosis on sexual function aren’t limited to physical symptoms. The condition can also trigger feelings of anxiety, distress, and guilt, affecting a woman’s self-esteem and overall mental health. Furthermore, the chronic nature of endometriosis and its association with infertility can impose additional psychological stress, further exacerbating sexual dysfunction. Over time, one may anticipate the pain, or have anxiety about what the sexual experience may be like, therefore causing reduced desire and arousal, or resulting in avoidance of sex or intimacy altogether.  

Understanding the Prevalence of Sexual Dysfunction in Endometriosis

A significant proportion of women living with endometriosis experience some form of sexual dysfunction. However, the severity and type of dysfunction can vary greatly, influenced by factors such as the type and extent of endometriosis, individual pain tolerance, and psychological well being.

Several scientific studies have delved into the intricate relationship between endometriosis and sexual dysfunction. A systematic review of nine studies conducted between 2000 and 2016 found that around two-thirds of women with endometriosis experienced some form of sexual dysfunction. These dysfunctions extended beyond deep dyspareunia, encompassing issues like hypoactive sexual desire, arousal problems, and orgasmic disorders.

The Role of Deep Infiltrating Endometriosis (DIE)

Deep Infiltrating Endometriosis (DIE), a severe form of the disease, is often associated with a higher prevalence of sexual dysfunction. Studies focusing on patients with DIE have found a significant impairment in various aspects of sexual functioning, including satisfaction, frequency of intercourse, and orgasm.

The Multidimensional Nature of Human Sexuality

Human sexuality is a complex phenomenon, influenced by a multitude of physical, psychological, and relational factors. As such, sexual dysfunction in women with endometriosis is not solely a result of physical pain but can also be shaped by the individual’s mental health and the quality of their intimate relationships.

Psychological distress, often associated with chronic pelvic pain, can significantly affect sexual functioning. Women living with endometriosis often experience anxiety and depression, which can act as powerful inhibitors of the sexual response cycle.

The quality of intimate relationships plays a crucial role in shaping sexual function. Marital satisfaction, perceived partner support, and the degree of intimacy can significantly influence the sexual experiences of women living with endometriosis.

Addressing Sexual Dysfunction in Endometriosis: A Multidisciplinary Approach

Given the multifaceted nature of sexual dysfunction in endometriosis, a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach is crucial for effective management. Such an approach extends beyond medical treatment for painful symptoms, encompassing psychological support and psychosexual therapy.

Your general gynecologist or endometriosis specialist may not necessarily be the person to also address your sexual dysfunction. This is a major area in which many providers are not trained in. ISSWSH, which stands for the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health, is an international, multidisciplinary organization that focuses on sexual health. Often, these people are the ones you want to see in regards to your sexual dysfunction. They include urologists, gynecologists, mental health professionals, physical therapists, nurse practitioners and more.  

Psychological support is crucial in managing the mental health challenges associated with endometriosis. Therapists and psychologists can provide coping strategies for anxiety and depression, addressing feelings of guilt and distress associated with sexual dysfunction.

Empowerment Through Knowledge

Education and awareness are powerful tools in managing endometriosis and its impact on sexual function. By understanding the nature of the disease and its potential effects on their sexual health, women can seek appropriate help and take proactive steps towards improving their quality of life.

Endometriosis and its impact on sexual function is a complex issue, requiring a multifaceted, compassionate, and patient-centric approach. By acknowledging the physical, psychological, and relational aspects of sexual dysfunction, healthcare professionals can provide holistic support to those living with endometriosis, empowering them to navigate the challenges of this chronic condition and enhancing their overall quality of life.

Related reading:

  1. Endometriosis Pain after Orgasm: What You Need to Know
  2. Understanding the Relationship between Sex and Endometriosis
  3. What You Need to Know About Endometriosis and Intimacy

References:Barbara, G., Facchin, F., Buggio, L., Somigliana, E., Berlanda, N., Kustermann, A., & Vercellini, P. (2017). What Is Known and Unknown About the Association Between Endometriosis and Sexual Functioning: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Reprod Sci, 24(12), 1566-1576. https://doi.org/10.1177/1933719117707054

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