How to support a partner with endometriosis

Mia Sabat, sex therapist at Emjoy the sexual wellbeing audio app for women, and Chelsea Bri, endometriosis coach, are here to help us understand how to best support a partner with endometriosis.

Learn about the condition

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Mia Sabat: Endometriosis is a chronic, inflammatory disease centred around immune dysfunction. The tissues that normally line the uterus, known as the endometrium, grow outside of the uterus, however, the condition affects the entire body.

Whilst the causes of endometriosis are still being studied, it’s clear that the condition primarily affects the area around the abdomen, with the uterus, pelvis, ovaries, fallopian tubes, intestines, bladder, rectum, and peritoneum, as well as other places within the body, often being most affected by the condition.

Flare-ups also referred to as flares, cause the pain to spread beyond the abdomen, with the entire body becoming inflamed. During the flare, the joints, muscles and even the brain might feel exceptionally sore, tender, stiff, or slow. Endometriosis can become intensely painful, as the condition results in irritated tissue, cysts, scar tissue, lesions, and adhesions, and can require surgery. Flares and their triggers vary from person to person, though many experience flares with their menstrual periods, hormonal fluctuations or dietary triggers.

Be mindful during flares

suffering with endometriosis

Chelsea Bri: Unfortunately, endometriosis does not have a cure, despite being named as one of the top 20 most painful conditions a person can have by the NHS in December 2020. If your partner is experiencing a flare, the most important thing you can do to support them is to be kind, considerate, and patient. Be sure to communicate with your partner about their needs: ask how they prefer to manage their symptoms, and how you can be most supportive.

Pain associated with endometriosis can be managed through the use of over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen, so having painkillers stocked in your medicine cabinet during flares, as well as beverages to keep them hydrated, is a must. Heating pads, hot water bottles, and rice socks can also be extremely soothing, so ensuring your partner also has these on hand will be helpful. Drawing your partner a warm bath, stocked with a book, relaxing music, or their current favourite flick will also likely help them to feel looked after and appreciated, whilst relieving discomfort.

Whatever your partner’s preference, be sure you’re communicating with them consistently, and at their own pace. Be mindful that flares can last for more than a week at a time, and it’s important to be compassionate and supportive of your partner whilst they recover.

Remember that it’s also important to not push unsolicited advice on coping with endometriosis on your partner. Whilst research certainly has a long way to go regarding the condition, sharing new studies or coping methods with your partner, especially during a flare, may not be welcome. Talk with your partner to learn if they’re happy to discuss this topic with you more widely, or if they’d prefer to keep their coping methods between them and their healthcare professional, to ensure they feel equally comfortable and supported.
 

Be considerate of their pleasure needs

sex with endometriosis

Chelsea Bri: Endometriosis can be tough for couples exploring physical intimacy because the condition often causes pain with penetration. This is because the lesions around the cervix, uterus, and rectovaginal space can get pushed and pulled during penetration, which causes the area to feel aggravated and become inflamed.

Even those who might not feel pain in the moment can have a hard time enjoying intimacy because the body might subconsciously tense up in memory of past, painful experiences. This can cause further pain, whilst decreasing libido. It’s also important to note that intimate experiences can be different for everyone with endometriosis: sometimes individuals only feel pain after orgasm, after sex, during certain times of the month, only during deep penetration, or whilst in specific positions. That being said, there are multiple, different ways to enjoy intimacy, that can be discovered through trial and error:

  • Use vibrators
     Vibrations can sometimes be extremely soothing for those with endometriosis and can be easily accessed with sex toys like vibrators that offer different speeds and intensities for you to explore, both together and for your partner during self-pleasure. Remember that, even if your toy is meant to be used internally, it can still be used externally—use it in whichever way that appeals to your partner best.
     
  • Non-penetrative sex. It’s important to remember that non-penetrative sex is still sex. Acts of physical intimacy like sensual massages, oral sex, and non-penetrative intimacy will bring a wealth of pleasure into your life.
     
  • Foreplay is key. Spending plenty of time on foreplay, at least 10 to 15 minutes, will help to create more space in the vaginal canal and actually help to bring the uterus higher, so that penetrative sex, when possible, is more comfortable. This is a great time to explore erogenous zones, tease one another using different sensory play like blindfolds or ice cubes, and stimulate the mind: after all, the brain is the body’s most neglected sex organ. Try audio erotica, or explore sensual imagery. Give yourself the freedom to explore what appeals to you, both individually, and as a couple.
     
  • Use lube. It’s extremely important to embrace intimate lubricant for those with endometriosis. Lube acts as a buffer and reduces pain from friction. CBD lube, if accessible, can be incredibly helpful for those with endometriosis, as the CBD helps to increase blood flow to the area and further engorge the vaginal canal, which again creates distance between lesions and penetration.
     
  • Embrace the bath. For those who experience a lot of pain or cramping after sex, taking an Epsom salt bath after sex can help relax the muscles, relieve tension, and reduce pain. Soaking for 20 minutes can make an incredibly positive impact. If you don’t have a bathtub, take your time in the shower, or else a sitz bath will do the job, too.
     
  • Track your cycle. If you’re experiencing pain during sex, it can be helpful to track your cycle and your pain, so that you can plan intimacy accordingly and begin to notice patterns that might crop up throughout the month. Avoiding certain windows can go a long way in reducing pain with sex.
     
  • Embrace emotional intimacy. In every context, emotional support and patience are crucial, but this is especially true for those with endometriosis. Let your partner lead the way, encourage them to establish boundaries, and focus on thoughtful communication. It’s important to support your partner’s intimate desires and encourage their curiosity both with you, and when they’re alone exploring self-pleasure.

Read more: Everything you need to know about endometriosis

Read more: What is endometriosis and do you have it?

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