- Knocking Boots and Knitting Booties is a no-holds-barred series about sex during pregnancy from MsBehaved contributor Brighid. Last time, Brighid discovered the magic of Greek yogurt after an ill-timed yeast infection. This week Brighid finds the second semester to be less sexy and more uncomfortable as she deals with the realities of her body changing. Read on!
Pregnancy is a bitch. I had high hopes with this pregnancy and this column to be able to document sex in pregnancy. I looked forward to the 2nd trimester libido boost (never happened), fisting as a way of stretching the perineum (also not happening), and getting to be adventurous in terms of positions while trying to work around my growing body – all of which I intended to document for Ms. Behaved.
Instead, I’ve run into a series of sexual road blocks that have hit me pretty hard. I’ve been dealing with vaginal swelling from the pressure of the uterus since week 18. It hasn’t been as bad as some reports, but it made penetration really uncomfortable. Then I developed an asymptomatic (except for the searing pain with penetration) yeast infection. As much as I love the idea of natural remedies, no garlic or yogurt was curing this bad boy. Fortunately, diflucan (an oral anti-fungal) is safe for pregnancy. So we cleared out the yeastie beasties but I still felt raw. Sort of post-really-rough-sex-without-enough-lube raw. Any penetrative contact was uncomfortable. And then any penetrative contact hurt. As in clutching-a-cold-washcloth-to-my-nether regions-while-crying hurt.
I justified the pain in a variety of ways: it’s all in my head! Lots of pregnant women talk of sexual “discomfort”. It’s the pH change. It’s the swelling. It’s “normal”. And I got stuck in a mind-body loop in which sex = pain. We tried different lubes, different positions, working with toys and vibrators to distract the nerves… all to no avail. Then I started to get scared. If I couldn’t handle a finger, how as I going to birth a child?
Finally, after trying for 13 weeks to trouble shoot the problem myself, I asked my midwife to do a pelvic exam. On the whole, my practice does not do pelvic exams during regular pre-natal checkups because many patients find them invasive and they aren’t medically necessary in most cases. In my case, I should have asked for an exam sooner. She discovered that I had a series of micro tears all around the vaginal corona that, due to the swelling and pressure, never healed. They likely formed back around week 20 when I was dealing with the yeast. I’m currently 33.5 weeks along.
She proscribed pelvic rest and Neosporin+ for healing and pain relief. Within 5 days I was back to feeling completely normal. Not just pregnant-normal, but non-pregnant-usual-sexual-self normal. Touching didn’t hurt. Sex didn’t hurt. Hell, sitting didn’t hurt.
Moral of the story – if you are experiencing sexual pain, ask for help. Especially if you can’t seem to figure things out on your own. If you have a medical provider who is uncomfortable talking about or dealing with sexual pain, find someone who is more sympathetic to your plight. Although not commonly known in the US, there is an entire branch of Physical Therapy devoted to sexual pain that can do wonders for men and women. Sex shouldn’t hurt and doesn’t have to be painful.
Personal take away – I am quite shocked at how dealing with sexual pain affected me. Looking back, I can’t believe I put up with 13 weeks of discomfort. Though it was hard to deal with physically, I was also shaken emotionally. I identify as a sex-positive person. I love bodies, I love touching, I love exploring, and having an active and healthy sex life is very much part of my overall identity and my relationship with my partner. When sex was no longer appealing, and sexual touching induced anxiety and pain rather than pleasure, I felt like I lost an important part of what makes me, “me.” I felt broken.
Now that I seem to be healing and vaginal contact no longer hurts, I feel better. Though I’m still anxious about healing after a vaginal delivery, I feel like I’ve found an over-the-counter remedy that should help my tender tissue heal in the weeks post-birth. But in all honesty, I’m still processing the changes that pregnancy and pending delivery will bring to my body.