The following is an excerpt from the introduction of the book “Healing Painful Sex: A Woman’s Guide to Confronting, Diagnosing, and Treating Sexual Pain” by Deborah Coady, MD, and Nancy Fish, MSW.
If you have ever felt pain during or because of sex, you are not alone.
It’s estimated that 16 to 20 percent of all women have had sexual pain at some point in their lives—that’s one in every five or six women. Compare that with the percentage of adults (men and women combined) who have asthma (7.7 percent), cancer (8.2 percent), or heart disease (12 percent), and you’ll see how shockingly common sexual pain is.
If sexual pain is more common than asthma, cancer, and heart disease, why do we often feel so alone with it? Probably because—unlike asthma, cancer, and heart disease—sexual pain is hard to talk about, even with a doctor. Most women reveal their condition only to a trusted few, and many women feel they can’t tell anybody, not even their partners. Most doctors—even the most enlightened gynecologists—are not experienced in treating sexual pain, and they too are often very uncomfortable discussing the subject.
Talking about sexual pain with your doctor can sometimes make you feel even worse than keeping silent. If you’ve tried to speak with a physician about your condition, you may already have been told—perhaps several times—that your problem is “all in your head,” that it stems from your bad attitude toward sex, or that there’s nothing that can be done to help you.
We’re here to tell you that none of that is true. Sexual pain is almost always caused by an identifiable, verifiable medical condition; it can be treated; and it is not in your head. Very few doctors understand what needs to be done, so help may be hard to find. You may already have been to several doctors, and in your search for effective treatment, you may still have to visit up to a dozen more.
Yes, it is just that difficult to find a physician who is either educated about sexual pain or willing to become so. But help is out there, treatments do exist, and once you find the right person to work with, you have enormous reason for hope. Please don’t give up on yourself and your sex life, because we promise you, something can be done.
A full and complete recovery is often possible. In many cases, although you may face some recurring flare-ups of your condition, you can look forward to long periods with no pain or only minimal discomfort. Even in the most difficult situations, you can experience a significant reduction in your pain and can find help for reintroducing sex as a joyous and nourishing part of your life. We promise: Things can get better.
Our book, “Healing Painful Sex,” is the product of our passionate belief that all women with sexual pain need both physical and emotional support. Our goal is to help you understand:
- what is causing your pain;
- how to navigate a complicated medical system;
- how to treat your pain;
- how to cope with your emotions;
- how to deal with your family and friends; and
- how to move on to a fulfilling life.
We begin, in Part 1, with “Naming the Problem.” We believe that isolation is deadly—especially for the intense experience of sexual pain. Chapter 1 will help you find ways to share your situation with one or two people who can help you make medical decisions and work through the emotions that inevitably arise.
In Chapter 2, we move on to doctors. Many of our patients have had horrific experiences dealing with arrogant, uninformed, or downright abusive physicians, and many more have been massively discouraged as they move from doctor to doctor, seeking help they cannot find. Just as rape victims feel that insensitive treatment by police and lawyers often constitutes a “second rape,” so we feel that callous treatment by doctors who should know better becomes a painful “second trauma.” We’ll help you understand what to do when doctors get it wrong—from the well-intentioned to the inexcusably crass and unfeeling—in hopes of helping you to heal emotionally and move on.
In Chapter 3, we explain how to find a doctor who will offer you effective treatment, and how to work with such a doctor once you’ve found him or her. We know it’s not easy to find the right doctor for sexual pain, but we’ll talk you through what you need to do, every step of the way.
Finally, because your healing shouldn’t have to wait until you locate the right doctor, we explain in Chapter 4 what you can do to start healing on your own. We’ll talk about immediate steps you can take to feel better, both sexually and generally, and we’ll help you gather your strength and hope for the healing journey ahead.
Part 2 is devoted to “Understanding the Problem.” Here we talk through each one of the medical conditions that might be the source of your sexual pain. In Chapter 5, we explain the biology of pain, so you can understand exactly what’s happening in your body and brain. We also explain inflammation—a medical condition that accompanies almost every form of sexual pain, and one you can begin to treat with diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes even as you seek more specific treatments. Finally, we offer a list of symptoms that will help you identify which of the other chapters in this section might apply to you.
Chapters 6 through 13 each focus on a specific medical condition that might be causing sexual pain. Each chapter discusses the biology behind the conditions, explains how your physician should be diagnosing the problems, and provides the latest information about available treatments. You’ll also read stories of our patients who have battled through these conditions to find help.
In Part 3, we talk about “Overcoming the Problem,” with an eye on helping you recover and move on. Chapter 14 looks specifically at how you can restore joy to your sex life—whether you are single or involved, and whether you relate sexually to men or women. In Chapter 15, we talk about how to restore trust and intimacy to sexual partnerships, friendships, and family relationships—all of which may have been affected by your ordeal. Chapter 16 helps you see how to move forward into recovery, so that your sexual healing can be complete. We also acknowledge that for some women, the process of recovery is an ongoing one—in which life can get better, but in which pain is always a potential visitor. For these women too, a joyous future awaits, even if it is sometimes shadowed by pain.
After you have completed our book, we hope you will be fortified to face the daunting task of attaining sexual health. Remember, you are not alone in your travels, and you can use this book as a medical and psychological resource and support.
We’ve made it our life’s work to help women with pelvic pain, and we want to help you too. As you read this book, it is our deepest wish that it will give you the knowledge you need to ease your pain.
Please don’t give up hope—you can get better!
From the book “Healing Painful Sex: A Woman’s Guide to Confronting, Diagnosing, and Treating Sexual Pain” by Deborah Coady, MD, and Nancy Fish, MSW. Buy the paperback book or the Kindle ebook on Amazon.
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