There’s nothing quite more hindering to your sex life than bladder and/or vaginal pain that is exacperated by intercourse.
Although screaming out in ecstasy can be a major turn on for your partner, screaming out in sheer pain is another story!
I remember feeling a mix of shame, guilt and resentment during the times when I was uable to have sex with my boyfriend, which was unfortunately, most of the time! It killed both of our mojos.
Being prone to anxiety, I worried endlessly that he would go find sex elsewhere since I was unable to please him, even though he reassured me that it didn’t change the way he felt about me and was for the most part, very comforting and supportive.
I never imagined that in my 20s, in the prime of my life, that I would have any difficulties with sex. Needless to say, it was more than a bummer. It was devastating! It took a huge emotional toll on both myself and my partner.
Thankfully, I don’t experience any pain with intercourse anymore and haven’t for the past couple of years.
At times, I still find myself anticipating the fear of the pain to come and have to remind myself to breathe deeply, relax and enjoy the experience with my partner.
I hope that my experience can provide some hope that your situation can and will get better as you continue to heal. In the meantime, I would like to share some tips with you on how to maintain and even increase intimacy when dealing with painful sex.
Since this is such a common problem amongst those with IC, I wanted to take time with this topic and is the first of three posts in the series.
Stress and pain = no sex with IC
With interstitial cystitis, you experience a level of exhaustion and frustration that someone without the condition can never fully understand or appreciate.
Between your job, your family, doctor’s visits, researching and trying new treatments and dealing with a complete lack of sleep, feelings of helplessness and depression can easily arise. You are stressed to the max.
With IC specifically, not only does your libido suffer due to the extreme stress, but sex with your partner most likely leads to pain (sometimes unbearably so), taking the enjoyment out of this intimate act of connection.
There are a lot of ways that we feel “abnormal” with IC – we can’t eat a regular diet or perform a lot of the activities we once did. Our mental clarity and emotional health is ultimately challenged by the continuous lack of restful sleep. Being unable to enjoy sex or even perform the act, is one of the most troubling aspects of the condition.
Tip #1 – Learn and develop self-compassion
It is easy and understandable to become overwhelmed when a disease affects every aspect of your life and challenges your sense of self and even your self-worth. Don’t for a second believe that there is something wrong with you for feeling so down and that you should be able to push through it all.
So what does self-compassion have to do with any of this?
If you can learn to turn towards your pain and sit with yourself with compassion during these difficult times, you will eventually begin to tune into the fact that IC does not define who you are or your worth.
Let yourself feel grief, anger, frustration and sit with yourself lovingly as you feel these things.
Be aware of the negative self-talk of your inner-critic and become your own best friend. This is not to say that you do not require that your spouse and family are supportive, but self-compassion will help you immensely when you are suffering and feel like you are unworthy of love or affection.
I highly recommend watching this free video event series by Sounds True called The Self-Acceptance Project. This series REALLY helped me to understand what self-compassion is, why it is important to develop this skill and how we can use self-compassion to love ourselves even in the most difficult times.
Another tool that can help you develop self compassion is meditation. A daily meditation practice can help you increase your self-awareness. You will also learn how to calm your mind down and react to life circumstances in a more balanced way. Start off with 5 or 10 minutes and work your way up to 30 min a day.
I schedule my meditation into my day, otherwise it can easily fall to the wayside as the day gets hectic. First thing in the morning or just before bed tend to work well for most people, but do some experimenting to find out what works for you. If you are new to meditation, check out this guide by Tara Brach on how to meditate.
When you begin to develop self-compassion, you will learn how to not only have empathy for yourself, but also empathy for your partner as they support you and learn to cope with the lack of sex in the relationship.
Remember, as supportive as your spouse may be, they are bound to be less-than-supportive at times and this is where it is especially important to be there for yourself and remind yourself that you are worth it. This will allow you to be open, honest and caring towards your partner and show them how to be this way with you as well.
Practicing self-compassion will increase the intimacy you have with yourself and ultimately it will positively influence the intimacy you have with your partner.
Next week’s post will explore various ways you can increase intimacy with your partner that don’t involve sex. You won’t want to miss it!