While sex plays an important role in romantic relationships, certain gynecological procedures can lead to sexual dysfunction in women. If you’ve had a hysterectomy or vulvectomy, you might be worried about how it might impact your sex life.
Although everyone heals differently and at different paces, some of the side effects that come with these surgeries might affect your ability to enjoy sex.
This article explores everything you need to know about the aftermath of gynecological surgery, its effect on your sex life, and the options for treatment.
What Is Gynecological Surgery
Gynecological surgery is any surgical procedure done on a woman’s reproductive system. It includes surgery on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and vagina. In some cases, it may involve procedures on the bladder and urinary tract.
Common examples of gynecological surgeries include:
- Hysteroscopy (a procedure whereby the gynecologist inserts a thin tube through the vagina and cervix to examine the uterus)
- Cystoscopy (a procedure whereby the gynecologist examines the reproductive system to check for cysts, cancerous growths, bladder stones, or any other issues)
- Gynecological surgeries for the treatment of ovarian, uterine, and cervical cancers
- Removal of cysts from the cervix
- Removal of fibroids or cysts from the uterus
- Removal of ovarian cysts (benign growths on the ovaries)
- Removal of the ovaries, uterus (hysterectomy), or any other part of the reproductive system
- Tubal ligation (getting tubes tied)
- Uterine artery embolization (cutting off blood supply to a uterine fibroid to shrink it)
Depending on the specific procedure in question, there’s usually a specific period during which you cannot engage in sexual activity. This gives your body time to heal.
Doctors recommend waiting 6-8 weeks after undergoing major gynecological surgery before inserting anything into the vagina such as tampons, douches, sex toys, fingers, or a penis.
Psychological and Physical Impact of Gynecological Surgery
A cancer diagnosis is scary. It triggers a wide range of emotions, including stress, anxiety, and even depression. A cancer-related gynecological surgery like a hysterectomy brings with it a flood of emotions that aren’t typically associated with other types of procedures. The fear of long-term complications and the sadness that comes with the loss of fertility can cause severe distress.
Gynecological surgeries come with their fair share of psychological and physical implications, some of which may result in sexual dysfunction. They include:
- Loss of sexual sensation – You may notice reduced feeling inside your vagina during sex. You’ll need to experiment with different techniques and positions since the labia and clitoris remain largely unaffected by hysterectomies.
- Vaginal dryness – This is a common side effect of gynecological surgeries. You can try using natural lubricants like coconut oil or over-the-counter alternatives.
- Reduced libido – Women who have undergone gynecological surgery may experience a loss of sex drive, especially in cases where the ovaries have been removed. This is due to the lack of estrogen.
- Pelvic floor weakness – The pelvic floor muscles may also become weak after gynecological surgery. As a result, you may experience difficulty reaching an orgasm. Pelvic floor exercises such as Kegels can help strengthen these muscles.
It is also common for women who’ve undergone localized chemotherapy in the pelvic region to experience vaginal stenosis. As a result, the vagina becomes shorter, narrower, and less flexible. The condition causes pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse and pelvic exams.
Transitioning from what was once a healthy sex life to dealing with sexual dysfunction and body image issues takes a toll on relationships. This is particularly evident in women who’ve had a partial or radical vulvectomy (removing part or the entire vulva). The procedure leaves the vagina looking very different from its previous appearance.
Women who’ve had the procedure done are often afraid that their partners may be turned off by the loss of the external genitals and the extensive scarring that accompanies the procedure. They may also lose the sensation they once had, particularly in the area around the scar. While it is possible to reconstruct the inner and outer lips of the vagina to improve the way the vulva looks, it may not improve the sensations.
Treatment Solutions After Gynecological Surgery
If your sex life is no longer what it used to be before your gynecological surgery, the good news is – there is hope. Here are a few treatment options worth exploring.
A vaginal dilator is a tube made of plastic or rubber used to stretch the vagina. When used together with Kegel exercises, dilators are quite effective in helping women learn how to relax their vaginal muscles. A dilator will help keep your vagina stay normal in size, reducing the discomfort you feel during sex or routine gynecological exams.
A release wand is used to treat muscle tension in the pelvic floor. It promotes good posture, which, in turn, enhances blood flow to the pelvic region and relieves tender points in the muscles that may be causing tension. Wands work by allowing you to massage the tight and sore trigger points in the muscle to relieve pain and pelvic discomfort.
Vibration therapy improves pelvic floor strength and muscle activation. It is an effective treatment for sexual dysfunction among women who are unable to voluntarily contract the pelvic floor muscles. For best results, women with sexual dysfunction resulting from gynecological surgery should do vibration therapy for 20-30 minutes every week for 6-8 weeks.
This pelvic floor strengthening technique focuses on helping you relax and release your pelvic floor muscles. To do this:
- Lie flat on your back with a pillow under your knees and place a warm pack over your lower abdomen.
- Hold the pack in place with your hand and apply gentle pressure over the region.
- Take a deep breath in and hold for 3-4 seconds, and then exhale for a similar duration.
- Repeat this every day for 20-30 minutes until your pelvic muscles relax.
Talk to an Expert
If you suffer from sexual dysfunction resulting from gynecological surgery, the best thing to do would be to seek professional treatment from a qualified physiotherapist. That way, you can go back to enjoying a healthy, fulfilling sex life.