Do you feel sluggish? Still getting acne flare-ups way after they should be over and done with? Growing hair where hair has no right to be growing? And, um … how’s your sex life? It could be PCOS.
I have PCOS: Polycystic ovary syndrome. Basically, my ovaries look like Swiss cheese (My OBGYN helpfully referred to it as “Swiss cheese syndrome.” She may or may not have been joking.) They’re massively enlarged and filled with follicles containing unfertilized eggs that never ruptured during ovulation, and then turned into cysts.
Not all PCOS sufferers will actually have polycystic ovaries (yes, that is kind of confusing), but they do tend to share a set of criteria that normally includes ovarian cysts, because PCOS is a female endocrine disorder. That means it's caused by hormones. And let me tell you, hormones can really mess up your day.
Female Biology 101
Here's a quick lesson in female biology. Our ovaries are supposed to produce:
- Estrogen (the female hormone)
- Testosterone (the male hormone), and
- Progesterone (the pregnancy hormone)
For those who suffer from PCOS, estrogen may be produced in low to normal amounts, while testosterone is produced in excessive amounts. Progesterone, which is normally produced during ovulation, is not produced at all. It's the imbalance in the ratio of estrogen to testosterone that produces many of the symptoms of PCOS.
Doctors aren't sure why some women develop PCOS. For some, it may run in the family. Weight gain can set it off too. And sometimes, there's just no clear reason for why someone suffers from PCOS. But it is fairly common, affecting up to 15 percent of the female population. Of course, the one side-effect few doctors mention is that it can kill your sex drive.
I’ve been lucky to have been spared from some of the common symptoms of PCOS, such as hirsutism and acne, but I spent years in agony not understanding what was happening to my own body - and my sex life.
There are a few reasons why PCOS has this common sexual side effect. First, balanced hormones are vital to your libido, particularly the balance between male and female hormones. Plus, PCOS sufferers may have to deal with things like ruptured cysts; they feel like appendicitis, and are often accompanied by bleeding. Even if you'd like to have sex, it may be too painful. Or at least you'll be afraid enough of possible pain that you'll avoid it. (Get more tips on avoiding painful sex in Illness? Injury? How to Get Back In the Sexual Saddle.)
I get that. This has happened to me more frequently since I had a child and one of my ovaries decided to drop. It’s like they’re engaging in battle with me. My doctor tells me it's now more prone to getting knocked around during sex.
How to Win the Battle With Your Body
I know this sounds pretty grim so far, but hang in there. There are thing you can do to reduce your pain and bring pleasure back to the bedroom. Here are a few things that have worked for me.
Think About Your Timing
The pain associated with PCOS tends to coincide with your cycle. You'll need to take the most care when you're menstruating.
Pick a Pain-Free Position
Experiment with positions to see which ones are most comfortable for you. Generally speaking, avoid being directly on top of your partner - even a slight angle makes a big difference. I don’t know if this goes for everyone, but positions like reverse cowgirl really hurt for me, even at times when the cysts aren’t as bad.