To normalize conversations around female sexuality, we must normalize talking about things that impact our sexuality, such as PCOS. As we strive to take the positive approach when it comes to sexual health, and emphasize just how much sexual pleasure impacts our overall wellbeing, we take a look at what to expect with polycystic ovary syndrome and how it should not stop us exploring our sexuality!
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a set of symptoms that occur due to elevated levels of androgens (male hormones) in women. It affects at least 1 in 10 women of reproductive age and can result in menstrual disorders, infertility, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and weight gain. There is no cure for PCOS but there are several treatments that can decrease or even eliminate our symptoms. So, although PCOS can have a tremendous impact on our physical, mental and emotional health, it doesn’t mean we can’t own our bodies – in fact, maybe it’s a great reason to discover ourselves. Knowledge is power after all, and the more we know about our bodies, the more we are able to enjoy them!
Just because our bodies don't fit in with what is seen as 'normal' doesn't mean they can't work for us or that we can't work with them.' Neelam Hera @refinery29uk @cystersgroup
From connecting with our bodies, feeling more aroused when we're on and easing period cramps with some self-pleasure; let’s make it easier to make peace with PCOS.
Sexual dysfunction is a common problem for women suffering from PCOS. Studies show that the most commonly affected domains are desire, arousal and lubrication. Furthermore, women with PCOS often need to go on the pill to regulate their periods which could result in decreased libido. We just can’t catch a break!
Alongside adopting healthy daily habits such as exercise, stress reduction and adequate sleep to boost sexual desire, embracing your erotic side by ourselves can also help. Capturing your sexy imagination may not be something every doctor suggests; but exploring fantasies, reading sexual stories and listening to erotica can all fire up your emotional want for sex.
In a relationship? Open communication is also important, as discussing your likes and dislikes will foster greater sexual intimacy. Ask your partner to spend more time on outercourse and experiment with sex toys as this will help to spark your sexual arousal. Difficulty with lubrication may be exasperated with PCOS and so finding a lubricant that is kind to your body and long-lasting is a worthwhile investment.
Research reveals that women with PCOS have significantly lower orgasm/completion rates compared to women who do not have PCOS.
A common misconception about female orgasms is that they just happen. On average, a person with a vagina needs about twenty minutes of outercourse to be able to orgasm. Take the time to get to know your body and understand what works for you and what doesn’t. You can also use what you learn to guide your partner to help you orgasm. Keep in mind that 70% of women need external stimulation to reach climax.
PCOS is associated with high levels of androgens (male hormones) and excess insulin which can disrupt your ovulation and menstrual cycle. This means that we might miss a period or it could be severely delayed which makes it difficult to schedule sex, period-free.
Approximately 62% of people with vaginas are more easily aroused during their period. If you’re comfortable with it, you can talk to your partner about period sex. One of the benefits of sex during menstruation is that orgasms are natural pain killers and can ease your cramps. Remember sex is so much more than penetration. Explore your erogenous zones and play with experiencing pleasure through all your senses. As you will be more sensitive to touch this is a great time to slow things down whether you are alone or with a partner.
PCOS can cause hair thinning on our head but increased facial hair along with weight gain and acne – these changes can affect our self-image and confidence. In fact, research shows that up to 50% of PCOS patients suffer from depression.
One of the best ways to deal with body image issues is to connect with your body in ways that make you feel good about yourself. From taking a movement-based class, going for a run to more subtle embodiment practises; find gratitude for the strength and health you do have. In addition to this, filter your socials to make sure you are consuming media that doesn’t make you question your body image. Body positivity will help to unleash your full sexual potential and improve sexual satisfaction. Basically, be kind to yourself and practice acts of self-love.
Sharing is caring, too. You can also talk to a therapist who might recommend cognitive behavioural therapy to help you identify and change negative thinking patterns. Support groups also provide an opportunity to connect with other women going through similar issues which will help you stay motivated. Online spaces such as Cysters Group will bring a sense of community to your everyday!
PCOS is a common cause of infertility for women but the good news is that it is treatable. In fact, most of us with PCOS are able to conceive with a combination of fertility drugs, lifestyle and diet changes. Fertility issues can have a tremendous impact on our sex lives as the “joy of sex” is slowly replaced by the “job of sex”.
When trying to conceive, you will need to schedule sex according to when you’re most fertile which can feel more forced than fun. Talk to your partner about new things you can explore; maybe sharing your sexual fantasies with them to focus on the positive aspects of planned sex. What are novelty ways you can build anticipation? Consider exploring tantric sex, new positions and using a vibrator during sex.
Building a positive relationship with our sexuality contributes to our physical, mental and emotional wellness. It’s important for us to help each other navigate an understanding for our sexual wellbeing, and all the things that not only impact it, but enhance it too.
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