One of the biggest causes of concern for women undergoing a hysterectomy is how the procedure will affect their sex lives. Though there is a great deal of information relating to this topic to be found online, much of it is based on the personal experience of individuals, and as such can seem contradictory and confused. Not knowing what to expect after a hysterectomy, particularly in terms of sexual health, can add to the anxiety that naturally accompanies a surgical procedure.
Numerous studies have taken place in an attempt to present a definitive answer about how sexual function is affected by a hysterectomy. In 1999, a two-year study involving 1,300 participants concluded that, contrary to popular belief, women’s sex lives actually improved after the hysterectomy, with statistics demonstrating an increased desire for sex, more frequent sex, less pain during intercourse and more frequent and stronger orgasms. Though such findings are encouraging, it is important to bear in mind various factors not addressed in the study which may have affected the findings. For example, the study concluded that sexual relations were increased, but it is unclear whether such relations are limited to sexual intercourse specifically or to other sexual activity. Also, the study showed that pain during sex was significantly lessened, which is likely to have a positive affect on willingness to have sex, without necessarily increasing sexual pleasure.
This is not to say that the results of the study should be ignored or devalued, but simply that they should not be taken as a definitive answer to the valid concern that many women have. It is important that women feel able to discuss the issue and their concerns not just their with doctor but also with family members, friends and partners. Studies like these can provide reassurance, but it should be recognised that anxiety about this issue is natural and understandable.
In practical terms, women who have a hysterectomy will be advised to avoid any form of penetrative sexual activity for at least six weeks after the operation. This is because the hysterectomy procedure involves invasive surgery and stitching. This will need time to heal. Engaging in sex or any kind of activity that involves vaginal penetration carries the risk of tearing these stitches and developing an infection, which will then require additional treatment and, in some cases, more surgery. It is far better to wait until a doctor has confirmed that it is safe for you to resume sexual activity, which they will be able to do after a proper examination. Your doctor will be able to advise you further as to what kind of sexual stimulation will be safe during this time, such as clitoral stimulation.
If the hysterectomy includes the removal of the ovaries then this may lead to sexual desire decreasing. If, in addition, the woman in question has not yet gone through the menopause, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) will usually be advised in order to replace the female hormones, such as oestrogen, that are no longer being produced. Part of this HRT may include the use of Intrinsa patches, which are specifically designed to improve the libido of women who have experienced a decrease in sexual desire following a hysterectomy. They contain testosterone and are usually recommended alongside oestrogen replacement therapy. If you feel you may benefit from taking Intrinsa patches, this is something you should discuss with your doctor for further advice.
If you are concerned about how a hysterectomy will affect your sex life, or if you have had a hysterectomy and feel your sex life has been affected, there is a great deal of support available to you. Here at the Hysterectomy Association you can find comprehensive information as well as support about all matters relating to the hysterectomy procedure and recovery. You may also benefit from discussing your concerns with other women who have had or will be having a hysterectomy in the forum.
This is a guest blog post from Sophie at the online clinic HealthExpress (http://www.healthexpress.co.uk), which provides information, advice and treatment for a range of health and lifestyle conditions. You can find more of Sophie’s writing at the HealthExpress blog at: http://www.healthexpress.co.uk/blog).