Words by Emily Fuller
Endometriosis, you may have heard of the name but maybe you’re a little naïve on how women are impacted by such a foreign and unspoken condition. Lately there has been a push for increased awareness on the condition, being championed by sufferers of endometriosis on a multitude of social media platforms. But unfortunately as most of us know, it’s one thing to read and sympathise with this kind of suffering, but can one really grapple with what it’s truly like day-to-day for a woman who has this incurable condition?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this condition, endometriosis affects the reproductive organs of 1 in 10 women, roughly equating to 176 million women globally. The physical symptoms are pretty horrendous; one can only think that such a condition was masterfully conjured by that of some satanic force. Chronic pain, especially during sex. The welling sensation of nausea, and vomiting which comes as a neat little surprise on the odd occasion. Heavy bleeding that makes Niagara Falls look mild. The possibility of infertility, leaving some women broken-hearted and hopelessly stranded. These are just some of the physicalities that accompany what it means to be a sufferer of endometriosis, acting as a blanket of suppression – suffocating and debilitating women from having the ability to go about their daily lives seamlessly. Whilst many people understand the physical impact of endometriosis on women, I don’t necessarily think many people acknowledge or empathise with the internal struggles of living with such a condition.
This lack of understanding and empathy stems from the social toxicities that are enabled by a broader society. From my experience, I have felt – and I’m sure a lot of other women have too – that my sufferances with such a condition are further perpetuated in the social sphere of my life. Some people don’t take you seriously, lacking understanding of the pain you are in. You are patronised when it comes to discussing your pain, with people demeaning it to being “just period pain” that is completely normal for women to endure. You’re told to suck it up, that the pain is only temporary and will cease once you’ve conquered the hellish week that your reproductive system puts you through. That’s merely a myth, sanctioned by people who are gifted with the privilege of dodging such symptoms. Not only do you physically feel the pain beyond the extent of your cycle, but now you’re forced to feel the guilt for “overreacting” when it comes to dealing with the pain.
That sense of guilt is unconsciously endorsed by people and institutions of society within a range of other areas, particularly centring around sex. Take the University of Sydney for example, who announced they were funding a study into how endometriosis affects men’s sexual wellbeing. Pretty ridiculous right? The reality is that there isn’t a whole lot of funding or resources available for the study of this disease, which thus prohibits the potential for discovering new alternatives of pain relief, or even a cure. But yet here we are, still so conditioned to nurture men’s feelings – especially when it comes to sex – that it is deemed a priority to worry about the impact on men when it comes to dealing with a disease that is exclusive to female experience. It’s social responses such as these that dispel toxicity and further alienate women, robbing them of their hardships and experience when it comes to living with endometriosis. I can tell you that with having endo, sex can be physically uncomfortable and inherently accompanied by pain – but that’s not the crux of it. Sometimes you are made to feel guilty for not being as “energetic” or “enthusiastic” during sexual activity, or even guilted for not wanting to have sex at all, just because of your sheer apprehension of enduring the pain. It is this guilt that potentially opens up an abyss of insecurity and inferiority for women to fall in to – stripping them of their sexual empowerment and being subject to the power play that can be loomed over them by male sexual partners. Sometimes this can cause women to feel obligated to compensate sexually for the lack of sex they are participating in – whether it is in the form of oral sex, or other means. And doesn’t that sound like a dangerous balance along the fine line of consent? Women with endometriosis cope with enough physical torment as it is; it is cruel and blatantly ignorant to further perpetuate shame and guilt for their suffering.
So this one is for those sisters of mine who live with this constant pain and guilt on a daily basis – I hope you find validity in your suffering in a society that tends to overlook the severity of your condition. I hope you find power within your pain to open up a space for you to discuss it unapologetically and with honesty. And to those friends, family and partners of those who suffer from endometriosis – I hope you can come away with a heightened understanding and sensitivity for those who fall victim to not only the physical symptoms of endo, but also the internal pressures that are pressed upon them by societal ignorance and lack of empathy.
Art by Ellie Kammer