This routine gyno procedure could mean you never orgasm again
September 10, 2019 11:19 PM   Subscribe

Thousands of people with cervixes undergo LEEPs every year without being informed of a potentially devastating result: the loss of their ability to enjoy sex. Cosmo investigates why doctors aren’t taking this side effect more seriously.
posted by Ragini (33 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

Same story, different day. As with childbirth 'but the most important thing is a healthy baby', the health outcome as defined by the doctor is treated as being far more important than the overall impact on the actual woman. As per the article, when the body is male the person is treated as a whole, and the impact on sex is taken seriously as a vital concern. It's so relentless it becomes normal even when you rail against it and most of the time it barely even registers as something that needs to be fixed.

Despite endless health scandals here in the UK, mostly involving groups of women and children the concept that medicine is still designed by and for men is never raised as an issue by mainstream media. Each scandal is treated as a standalone and there is never any sense that maybe there might just be a larger issue to be explored. The 'lessons will be learned' line is trotted out, along with some grudging compensation. These women have lost something so important and its treated as just a minor annoyance and probably all in their heads. Awful.
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 1:05 AM on September 11, 2019 [51 favorites]

“There is no appreciation for the three very important nerves in the cervix…"
Lots of gynos don't think they exist. Pap smears are agonizing torture for me. The majority of gynos have scoffed at me, told me the cervix has no nerves and it's all in my head. In fact, I've been described as "histrionic" in my medical file because I flagged it.

In Douglas, Hannah Gadsby talks about how white straight men have been considered the default, and a guest on Last Week Tonight talked about how uterine cancer research was done on men because "they're women without all that pesky extra stuff." I am sure what these women are experiencing is real and I doubt it will be fixed anytime soon.

(Side note: “You’d never know how many people have skin tags removed,” he explains, “because most doctors just say, ‘Oh, I’ll numb it up and take it off for you.’” – Doctors numb things up before they remove skin tags? They never have for me .)
posted by rednikki at 2:26 AM on September 11, 2019 [22 favorites]

Can anyone please as a nice favor link me to the paragraph where it is the lede and and we can learn things to say to doctors? My brain is all only, "AHHHH AHH AHHHHHH AHHHH ALREADY," until then. I have read too much news lately about women not being taken seriously and Serena Actual Williams having to yell at someone for normal care and then a nice dude friend of mine talked about wanting to visit Egypt and then it was FGM-talk all the way down.

Also still AHHHHH AHHHHHH AHHHHHHHHH ahhh. Please no one ever do this at my body.
posted by lauranesson at 2:42 AM on September 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

This is horrifying. I couldn't finish reading it.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 2:58 AM on September 11, 2019 [7 favorites]

Had to have a colposcopy once and while I have a strong threshold for pain (tattoos and tongue piercing) I nearly passed out. They gave me no numbing or anything.

I was told it shouldn’t hurt. I was told I could go back to work and I ended up going home because I was so traumatized and in such weird pain from it.

I can’t believe I drove and didn’t have accident.
posted by sio42 at 3:29 AM on September 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

Can anyone please as a nice favor link me to the paragraph where it is the lede and and we can learn things to say to doctors?

I can't quite bear to dwell on each paragraph but from what I could comprehend, the only lesson is to go to that one doctor who believed your sexual satisfaction is important AND have a long held hypothesis about the consequences of this procedure.

Medical misogyny explains hucksters like GOOP.
posted by cendawanita at 4:03 AM on September 11, 2019 [26 favorites]

This is so disturbing, and from what I'm gathering, considered perfectly normal.

posted by Yowser at 4:05 AM on September 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

I fired a doctor of mine when her response to my complaint about Zoloft turning off my libido was (and I quote) "Oh, just fake it." The article doesn't surprise me in the slightest.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:47 AM on September 11, 2019 [27 favorites]

Interesting article. I am not surprised. This is overlooked with a lot of procedures(e.g spine surgery for back pain) doctors they have to ignore the evidence or they would have to realize they were doing harm to patients. Also I am not sure how anyone can say with a straight face there are no nerves to the cervix because this is the reason for the paracervical block. The question does numbing it help for doing certain procedures like placing an IUD, because the cervix feels pressure better than sharp which are harder nerves to numb. I worked with an OB/GYN who always did them, because she felt a chance at pain relief was better than nothing.
In case any was wondering about the 3rd nerve that bypasses the spinal cord. They are talking about the vagus. From the evidence, I have seen we are not 100% certain how the pelvis automatics are innervated.
posted by roguewraith at 5:05 AM on September 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

why doctors aren’t taking this side effect more seriously.

Ooooh, I bet I know why.

I had a hysterectomy years ago, and I remember hearing that sexual side effects were possible, and I remember the relief I had after the first time I had sex afterwards and had a quite successful orgasm. The idea of hitting a side effect like that having not been informed of it is positively enraging. I'm not sure I can read all of this article without having to go all She-Hulk and smash.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:19 AM on September 11, 2019 [19 favorites]

This is infuriating.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 7:16 AM on September 11, 2019

Not to distract from the truly important message of the article, but was anyone else bothered by the pictures of fruit clearly intended to represent women's anatomical parts sprinkled throughout the article? For some reason it felt super reductive or objectifying or something. And it felt immature, in a way, like it betrayed the seriousness of the topic.

Anyway, so tired of women's health being ignored or dismissed - the article alluded to legit RESEARCH finding that women were experiencing this problem and the researchers themselves concluded it could be psychological?!? Surprised they didn't straight up call it hysteria.
posted by carlypennylane at 7:27 AM on September 11, 2019 [25 favorites]

Yeah, I really dislike art that implies that women's genitals are edible. I know it's supposed to be empowering because of Pleasure and all that, but: no.

Still, it didn't distract me from my shock and my gratitude for this article. I now know that, if this ever comes up, I need to ask a doctor some hard questions about a procedure that I would have assumed I needed to accept with no questions asked.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:34 AM on September 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

i have never understood why they don't numb you for the colposcopy. its literally like taking a hole puncher to your cervix repeatedly.
posted by zsh2v1 at 7:44 AM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had my cervix removed when I had my hysterectomy. I regret that. I started crying the moment I found out exactly how involved my cervix had been in orgasm. What passes for an orgasm now, without it, is like a cheap counterfeit that doesn't even try to resemble the real thing, or a fast food hamburger when you're expecting filet. No one told me. I didn't know I had a choice.
posted by Ruki at 7:58 AM on September 11, 2019 [37 favorites]

Yes, I also came here to beyotch about the illustrations. As soon as the cantaloupe at the top barely started to load, I knew what was coming. So trite and unnecessary.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 8:20 AM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Is it appropriate to ask people not to equate vaginas and cervixes with women and penises with men? I want to be able to read these threads and talk about the misogyny occurring here but have to brace myself to feel misgendered on top of dealing with gyno trauma anger.
posted by gaybobbie at 8:28 AM on September 11, 2019 [22 favorites]

it felt super reductive or objectifying Unless it has changed, a lot, that's unsurprising from Cosmo. They mix actual journalism with sensationalist, sexist tripe.
posted by theora55 at 8:43 AM on September 11, 2019

Can I hand my future doctors a questionnaire?

"Does the cervix have sensation?"

"Can birth control affect mood and libido?"

"Can drugs and other medical interventions have different effects on people based on their sex, reproductive status, and ethnicity?"

"Have racism and misogyny affected the state of medical research and knowledge? Is absence of evidence necessarily evidence of absence, or can it sometimes be evidence of racism- and misogyny-driven ignorance instead?"

"Is my well-being more or less important than that that of a hypothetical fetus I have absolutely no intention of conceiving?"

"Is women's sexual well-being (a) an important part of health, (b) secondary to other parts of health, (c) icky?"

I think a horrifying number of them would flunk the quiz.
posted by xylothek at 8:49 AM on September 11, 2019 [35 favorites]

gaybobbie, thank you for pointing that out. It is completely appropriate! I've asked the mods to change the description of the post to say "people with cervixes" instead.
posted by Ragini at 8:53 AM on September 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

[Made that edit]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:59 AM on September 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

Because women's sex lives are still defined as "can a man get a penis in there and get off?" If it won't affect their husband then it's deemed a success.
posted by fshgrl at 9:25 AM on September 11, 2019 [8 favorites]

Holy shit. I just did the math, I had cryosurgery around the time they were developing this technique. I often feel guilty about not being more diligent with doctors (and, oh gawd, dentists...) but well gee, not awful that I'm actually lazy and/or terrified of it all, now?
It's posts like this, and discussions like this, that make this site so valuable to me. I feel less timid about dealing with, y'know, perfesshunals, and a lot more willing to be aggressive about their training, their beliefs, and how it will impact my health that I am damn well paying for.
xylothek, I would print out your questionnaire and absolutely give it to anybody I have to deal with. And you're right abut the outcome, sadly.
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 10:51 AM on September 11, 2019 [7 favorites]

Thank you for posting this. I've had this procedure within the last year and was not made aware of the potential side effect. Yet another reason to be furious that my insurance wouldn't cover the HPV vaccine back when it would have made a difference for me. My experience dealing with HPV hasn't even been bad (comparatively), but it has involved years of paps every six months, four colpos, and then the LEEP which thankfully so far has been successful at removing the bad cells. I know this is probably preaching to the choir, but please, parents, get your children this vaccine.
posted by CheeseLouise at 12:29 PM on September 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

Huh. I was going to ask, does this mean that people who have had their cervices removed have issues with orgasm -- but I see Ruki has answered that anecdotally.

I had my uterus, cervix, and tubes removed about a year ago and I haven't noticed any difference at all in my orgasms. I guess I am just very lucky.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:39 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

The top google hit for "LEEP" (for me) is a planned parenthood page that doesn't seem to mention the issues in the article. Maybe someone could dig to find the person responsible and advocate for a change?
posted by gregv at 2:05 PM on September 11, 2019

I'm not even halfway through the article and I'm so fucking angry. Trying to imagine an analogous situation where, eg, doctors routinely did prostate cancer surgeries & never bothered telling men beforehand about non-zero risks of never having an orgasm again. Can you imagine the outrage, scandal, lawsuits?

This reminds me of that documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, where the (mostly conservative) ratings people gave NC-17 ratings to films that depicted female sexual pleasure (cunnilingus scenes, etc), but only R ratings to depictions of men beating up women, blowjobs, etc. Jesus Christ. OK back to the article.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:16 PM on September 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

I felt the orgasm in my cervix. Without it, the sensation is greatly diminished. Apparently, from what I had previously read, this doesn't appear to be a universal experience. Or rather, some feel it more strongly than others. I felt it very strongly.
posted by Ruki at 2:24 PM on September 11, 2019

Huh. This wasn’t discussed before my LEEP either. They just wanted to know if I planned to have more children. Same doc who did this was male and younger than me, and had argued with me that “the cervix has no nerve endings, it’s impossible for you to feel anything there.” Oh? Really? If I hadn’t been so afraid of dying I’d have walked out. I’m much more assertive about my care now.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 5:54 PM on September 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

No nerve endings, my ass. I cannot read this whole thing, too much anger.
posted by supermedusa at 6:47 PM on September 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have to say, despite the article doing a good job with the exposition, I did resent the fact that its "end on a happy note" was that .... the protagonist had a baby.

posted by Dashy at 1:58 PM on September 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

Interestingly, Vice published a very similar article the day before Cosmo published this one. I think that the Vice article does a slightly better job of covering the issue in part because it actually talks about the HPV vaccine and the changing rates of cervical cancer.

Both articles have quotes from Dr. Irwin Goldstein, who was involved in the development of Addyi, a drug often described as "Viagra for women" (not at all accurate in terms of how it works, but it gets the idea across). The Vice article actually mentions Addyi as being a potential treatment for the lack of orgasm that these people are experiencing after the LEEP procedure. Weird coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe Goldstein is one of the few people actually able to get press for paying attention to female sexuality.

I'm not arguing with the idea that the cervix has nerve endings or that LEEP could cause some very painful and long lasting side effects, I believe all of that. Gynecology and medicine need to do a much better job of paying attention to the pain experienced by non-male and non-white people and in accepting the importance of female sexual function.
posted by arachnidette at 3:32 PM on September 12, 2019

I think people who have a cervix and don't identify as a woman are likely to be treated in equally and similarly and sometimes more dehumanizing and objectifying ways as people who identify as women. I like using inclusive, accurate, and descriptive language because it reminds me that the world is bigger than my experience.
posted by spindrifter at 3:54 PM on September 12, 2019 [10 favorites]

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