Before the procedure, orgasms were easy for her to achieve, and she enjoyed a healthy and full sex life. But after a simple gynecological procedure back in 2010, all of that changed.
“I felt nothing,” said Sasha (name changed), who described her experience to Cosmopolitan magazine. Just moments before, she’d undergone a common procedure at the gynecologist called LEEP, or Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure, where abnormal, potentially cancerous cells are removed from the cervix.
The procedure is a quick, out-patient procedure and is purported to have minimal side effects for patients. LEEP is thought to be one of the elements – along with HPV vaccines and early detection tests – that has dramatically decreased the rates of cervical cancer over the past few decades.
But for women like Sasha, the procedure has had traumatic sexual side effects. And she is one of many. Besides an inability or struggle to achieve orgasm, women have also reported feelings of numbness as well as vaginal and pelvic pain.
Sasha tells Cosmopolitan that her labial area felt totally different after the procedure. “There was a sort of sensation in my clitoral area, but just as I was about to orgasm, it was suddenly nothing,” she described it.
“I knew then,” she said. “Holy shit, they broke me.”
Sasha’s story is disturbing and shocking to consider. But she is far from alone. As Cosmopolitan reports, there is a Facebook group of LEEP survivors, all of whom have experienced similar – and in many cases permanent – sexual side effects. The private group has over 3,000 members, with over 10 new posts per day.
And yet, most of these women are having lots of trouble having their symptoms taken seriously – and most importantly, getting help so that they can heal and potentially begin to experience sexual pleasure once more.
Part of the problem, according to VICE, is that LEEP is such a common, oftentimes life-saving procedure, and that only a minority of women report sexual side effects. Not only that, but there isn’t a ton of good research on the matter, so most of what we have to go on is anecdotal stories from women themselves – and doctors aren’t usually quick to believe women when they report such things.
“The LEEP was presented to them as a simple procedure with few risks, so they were shocked to experience sexual side effects that they had not been warned about,” says Furseth, who interviewed a handful of women and trans men for her VICE piece.
“Then, when they report the sometimes devastating impact to their sex life — such as complete loss of libido, pain during intercourse, or sudden inability to orgasm — they were told by their doctors that it could not possibly be related to the LEEP,” Furseth added.
This. Is. Devastating.
It’s bad enough to experience these things, but to feel like you’re not heard or like it’s “all in your head” just makes the experience that much more traumatic.
There might be some hope, though. A Rutgers neuroscientist named Barry Komisaruk completed a study back in 2004 that found that some doctors cut too deep into the cervix during LEEP procedures, severing “vital nerve endings, silencing the genital connection to the brain,” as Cosmopolitan describes it.
This may have had the unintended effects of numbing the entire genital area, San Diego sexual health doctor Irwin Goldstein has theorized.
“Nobody teaches doctors or does quality control on how deep to go,” Dr. Goldstein told Cosmopolitan. “There is no appreciation for the three very important nerves in the cervix…and that the deeper you go, the higher your chance of denervating the whole thing.”
The idea is that teaching doctors to perform the LEEP procedure more carefully may be the trick to reducing these incidences of sexual side effects.
The procedure is a quick, out-patient procedure, but for some women, the procedure has traumatic sexual side effects.
If this is the answer, let’s hope it happens ASAFP, because it’s unconscionable that this many women have had to endure such awful and life-changing side effects from what was supposed to be an innocuous procedure.
Make no mistake: LEEP procedures are very important and save lives. But we need to work on making them a safer choice for women, because contrary to popular belief, women’s sexual health matters. It affects every aspect of a woman’s life and can profoundly shape her mental health as well.
Not only that, but it’s disturbing AF to think about how all these women’s claims of feeling “broken” and numbed by a medical procedure were totally disregarded by their doctors. If a woman tells you what she has experienced, you believe her. And if there isn’t research to prove her claims, well you go out and do the research. Period.
Can you imagine if a “simple” medical procedure was causing men to stop having erections or orgasms? Millions of dollars would be poured into research and the entire world would come to a screeching halt until the problem was rectified.
Women deserve no less. Let’s fix this. STAT.