As I sat before my surgeon the week before my elective hysterectomy, my head buzzed with questions.
At 39 and having opted for the surgery in order to cure uterine fibroids and endometriosis, I was comfortable asking the 50-something male surgeon about recovery times and when I could return to work. However, there were some questions I couldn’t bring myself to say out loud.
Will sex be better or worse after my hysterectomy?
Will the operation affect my ability to orgasm?
Will I feel less of a woman without my uterus?
I wasn’t sure why so many questions were sex-related; I had been celibate for three years prior to my operation. In my 30s more medical professionals than sexual partners had seen me naked from the waist down. I bled for three weeks a month and sometimes found orgasms would trigger agonising spasms, turning me off masturbation. My body felt like it was built for pain, not pleasure.
I did wonder though, if the organ that was causing me so much agony was removed, would it lead to the great sex life I deserved?
I said goodbye to my womb and one of my ovaries in the summer of 2021. The morning after surgery I shuffled to the loo and noticed that although I was tender, the pain that used to drag me down wasn’t there anymore. I already felt physically and mentally lighter.
I was given a leaflet on discharge that told me I couldn’t have penetrative sex for at least six weeks but it said nothing about self-pleasure or toys (great to know that in the 21st century, the NHS still subscribes to the heteronormative notion that the only sex that ‘counts’ is penis in vagina penetration).
Around 55,000 hysterectomies are carried out in the UK annually, with most operations for non-cancerous conditions like endometriosis and uterine fibroids. Although one in five people with a uterus will have the operation in their lifetime, there’s little information given about sex after the op, which may be down to the sheer number of male gynaecologists not considering this a meaningful topic of discussion.
While I healed, I worked on getting to know my body again. My libido was absent for the first few weeks but that wasn’t unusual for me. I began exploring my body in front of a full-length mirror, something I hadn’t done in years. I found the tender spots I’d forgotten about, stroking the gentle curve under my belly that set my senses on fire and grazing my inner thighs with my fingers, giving myself goosebumps.
Lucy Rowett, Sex Coach at The Lowdown, says it’s crucial to connect to your sexual self throughout the hysterectomy healing process, whether that’s wearing lingerie that makes you feel sexy, enjoying erotica, or gentle vulva massage: “Depending on how you feel, I highly recommend having clitoral orgasms if possible and having slow self-pleasure sessions, but please listen to your body as it knows best.”
I stocked up on sex toys, including a clitoral massager and lots of lube, because before I even considered partnered sex, I needed to know how to please myself.
My first few attempts at self-love fell a little flat; I couldn’t fully let go because I was bracing myself for pain that ultimately never came. I had my cervix removed, which meant I could only have clitoral or g-spot orgasms in the future (yes, cervical orgasms are a thing).
Still, when I started experimenting with my new toys, I achieved an intense climax reasonably quickly, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out.
I thought I’d be nervous about getting naked in front of a new partner, but the time I had taken to get to know my body again translated to more self-confidence than I ever possessed in my younger years. I knew exactly what I needed to get me off and wasn’t afraid to ask.
My body felt f**king incredible, and I was more than happy to show it off. Partnered sex exceeded my expectations with orgasms so intense, I felt like I was going to pass out. After an initial period of banging everything with a pulse, I settled into exploring my new found sexuality with a regular partner.
After living with pain that took over my life for almost two decades I had a new-found lightness and freedom, embracing my sensuality with spontaneous sex whenever the mood struck. And while I used to (wrongly) think that toys were strictly for solo play, I now know they are even more fun when you get another set of hands involved...
I wondered if I was alone in having mind-blowing sex after such a major operation, but when I turned to the Facebook groups for gynaecology issues I was a member of, I discovered many others in the same position.
Michelle, 36, was one of the two-thirds of people with endometriosis who experienced sexual dysfunction as part of the condition. Sex was painful and messy, with her protective bedding proving to be a passion killer. “There’s nothing sexy about shagging on a plastic sheet,” she explains. Michelle was anxious about her post-hysterectomy sex life but needn’t have worried.
Two months after her operation, she felt really horny for the first time in years. She didn’t enjoy or desire penetration for most of her six-year marriage.
But suddenly, “I was desperate to have my husband inside me.” They started slowly and tentatively with lots of lube, but “before long, I was begging him to bang me in every room in the house. I’m insatiable now; our only problem is him keeping up with me!”
Research supports the idea that a hysterectomy can improve sexual response and lead to a healthier sex life. Dr Lauren Streicher, the author of The Essential Guide to Hysterectomy, found similar results in her research for her book. She surveyed 1,000 women with hysterectomies and found they mostly felt the surgery didn’t impact their sex lives. “For the majority, there was no difference,” she says. “But for those who experienced painful sex or bleeding beforehand, the sex was better.”
Some women worry they will feel less feminine without a womb, but 41-year-old Tracy, who had a hysterectomy for uterine fibroids, found the opposite. She says she is “the most comfortable I have ever been with my body. I feel sexy and confident for the first time in my adult life.” Heavy bleeding left Tracy exhausted, and sex had to be planned “around the three days a month I had enough energy. Now I can and do have sex whenever the hell I like!”
Kendra Capalbo, a licensed sex and couples therapist who had a hysterectomy before turning 40, says good communication is essential to a healthy, enjoyable sex life after hysterectomy. “It’s also important to try new positions because what felt good before the operation may be different after. Another important aspect is that for many women, myself included, a good lubricant may become your best friend. It’s important to recognise that needing lube is not an indicator of being less of a woman; it’s just a way of ensuring that sex is enjoyable for both partners.”
The hysterectomy enhanced every aspect of my life with my physical and mental health improving beyond measure. I honestly wish I’d had the operation sooner. I feel like a new woman and a great, fulfilling sex life played an important role. Sex after a hysterectomy may seem daunting, and everybody will react differently. But with time, the right toys and good lube, you might just experience the best sex of your life.