We should talk about how endometriosis affect men’s sex lives, insists researcher

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Moya Crockett
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A sexual health academic studying how men are affected by endometriosis has defended her work after criticism from sufferers.

Jane Keany, a master’s student at the University of Sydney’s Western Sydney Sexual Health school, has been awarded funding to investigate whether men’s sex lives suffer when their girlfriend or wife has the chronic medical condition.

This sparked an international backlash in early June, with some commentators arguing that Keany’s funding would be better spent on more research into how endometriosis affects women – the only people who suffer from the condition.

However, Keany says that she still believes that it is important to consider how endometriosis can affect men’s enjoyment of sex.

“I thought this kind of reaction could occur,” she tells ABC News, adding: “In fact, in a sense it mimics what happens for men.

“Some men have said they are really scared of expressing their own sexual needs because their partner is in such a bad way they just have to set their own needs aside.”

Endometriosis is the second most common gynaecological condition in the UK, affecting an estimated 1.5 million women. It occurs when the lining of the uterus grows in other places, such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries or along the pelvis.

Often agonisingly painful, it is also notoriously under-researched and poorly diagnosed. The average women waits around seven years to be correctly diagnosed with endometriosis, with a recent MPs’ report finding that symptoms are often “dismissed” by doctors. This is despite the fact that the condition can have life-altering effects, including extreme fatigue, bowel and bladder problems and infertility.

Writing in The Guardian, endometriosis sufferer Imogen Dunlevie highlighted the “tiny amount of attention and funding endometriosis gets”, and pointed out that the condition can make sex extremely unpleasant for women.

“Penetration can cause bleeding and pain remains for days afterwards,” she wrote.

“Women’s sex lives are far more impacted by endometriosis than men’s are, and if any study on this area is being conducted it should look at how women and their sex lives are impacted.”

In response, Keany said that she could understand why her research might make women feel uncomfortable, but insisted that it was intended to “open up the conversation” for the benefit of both parties.

When a woman has endometriosis, said Keany, her sexual relationship with a man can often become characterised by mutual fear: the woman is frightened of experiencing pain, and the man is scared of causing it.

At its worst, Keany said, that fear can make it difficult for a couple to show any kind of physical affection to one another. “It even reduces the couple’s ability to have friendly touch, as one or both of them are so worried about it leading to intercourse,” she said.

Sylvia Freedman, an endometriosis sufferer who runs the Australian charity EndoActive with her mother Lesley, told ABC that while she could understand the reaction, she supported Keany’s research.

“My experience with women who have lost husbands and their marriages have broken up [as a result of endometriosis] is that anything that would have helped their husbands, they would have been grateful for,” she said.

Freedman added that men are often put in a “carer’s role” when their partner has endometriosis, and that they need support too.

Images: iStock / Rex Features