A colleague recently shared an article about sexual side-effects associated with the LEEP procedure. The procedure, which surgically removes abnormal cervical cells, is commonly performed in response to an abnormal Pap smear.
The article reports that women are not being informed of potential sexual impacts before consenting to the procedure and are often dis-believed and dismissed by their doctors when they report sexual side-effects after. Of course all of that makes me angry, but it’s not surprising. Historically, women’s sexuality is not taken seriously by the medical community.
But I’m sharing this article for two reasons. Obviously, to inform folks of the qualitative evidence that LEEP procedures include a risk of sexual side-effects. Which is not to say that folx with cervixes should not choose LEEP. The risk of developing cancer is a no joke (“ignoring a lesion that merits a LEEP procedure carries a 50 to 70 percent risk of developing cancer”), and every human has the right to assess and address that level of risk for themselves. And while some people “are pushing for further research into alternatives to the procedure, many simply want the sexual side effects acknowledged. Women deserve to know about the risk, they argue, and be trusted with all the information so they can make an informed decision about their bodies.”
My second reason for sharing this article has a very different tone. Above is my angry, injustice tone (with a mildly jaded edge). Here comes the holy-shit-how-did-I-not-know-this-I-love learning-new-things tone.
In trying to understand how removing cells from the cervix could have such profound impacts on a person’s sexuality—including loss of libido, inability to orgasm, and pain during vaginal penetration—we have to get curious about what role the cervix plays in sexual pleasure. Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, published in 1953, asserted that the cervix has no sensation. “While it has since been largely disproven, it’s still a commonly held belief among doctors; LEEP patients are often told that the cervix has few, if any, nerve endings.” Uh, wrong. Turns out the cervix is innervated by three different sets of sensory nerves. According to Barry Komisaruk, well-known (at least in sexuality circles) behavioral neuroscientist at Rutgers University, “The cervix is remarkable in that it has three different pairs of nerves that carry sensation from it: the pelvic nerve, the hypogastric nerve, and the vagus nerve…I don’t know of any other organ in the body that has three different sets of sensory nerves carrying sensation from it…The cervix must have a very important physiological role.” Komisaruk goes on to assert that for some people with a cervix, it may be the organ primarily responsible for orgasm. Komisaruk published a study with five other colleagues in 2011 which documented that clitoral, vaginal AND cervical stimulation activate the same region of the brain (the paracentral lobule in the genital sensory cortex).
I HAD NO IDEA!!!
I’m not the least bit offended if you’re not quite as excited as I am about the innervation of the cervix, but I do hope this post inspires some newfound curiosity about or respect for this humble organ. I’ll keep geeking out on the research and let you know if I discover more. :)