What Men Should Be Asking Their Female Partners About Their Reproductive Health
Note: Not all cisgender heterosexual relationships are reflected in this story, and not all individuals with uteri are women.
“What is endometriosis? I’ve never heard of it.”
I stood in awe as I heard these words come out of the mouth of a person I know fairly well. This gentleman is in his 30s, well-educated, married, and has two children. The conversation began with my disclosing that I write for The Mighty and that lately, I’ve written a lot about endometriosis. Maybe I’m naive and obviously, I’m well aware of the lack of research and knowledge surrounding endometriosis, but I just assumed that most people have at least heard of the term even if all they know about it is that it is a condition affecting individuals with a uterus. Clearly, I was mistaken.
This got me wondering, “How many men don’t know about the reproductive health issues those born and identifying as female deal with, and what are the ramifications of this?” After a quick Google search and cross-referencing numerous articles, what became clear to me is that this is a globally recognized issue that influences everything from female mortality due to childbirth to intimate partner violence. While religious and cultural views do exert powerful influences upon views regarding the importance of women’s reproductive health, there is a general consensus that lack of education, media bias, and social stigma are among the leading factors as to why men appear to have such restrictive knowledge about the way women’s bodies work.
So what does all of this mean when it comes to the partnership between two individuals? I’d argue that it is a fundamental issue that could not only revolutionize the power dynamics between two people in a committed relationship, but it might also be one of the greatest keys to establishing deeper levels of communication and intimacy between partners, the lack which often lands people on the couch of a couples therapist’s office. Furthermore, in a society where women’s reproductive healthcare is often treated with suspicion or neglected, having an ally who is both knowledgeable and engaged in their partner’s reproductive health could bridge the gap so those identifying as female can obtain a prompt and attentive diagnosis and treatment of conditions like endometriosis from medical practitioners.
What should men be asking about their female-identifying partner’s reproductive health? Here’s a list of six key questions to consider.
1. Basic anatomy.
Let’s start with the fundamentals. Do you know the structural anatomy of a woman’s reproductive organs? Do you understand how they work and why? Do you have a rudimentary idea of how a woman experiences orgasm or sexual pleasure? Let’s be honest, sex is an important part of a relationship and is one of the most frequent sources of strife between couples. A man who is armed with the foundational principles is a man who is a step ahead of the game where cultivating a satisfying sex life is concerned.
2. Are you familiar with your partner’s menstrual cycle and how they experience it?
Do they have severe PMS? Do they undergo an increase in their libido? A decrease? Are their periods heavy? Do they typically last three days, four days, or five days? What other symptoms do they experience? Are their periods irregular? All of this information is invaluable in not only family planning, but any concerns or irregularities may indicate an issue that might require medical attention. I get it, periods are uncomfortable to talk about. But your partner spends a significant percentage of their life experiencing their menstrual cycle. Pretending that it doesn’t exist or ignoring it is rejecting an integral pervasive part of their life.
3. Does your partner experience any pain or discomfort during sex?
This one strikes a particularly sensitive chord because if the answer is “yes,” something needs to be done about it. I want to state one thing loud and clear — if there is a medical or emotional reason a person is avoiding sex, this is in no way a rejection of you. I say this from personal experience. While my sexual dysfunction was both structural (brought on by endometriosis) and psychological (a by-product of my sexual abuse), neither of these had anything to do with my husband’s prowess as a lover, attractiveness, or my love for him. But it most certainly affected him.
We avoided this conversation because it was so uncomfortable. But once we finally engaged in an open and honest dialogue about it, we could begin to figure out what the causes of my sexual discomfort were and what we could both do as a team to address it. It’s not a magical cure and it can involve some tears and possible medical interventions like pelvic floor therapy, but it’s absolutely essential to the health of a couple’s relationship.
4. Does your partner have a family history of any kind of reproductive health condition?
If they do, what are those diseases, and what are symptoms that both of you might be keeping an eye on? Examples include endometriosis, fibroids, cancer, interstitial cystitis, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Thankfully with the internet, this information is readily at our fingertips. There are even websites and blogs uniquely designed to educate men on their partner’s reproductive health and chronic illnesses like Worryhead, which has printables, infographics, and even an endometriosis e-book.
5. Do you want to have children?
This might be a question that you should have asked way before committing to a long-term relationship, but if the answer is yes, any underlying reproductive health issues might make conceiving a challenge. If you do experience trouble conceiving is your partner interested in pursuing fertility treatments? Surrogacy? Adoption? Laying these concerns out prior to having to make these decisions won’t eliminate the grief that inevitably comes with having to come to terms with it, but it does help to have a game plan ahead of time that both of you have agreed upon.
6. Ask your partner if there are any questions they have about your reproductive health.
I know, your brain just did a double take. You thought this was all about men learning about their partner’s reproductive health. Yes. That’s true. But the conversation must go both ways. If you are withholding information about things that might be affecting you, or if your partner fails to acknowledge them, that impacts both of you. You deserve to have your health and wellness taken into consideration as part of the system that exists between the two of you. Your lives are intertwined in a dynamic interconnection and that includes your bodies and minds. Don’t allow fear or shame to stop you from telling your loved one about something that might be concerning you. You owe it to your partnership and more importantly to yourSELF.
What I’m suggesting above involves a radical act of self and other discovery. It represents the rejection of the status quo where matters of discussion regarding anything having to do with reproductive health are concerned. And ultimately it requires the kind of intimate emotional engagement that might feel terrifying and completely foreign. We are not socialized to be this vulnerable in our relationships, and it is my personal belief, and one that my therapist would agree has validity, that all of us would benefit from cultivating the ability to communicate on this kind of level.
Getty image by Patrick Heagney.