Endometriosis always made life a little like a shell game. I never quite knew what I’d get. If I was lucky, I’d wake up with enough energy to take a ten-mile hike, but most days, I’d ache straight to my quick until I couldn’t hold onto the threads of a conversation.
But there was one part of my life I could rely on: sex. Sure, I might be in pain, and yeah, I was once on my period for two years (yes, years). But I knew that the act of getting frisky itself felt divine, and was an escape from this body I otherwise couldn’t trust. Sex served as the hammering pulse that reminded me I was capable.
Naturally, I liked to have lots of it. The whole time, I knew I was lucky. Painful penetration is common for folks with endometriosis, and somehow, I’d navigated nine years and five surgeries feeling just peachy keen in the sack. Having one part of my life endometriosis hadn’t totally dismantled was a safety blanket, a reminder of my power. Everything was on the table for my devouring, and I loved to handle the edges of experience. Sure, endometriosis had messed with other things, like how I had to pee all the time or some days were so painful I struggled to walk, but had you seen how I could ride that D?
When my sixth surgery came around, I’d hoped the results would be more or less the same, even though this was my biggest surgery yet: a total hysterectomy and oophorectomy (ovary removal) that would catapult me straight into menopause at the tender age of twenty-six. But my sex life had always been intact, and I assumed this wouldn’t ultimately change much. So in recovery, I waited for the big day. Six weeks after the surgery, my doctor gave penetration the green light, but just to be safe, my husband and I waited two extra weeks.
Finally, we figured I was as healed as I’d ever be, and we went for it. That first time felt just fine. A few days later, so did the second. But the third time, something changed. Aching pain tore through me. Sure it was just a tender spot, we went on with our days and kept an eye on it. But the ache grew, and grew, and grew, until I was unable to stand upright and had to go to the emergency room. That’s where we found out that, despite my surgeon’s thumbs-up, and our extra two-week cushion, I had torn somewhere deep inside. My doctor was flabbergasted. “I’ve done this surgery hundreds of times, and you’re the first person this has ever happened to.”
Some consolation prize. I love being the first for many things – first in line at a buffet, first in my family to go to grad school, first place in trivia – but this was one trophy I’d have preferred to gather dust. After a seventh surgery to fix the tear, my husband and I sat on pins and needles, not wanting to give it a go, and waiting for months past the point when the surgeon gave his (second) stamp of approval. We were both scared and the scar felt metaphorically shared. As I healed, not even a pinky was allowed to wiggle its way up between my legs.
On the outside, it might seem silly to say how devastated I was, but what people who don’t have endometriosis may not realize is how much the disease takes from you. Days knocked flat and hiding under a heating pad, months where you’re unable to walk more than a hundred feet, days where the idea of working sounds like a joke, and reproducing has just been off the table since day one. As if that all weren’t enough, our only poster child is Lena Dunham, someone so messy and problematic that many of us would honestly rather have no celebrity spokesperson at all. I had given up so much of my life to endometriosis – my career, opportunities, travel, relationships, croissants – and had even entered menopause to try and stop the disease. Losing penetration was the last straw.
And when we finally started to try again – it hurt. My sexuality was in shambles, and between hot flashes and pain, I wasn’t sure I’d ever find the way back. Not knowing if penetration would hurt just for a few months of recovery or be a part of my forever, I started weighing my options – and that’s when I first heard about the Ohnut.
When Emily Sauer founded Ohnut, the idea came to her in the throes of her own struggle with painful penetration. Battling for years, Sauer eventually felt like a “failure” to herself and her partner – and that’s when she knew it was time for things to change. Instead of waiting for someone else to fix it, she created the Ohnut. When she did, she realized she was far from a failure, and far from alone. “For over a decade,” she says, “I assumed that I was unrelatable in my experience of painful sex, and yet the moment that Ohnut became a vehicle for conversation, I couldn’t believe how alone I wasn’t.”
With that in mind, Ohnut’s Kickstarter took off, starting the company as we know it today. Made of an “FDA-approved body– and skin-safe polymer blend,” the Ohnut is a flexible, stackable set of rings that sits at the base of a shaft – think penis, dildo, vibrator, dilator, or hey, even two fingers.
Like a pillowy spring, the Ohnut cushions impact, keeping your partner or toy from going too deep while you play. As I was sitting here trying to describe this little device, I pulled mine from its satin bag and held it in my palm. The aqua ring quivered like Jell-O, and when I poked it, it reminded me a bit of those Trolli Peach Rings you snag from a gas station while on a road trip. Somehow, its yielding jelly form is almost fleshy and sexual. Sauer did her job right.
One set comes with four rings, and you can use as many as you’d like, but they recommend using three to get started. They’re easy to remove and add during sex, so if three feels like too many (or not enough), it only takes about thirty seconds to adjust. The company doesn’t leave it up to you to decipher though, and they have several good instructional videos showing you just how to slip it on. It works best to hook together as many as you plan on using, lube up the inside, and then slip it onto the shaft.
Just like that, your device is ready for action.
For as isolated as it makes us feel, painful penetration is far from abnormal. Seventy-five percent of women experience painful sex at some point in their lives, and twenty percent of us with vulvas experience painful penetration on the regular.
We all come from different experiences that lead us to need something like the Ohnut, but there are a few more common factors that might lead to painful penetrative sex:
There are, of course, countless other reasons why penetration may hurt, and for some of us, the case is often a combination of these issues. With all of these factors weighing down on us, is it really any surprise that we’ve perhaps felt too alone to enjoy penetration or find a solution that works until recently?
Every single bedroom toy, device, outfit, and enhancement needs a little TLC from time to time, and the Ohnut is no different. When you invest in one of these little gems, there’s one thing to keep in mind: as great as it is for all kinds of rough lovin’, it can’t stand up to the power of oil-based lube. Oil-based lubricants degrade the polymer over time, leading to tears in your Ohnut, meaning you’d need to invest in a whole new set. Stick to a water– or silicone-based lube for longevity.
This device also works great with condoms. Just remember to put the condom on first. But be careful! No plastic is truly nonporous, and so the company doesn’t recommend sharing this toy with others (not the greatest news for group-sex-loving folks like me).
Condoms or not, group sex or solo, when this bad baby’s worked its magic, be sure to hand wash it, let it dry, and store it safely back in its pouch for the next time.
Just like with every sexual event in the galaxy, everyone's experience with their Ohnut is a bit different. Whatever kind of pain you usually have during penetration, will influence the ways that the Ohnut helps. Overall though, the reviews for it are overwhelmingly positive. One customer says “it has literally saved our sex life.” Another said it gave them “enjoyable sex for the first time,” and yet another said they “cried in awe” when there was no pain at all. For most people, the Ohnut is a game changer, freeing them to enjoy their sex lives again for the first time in far too long.
And as for the partner wearing the Ohnut, the feedback is again mostly positive. Many husbands actually have gone on the site to review it themselves, and talk about how excited they are for their spouse to feel good, and how good it feels to enjoy sex together. For some people, the snug fit actually even feels good, “like a hug,” and even for thicker folks, the Ohnut can feel almost like a stroker, or an extension of their partner.
However, some girthier men report decreased sensation, or even a slight loss of circulation. Yikes. Thankfully, this uber-stretchy material expands to eight inches in width, so there’s no question of it being able to fit literally everybody. But if a partner is feeling constricted, the folks over at Ohnut recommend wrapping the rings around a water bottle for a few hours to temporarily stretch it out.
I’ll be honest – I hesitated on this one for way too long. As much as I wish I could tell you all that as soon as I heard about it, I invested in the Kickstarter, started an email friendship with Emily Sauer, and bought an arsenal of them to last me a lifetime the minute they’d become available in October 2018, I actually didn’t buy one for almost two years.
As much as I wanted to have uninhibited sex again, there was a barrier to admitting that I needed something to help me enjoy penetration – and I didn’t even know if this thing would work. There had never been a toy like this on the market – at least, none that I’d seen – and it would have added insult to injury to buy something that let me down.
I also struggled with the fact that it wasn’t even a sex toy, but more of a device or aid. I’d already spent years with different braces for mobility support, surgeries, physical therapists, and pills. The last thing I wanted was yet another device to remind me how, yet again, I wasn't able to live in my body without some medical support.
It sounds shallow, but I also just wanted to feel “normal,” whatever that means. Another reminder of my body’s differences wasn’t going to make me feel sexy, especially while I navigated menopause. Constantly adapting to meet my body’s needs weighed on me. So instead of taking the solution that was staring me in the face, I stewed...and stewed.
During that time, I fought to accept the change in my concept of intimacy. For the first seven years of my husband and I’s relationship, I had loved having a well-endowed spouse. It was a gift and a thrill. And even though I’d had Stage IV endometriosis since I was seventeen, sex felt amazing. But when I had my uterus removed, my doctor lovingly referred to what was left as a “tube sock.” I didn’t have a lot left to work with. My sex life also wasn’t helped by the fact that instead of being nice and juicy, I’d suddenly transformed into a menopausal husk with my own private desert down south. To put it gently, let’s just say I’m much better suited as a writer for a panty selling blog rather than a seller myself.
And when I tried to find support (after all, one in ten women and folks with uteruses have endometriosis), I just met people who’d never had surgeries at all. Desperate for comfort, I went to a hysterectomy support group, only to find myself surrounded by people twenty to thirty years my senior who had all kept their ovaries and, for the most part, weren’t even menopausal.
To say I had a chip on my shoulder about needing another damn device to help me do regular tasks would’ve been the understatement of the century. It was with this whole boatload of baggage that I slowly adapted to painful sex, resigning myself to it instead of caving and buying the Ohnut.
Over the years, the pain decreased, but never totally disappeared. Eventually, it got to the point where, With literally an hour of foreplay, deep penetration only barely hurt. But who has time for an hour of foreplay each and every time? While I wish I did, and I sure enjoy the fruits of that labor, sometimes all you can squeeze in is a rough and tumble quickie. And while we could have those, deep lovin’ stayed off the table.
Finally, more than three years after my surgery, I decided I’d had enough. In the middle of writing yet another article about painful penetration, I started watching all the review videos of people talking about how they reclaimed their sex life and enjoyed penetration again after buying the Ohnut. As I watched these people marvel at their total control over their sexuality, and look so sure of where they stood and how to engage in the sexual world with their partner, I cried.
It looked easy, normal. They were having fun – and their partners all enjoyed it too. There was no shame, only peace of mind. So, before I even submitted the article, I hopped onto Spectrum Boutique and took the plunge. Waiting for it, I vacillated between feeling dumb for making the purchase and feeling giddy.
When it first came in the mail, I roiled in a mixture between shame for needing a device and anticipation for the good sex to come. That first day, the Ohnut sat in its white satin pouch perched on the bed – waiting.
Finally, the moment came, and we were both ready to try. We warmed up for a while, enjoying each other’s bodies and building up to the big event. This wasn’t one of those times where we gave ourselves an hour of foreplay. Instead, we primed that pump for only ten minutes or so – after all, we had to know if this thing really and truly worked.
The moment had come. We took the Ohnut out of the bag. Lubing up the inside thoroughly, it was actually a little tricky to get it on at first, but once we figured out how to hook and loop them so they stack, it was simple. Looking back, I realize we totally should have read over the instructions together first. Doing IKEA-level assembly beforehand will take the wind out of just about anyone’s sails – but hey, hindsight’s twenty twenty.
With the Ohnut finally around his shaft, there was nothing left for us to do but go for the gold. When he entered me, I had the same slight tension, that slight hitch in my breath, as I always did, waiting for the moment when hurt would barge in on my pleasure. It never came. Instead, sex felt, well, normal. Totally, blissfully normal.
Anyone who’s never had painful penetration probably thinks that means the sex was sub-par, but let me tell you: normal penetration is possibly the most delectable feeling of them all. Neither of us had had really rough, penetrative sex in a long time. We weren’t able to surrender to each other like animals, and I hadn’t enjoyed that good sore feeling that comes from a real pounding since my surgery. I missed it – I think we both did.
With him not worrying about whether he’d hurt me, and me unconcerned with getting hurt, I was loosened up and ready, and finally got to rediscover the pleasure of a G-Spot. Since then, funny things have happened. In foreplay since my surgery, I haven’t liked even using fingers for penetration. One partner and I decided to try once, and I stopped them as soon as we started.
But now? I trust myself enough to explore that, even without the Ohnut. And while I do have a scar deep inside that may always hurt, I’ve actually found that simply knowing my Ohnut is close at hand loosens me up enough to not actively need to grab it each and every time. The knowledge that I can use it and feel safe without “ruining the moment” means that I’m free enough to explore more than I have in years. Oddly, the more comforted I am by the presence of the Ohnut in my little sex drawer in my nightstand, the less I need to pull it out.
And if I do? There’s no shame, no hesitation. My husband and I are eager to use it because we know the pleasure it brings us, and the way that it helps me sink into that sweet, sweet release. Freed of the fear of pain, I am uninhibited and wild again. While I spent years writing this little doodad off as another device to remind me of how I was different, it actually taught me all the ways that I can sexually be what I’ve been yearning to be: just like everyone else.