Twelve years ago, when I was 25 years old I underwent a LEEP procedure for removing abnormal cells from my cervix. I was told this was a minor treatment, that would be done under local anesthetic in less than 20 minutes and it would involve removing ‘just a few cells’ from my cervix. I remember being given a leaflet that told me I might bleed for a while, and then within a few weeks I’d be back to having sex, using tampons and swimming etc.
After the procedure, I came home and started crying. I was surprised to be upset and I told my boyfriend that I didn’t know why. I felt completely numb. He told me understandingly that it was because I had an operation, but I told him ‘’it was just a procedure.’’ Everything I had been told had led me to believe that it was completely minor.
I ended up with an infection, and I assumed that was why four weeks later I felt pain in my pelvic area. It was difficult to sit up and all my stomach muscles felt weak. I kept waiting to feel better, waiting to feel in the mood to have sex again, but I didn’t.
In the end, I had sex, because it was six weeks after the LEEP, and I just wanted to get back to my normal life. I had only been with my boyfriend a few months before the LEEP and it felt weird not to have sex with someone for so long that I was only just getting to know.
Everything felt painful and sore. When I orgasmed, I had this weird sensation of my muscles contracting but no feeling of pleasure. I was shocked and terrified. What on earth had happened to my body?
I went to my doctor to find out what was happening. She told me that perhaps it was a bit of scarring on my cervix. Scarring? I was confused. I thought they were just removing a few cells. How could I scar if it was just a few cells? She told me she would examine me next time and I went home and googled ‘scarring after LEEP procedure.’ I read that the treatment was to remove the scar tissue with the LEEP procedure!
I was shocked. There was just no way I was going to have the same procedure that had caused the problem to cure it. I never returned to the doctor. I felt completely isolated and alone. I looked online to try to find other women that this had happened to, but all the stories seemed to suggest what I had been told; that the LEEP was a safe minor treatment.
I concluded that what had happened to me was a kind of ‘freak’ reaction of my own body. I stayed away from doctors, and did everything I could to heal myself naturally. Since I had huge amounts of tension in my pelvic area, I practiced yoga and meditation to try to relax as much as possible. I also had deep tissue massages in my hips. I found that this all helped to release tension, so that sitting down wasn’t such a problem anymore. I also learnt some tantra exercises to help me recover my ability to orgasm, and enjoy sex, but it was still painful for many years, and I still have constant tension in my pelvis.
A few months ago, I was searching online, as I did from time to time, still wondering if it was really true, that I was the only one that had this strange reaction, and this time I did find someone. I found a Hormones Matter article ‘The Unspoken Dangers of LEEP,’ by a woman named Asha. Reading it was like reading my own story. Not only did she have the problems with sex that I had, but she also had more intangible symptoms, that I had also experienced but struggled to put into words. This feeling of losing your physical presence in the world, and of losing creativity, and the joy of being alive. The article also had a string of comments from women also experiencing side effects.
I immediately made contact with Asha and we arranged to talk on Skype. It was like finding out I had a long lost twin after 12 years of being completely alone.
That whole week I found myself shaking constantly and not sleeping well as it began to sink in that the reaction I had wasn’t something ‘wrong’ about my body. There was something wrong with the medical procedure myself. I googled constantly and found more and more stories of women also losing their sex lives because of LEEP.
When Asha could not get answers from doctors in the UK she went to the US to consult with Dr. Irwin Goldstein, Director of Sexual Medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, California. From Dr. Goldstein she learnt about the problem with LEEP. The procedure was introduced before any anatomy on the cervix had been done. Women are frequently told that the cervix has no nerve endings, but up to date research has found this to be completely untrue. There are three pairs of nerves that connect up to the cervix that can be damaged by the LEEP. This damages orgasm function.
When I spoke to Asha, I learnt that it was not just a few cells that were removed from my cervix. It is up to two cm of the cervix. The LEEP procedure uses an electrical wire, to cut away the abnormal tissue, and as Dr Goldstein says, it’s more like ‘a few trillion cells’.
LEEP and Female Genital Mutilation
Asha had been so devastated by the effects on her life that she contacted an FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) charity, to try and help her makes sense of this profound loss.
In the following days, I thought about Asha’s words. Could it really be classed as FGM? Just the thought of it, made me go into a heart-racing state of panic, that meant I needed to call up close friends to calm down and feel safe again. I wondered to myself, if it wasn’t FGM, then why did my body have this extreme reaction?
I looked up the WHO definition of Female Genital Mutilation:
“procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
Switch external for internal, and remove non-medical reasons and LEEP comes under this classification. As I read about the life long implications of FGM, and how many sufferers had nightmares, it suddenly made sense why I had frequently woke up screaming since I had the LEEP. I had never associated it with the procedure and these nightmares had always remained a mystery to me until then.
Sexual Trauma and LEEP
During LEEP, we are given anesthetic so that we don’t feel pain. We are told that the procedure is for our own good. This creates a narrative in our head, that we have been through a minor procedure, but I think that the body experiences it on a more primal level.
My body experienced it as a huge sexual trauma that my cervix still carries physically. The tension I experience in my cervix and vagina is like a constant state of fight, flight or flee. I notice this trapped energy, getting reactivated, as I read and write about the cervix, and try to process this very physical trauma that I have experienced that is still stuck in my body.
There are many women who say that they are completely fine after the LEEP, and here I think there are two possibilities. One is that when a piece of their cervix was removed it didn’t hit on any of the nerves. The other possibility is that women are experiencing side effects that they may not attribute to the LEEP.
Nora Coffey is the founder of HERS, a non-profit organisation that campaigns for informed choice about hysterectomy and its devastating side effects. As she went on the campaign trail she would frequently meet women who said they were completely fine after hysterectomy, even that it was the best thing that ever happened to them. Then as she talked to them more they would realize, that they were experiencing health issues that they did not attribute to the hysterectomy until they connected up the dots.
When we are constantly told that LEEP is safe and minor, we may have no way of understanding that other issues we experience, such as fear, anxiety, and depression are a result of this procedure.
Women are being imprisoned in a narrative that they must submit to these treatments to save them from cancer, but abnormal cells are not cancer. Eighty percent will not grow into cancer.
More Research Needed
What we need is more research. Research into why some cells recover and why others progress into cancer. We need to understand if lifestyle changes can boost the immune system and improve recovery rather than cutting into the bodies of otherwise healthy women. The Gynecological community also need to acknowledge the side effects of LEEP and assess if there are safer options.
There are huge health risks to losing your sex life and the immune-suppressing depression that accompanies it. The cervical screening program saves a small amount of lives, but for many women like myself the damage may outweigh the benefits.
Doctors need to learn that when they cut into the cervix they risk damaging a woman’s health and emotional well-being. Being harmed by a medical procedure when fully informed of the risks and making an informed choice is one thing. Knowing that doctors have blindly cut into your body, because they do not have basic anatomical knowledge is an absolute injustice.
Long ago, there was no awareness or acknowledgement that rape or sexual abuse was a huge trauma that affects a person’s entire life. A rape victim had no narrative to make sense of what has happened to them, no way of articulating and beginning to process the trauma.
I carried this trauma for 12 years, unable to process it, because I did not fully understand that I had been traumatized.
Asha and I want to give what has happened to us a name. To inform women of their choices when the medical community does not. We have started a campaign called Intact Cervix, to educate women of the deep enjoyable pleasure from the cervix, and their right not to have it taken away.
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Had my first LLETZ 3 weeks ago and had sex on Saturday. The nurse said nothing in the vagina for 2 weeks and I might have been pressured into sex to soon. I also read you should use condoms a month after to protect the immature tissue, something the nurse didnt say and now something I am worried about.
I had Leep 2 months ago. And as you can see I still am searching online for the side effects. It was like rape. It really does hurt your emotions. I was crying for nights and I felt something horrible happened to me. The point is they keep telling you it’s nothing and try to minimize the affect that this procedure has. They probably think it will make it easier but it doesn’t. They have to tell you the least you will experience is the dryness. You won’t feel like before never again. They are saying that you will heel but I do not believe it. I am super angry that no one is doing nothing for this killer virus. This is unbelievable that something so easy transmittable like this is left alone with NO what so ever solution but cutting the flesh off and burning the skin! It is killing people causing three to four types of cancer! After years of study! I am writing here to let you know that you should bravely accept and deal with the savage part of life, but try WVERYTHING before having Leep. Change your lifestyle, take suggested medication and relax. Let the leep be your last option.
I got my LEEP in 2000. I was led to believe the abnormal cells would multiply and my life would be endangered.
The LEEP topic always bothered me because the short explanation of scarring is normal.
In 2019, I went to see an OB-GYN who is a different office from 2000. The answer there was “yes, there is scarring. A little. Compared to what I’ve seen your scarring is not even close to what I see.
Hi all I had mine in 2005 and I’m 38 now, my libido is completely gone. I have no sexual desires, now after reading this it all makes. I also have painful sex. Even though I do feel attraction I don’t feel the urge or want ever, unless I drink alcohol. So this is life? Ok I’m glad that I caught it when I did, and have had normal paps ever since. I also don’t have a problem with dryness. I don’t understand how they can just leave this information out. Also I was told if i can even have children, I would have to be bedridden pretty much the whole pregnancy because since everything isn’t in tact anymore, it’s all weak. I’m glad there are people to talk to about this
I had mine almost 3 weeks ago and stumbled upon this article trying to get a ballpark timeline to know when I can start having sex again. I find this article and *some* of these comments extremely dramatic. I’m very sorry that you and these other amazing ladies had a bad reaction to the LEEP surgery, but why are you telling these ladies to take a chance on getting CERVICAL CANCER over doing a very routine procedure that most women do not have adverse reactions to. Any surgery/procedure you do has risks postoperatively. Maybe we should be trying to highlight and teach people how to research their doctors to make sure they’re qualified and have good surgical outcomes. I was back at work in 3 days with little bleeding and was given pain meds; my gyn performs the surgery herself and does it multiple times a week. I’m in no way shape or form trying to discredit the pain y’all are experiencing but you should not be trying to scare woman away from a quick and simple procedure that could potentially save their lives/ their ability to have children because of your bad experiences.
thank you. this article just scared the crap out of me and your comment helped.
I don’t believe the intention is to scare anyone out of going for the procedure. I hope everyone goes to get their checkups. I put it off for many years and had a different but very traumatic experience during the procedure itself. (Anesthesia did not work on me and I felt everything) It’s nice to hear someone else’s personal experience and know we’re not alone in this. Wishing good luck on everyone.
I had the LEEP procedure done in June 2018. I was so scared to have sex after it and sometimes when we do have sex I get reminders of the biopsies before the LEEP and get in my head. It was definitely traumatizing. Not just the LEEP but from getting the news I had HPV. My significant other and I were just trying to figure out why we hadn’t been able to conceive after 2 years. Since the procedure, my sex drive has definitely taken a downfall. I love my s.o. so much and he thinks that hes done something because our sex life isn’t how it used to be. My gyno have me the go ahead to start trying to conceive again and it has been worse than before, we have had a couple chemical pregnancies and my gyno said that my scar tissue isn’t letting his sperm go where they need to go. Now I have to be artificially inseminated and she said there is no guarantee that I will be able to carry a baby to full term now either. Also, after the procedure my periods are inconsistent and very heavy. Before it was spot on and it was rather normal. For the first 2-3 days of my period now I bleed rather heavy and have clots the size of 50 cent pieces and the cramping is horrible. The cramps are so bad that If I can I will just lay in bed those days but I cant do that forever. Right now I’m in my last semester of college and will be starting a career job in January and I doubt any employer will be ok with me missing a couple days every month because of this issue. I have brought it to my gyno’s attention and she replied telling me that the scar tissue can cause that and to take ibuprofen. She did give me an alternative and suggested that I start back onto a birth control that eliminates my period all together, but that defeats trying to get pregnant. I am so grateful that my s.o. is understanding and we have talked so many times about what steps we are going to take next for trying to have kids and he agreed that if all else fails and I cannot carry a baby to full term he is more than happy to adopt. I just cant believe house an out-patient “minor” procedure could change my life the way it has.
I had LEEP procedure a bit over 4 weeks ago. I can say my sex drive didn’t decrease at all. Even during recovery, I constantly feel horny. Yesterday I had my first sex, I was very wet just like before. However, I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as before, but I think mostly due to the fear that I may bleed. I also didn’t let my partner finger me too much due to the same concern. Obviously I didn’t come. But to be fair, I don’t usually come through intercourse and only few times through fingering. But thank god I also didn’t bleed at all.
I will see how my sex life goes. As of now, I am gonna let my vagina rest for a week. Hopefully, it improves to the same level as before.
Hi I’m Amanda ,
I’m 39 years old, I had the LEEP Done in 2013 I was 33. I had five children. Before the Leep and had a tuble.
I had stage 3 cervical cancer and my doctor recommended a hysterectomy, but my insurance wouldn’t cover it . So we decided on the LEEP. My doctor told me that the surgery would go. ” all i am going to do is take a cone shaped area out of the center of your cervix. It will be like 25% thats all. After the surgery you will have a little bleeding. You might even have bleeding after sex”.
Well lets just say wrong so first off my doctor had taken 75% of my cervix and hit a main artery in my cervix. When I went into recovery they didn’t check to see how bad I was bleeding. I was in recovery about 15 -20 min and they were like you ready to go. Do u want a wheelchair or walk. Well i got a wheelchair and by the time I got home . I knew something was wrong, ( I live about 7 blocks away from the surgery center) I was covered in blood, I went straight to the restroom and told my husband to call my doctor. So my doctor told me not to go to the hospital come straight to his office. So we did . so it took him about 5 min to get the bleeding to stop. He tried like 5 different things. Then i seen the needle yo numb me to sow my ardery and i stopped bleeding. Well needless to say I never went back to that doctor. But its been 6 years and I have a lot of scar tissue , abdominal pain, loss of muscle control , (kegel muscles) hard to orgasam , and sometimes numb can’t feel anything . well that’s my story has anyone else experience these ?
I’m sickened that in this country our health insurance giants get to decide what care we get, not our doctors. It’s shameful.
I just had this procedure done 3 days ago. Everything you read about what to expect says they will numb your cervix and you “might” feel some minor cramping during the procedure. This was NOT my experience. My doctor did put some numbing medicine in, but it didn’t work. I felt EVERYTHING. No body tells you that it’s going to feel like your vagina is being electrocuted, after being ripped apart by the speculum. I cried the whole time and sobbed when it was complete. Then cried for hours at home afterwards. I still cry thinking about it. My follow up appointment is in 3 months and I am terrified.
I’m so sorry you went through this experience. I can’t imagine how traumatic it must have been. It’s traumatic enough without feeling the pain. I keep hearing reports of the anasethetic not working, and there really needs to be some sort of policy to minimise trauma and pain in these cases.
If you need any support I have a group on facebook called Healing From LEEP.
I had the leep procedure a year ago. The pain medicine didn’t work for me either… for the biopsy or the leep. It was physically the most horrifying thing I’ve ever been through….words cannot express it. The mental terror of suffering such sharp stabbing pain while vulnerable made me shaky and nauseous. My husband was holding my hand as I shrieked. Mind you I’ve given birth 4 times and this is a close tie in comparison to the one with barely any pain med. Noone can truly comprehend unless they experience it themselves. Afterward was okay. I healed up thankfully with no complications. Good cause I don’t ever ever ever intend to go back. It was severe dysplasia but they said they got it all thank goodness. I wish you well. I freak out now at the thought of ANY test involving any orifice of mine….. even the covid 19 swab I had to get done for work. I just relive it. I don’t see on the internet some women had a really painful experience. Thanks for sharing. Now I know I’m not alone.
I had the leep procedure a few months ago. I had it because my doctor told me they had found CIN3 cells on my cervix-pre cancer, through a biopsy. After the procedure a student doctor at the hospital informed me that they had not found any CIN3 cells, only CIN1 cells, she said this to reassure me but that only made me ask “why would you then perform the surgery if I didn’t need it?” She panicked and ran to get the head nurse who reassured me that regardless of the cells’ abnormalities that they would recommend the procedure. I disagree. The side effects for me have been devastating. I can’t have sex anymore without bleeding and it is always painful. My vagina is dry and hurts. I can now never carry a child to full term. My life has been devastated. I’m considering a lawsuit.
I’m really sorry to hear of your experience. There is always risk of overtreatment withe the leep, and where I am from I. The Uk, they never knowingly treat CIn1 as it so often clears up on its own, but they do accidentally when they diagnose Cin3, and it’s only Cin1. It’s horrible.
I had bleeding for a year after the leep. But it did get better. If you need any support I run a Facebook group ‘healing from leep’, and we are gathering together ideas about healing and recovery. This is horrible, it was the worst thing that happened in my life, but I have made some improvements.
did they tell you that you won’t be able to carry a baby? There is an increased risk of preterm labour after leep, but it doesn’t happen to all women. Despite all these horrible side effects I saw able to carry a baby to term, I even healed from some of my post leep issues during pregnancy! Apparently babies send stem sells round their mothers bodies to heal weak points.
I am scheduled to have the LEEP procedure on January 14 and after reading all of this I am terrified now. I was supposed to get cryotherapy but my doctor no longer offers it. I see a lot of comments about LEEP being bad but what is the alternative to take care of the cells that could someday lead to cancer? I am terrified to risk this.
I’m so sorry to hear that. it’s such a huge dilemma. I do know that some women are curing themselves naturally of cell abnormalities, using lifestyle changes like better nutrition, supplements, cutting out alcohol sugar etc. It does seem to work quite well, especially with the guidance of a naturopath who can also prescribe pessaries for healing the cervix. But there is also a risk, and I know some women haven’t wanted to take that especially if the cells don’t clear up quickly. Are you on facebook? There’s quite a few helpful groups for women dealing with this issue.
I had the Cryo done before and it didn’t work so they did the LEEP. I still have a sex drive but I have horrible pain on the side where I had the surgery depending on the position when having sex and someone said that it is due to scar tissue….has anyone else experienced this?
I feel so relieved to read your article about your experience with LEEP. I thought that I was the only one with that bad experience. I had mine done in 1999. I have never recovered from it suffering one way or an other. I was young and shy at the time and I got taken by the rush of my gynecologist to have a LEEP done for severe dysplasia. I didn’t understand how it could be so severe when I had a pap smear clear less than a year before because I had just given birth. I wish I had gotten a second opinion. My doctor if I may call her that butchered me so much that one of the many gynecologist I saw after her asked me who had done the job that at 29 years old I looked inside like an old lady. My cervix is hardly existing today she took so much out. All those years I would have sex I would bleed afterwards opening the scars. My non ending nightmare. I finally settled down with one gynecologist after that so many of them could never find my cervix when it was time to do a pap smear because it had shifted so much and is full of scars. Today my gynecologist occasionally has a hard time making a pap smear. And if today I read your article it’s because I have fibroids and she wants me to do a biopsy and I am weary to go through an other bad experience and her not being able to go through my cervix without complications. This LEEP ruined so many years of my life, but I learned to live with it because there is no choice. The only advise I could give to anyone being suggested to do that procedure is to have the pap smear redone first and have a second or even third opinion before you go ahead. Best wishes to all…
On my son experience I can tell you guys that LEEP didn’t affected me the way it affected other women at all, my sex drive increased like 200% after the procedure I don’t know if it’s because if my age I am 41 years old, this is the second time I get it done and I am thinking about asking my doctor to just remove the uterus because it is obvious that the LEEP doesn’t work at least not for me, but it didn’t affect me at all and specially after the last LEEP I was miserable my sex drive changed for good. Again I don’t know if it’s because of my age but clearly it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Good luck to you guys.
I had the procedure done in January, 5 weeks after I gave birth to my daughter.
When I was pregnant they removed 6 pieces of tissue to run a biopsy on, after they said they came back cancerous, so I had to have the LEEP procedure to remove the effected tissue. They said that it was just a thin layer of the cervix, but I needed to be aware that it could remove almost an inch and cause issues during any other pregnancies, I could carry, but probably not to term. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, I heard cancer and was terrified. It’s 8 months later and I can’t have sex, my husband and I have maybe had sex 10 times all year. It hurts, it’s so painful. Sometimes I lie and say it doesn’t and to go faster just to get it over with. I never realized that it could be linked. I try to wear tampons, but they don’t fit, close to half an inch hangs out and makes it uncomfortable, so now I wear pads. I don’t know how to explain what I’m feeling, words fail me. It’s like an emptiness I can’t shake.
I had the LEEP procedure done 4.5 weeks ago and Im terrified to have sex. Ive experienced abdominal pain, bloating and of course, bleeding. Ive been gooing thru a strange depression, have lost my drive and creativity. I feel lost and I was not attributing this to the LEEP. Now I have feelings of shame and “what have I allowed to happen to my body” and I cant shake the feeling that this is an overly primitive procedure that we need more information on and alternatives explained before being convinced that we need this done. Thank you for sharing. Now, I need to learn how to cope since it cannot be reversed.
HI Susan, I’m so sorry to hear what you have been through. This is not your fault. We are manipulated into this procedure by doctors who have no idea how deeply they effect us.
Are you on facebook? I have a support group there called ‘Healing From LEEP’ for those effected by this. From all the women I have spoke to there seems to be a gradient of harm, with some recovering completely, and some recovering at least to some extent. It’s early days for you, so hopefully understanding this so early on can help the healing process. There is some evidence that nerves in the cervix can regrow, and there are things you can do to process the trauma which can help immensley. If you need any help feel free to message me.
Hi. I do not really enjoy leaving comments for all to ready but would like to learn more about this. Would you please email me?
Thank you for telling your story. I’m sorry this happened to you! I’ve read that LEEP’s are done much more often than necessary. That’s also true of hysterectomy (uterus removal) and oophorectomy (ovary removal / castration), of which only ~10% are necessary. The Gynecology specialty is supposed to improve women’s health. Instead they are harming women at epidemic rates. You can read about my experience and many other women’s in my 13 articles here – http://www.hormonesmatter.com/author/ws/. Overy.org / Ovaries for Life is a good resource to understand the short and long-term harm of oophorectomy / castration. The HERS Foundation is a good resource about gynecologic problems and treatments including hysterectomy and oophorectomy. Thank you for your continuing efforts to educate women about LEEP!
thank you so much Julee! Yes I have read the book, it helped me understand so much why women are treated with such barbaric medical procedures.
Very moving and interesting. I hope/presume you have read Vagina by Naomi Woolf. It will resonate. All the best for your campaign and healing journey x