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When Sex Is Excruciating

Feb 14, 2019 | 748 videos
Video by Sindha Agha

When the filmmaker Sindha Agha first went to the doctor about her pain, she experienced a phenomenon familiar to many women—she was not taken seriously. Then, it happened again. And again.


“It took me nearly 15 years of going to doctor after doctor to finally receive adequate treatment,” Agha told The Atlantic. “It's absurd that most people have never heard of a condition that one in 10 women have.”


Agha was ultimately diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition in which the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus begins to grow outside, spreading to the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and even the pelvis. Women with endometriosis often experience severe pain, most commonly during their menstrual cycle or while having intercourse. Many seek treatment, only to be sent home with Tylenol and a shrug. Instances of the gaslighting of women’s pain litter the history of health care.


Agha’s powerful short documentary tells one such story. A woman whom Agha connected with through an online endometriosis support network recounts her experience of painful sex and demurring doctors. Like Agha, it took years for the woman to have her pain acknowledged. We hear her story over evocative, stylized imagery.


“I wanted the visuals to make viewers experience something viscerally,” Agha said. “I can't physically transport you into the body of someone with endometriosis, but maybe if we poke a hundred nails into some Jell-O, you might get an idea.” Agha underwent a process of “unnerving free association” to create the specific visuals. “I'd think of an object, like a sheet cake, and think of what I wouldn't want to see happen to it. And then I'd do that.” She hoped to represent the sense of discomfort that women with endometriosis often feel inside their own bodies.


Agha believes that the overall cultural shift toward believing women should extend into the doctor's office. “When women say they're in pain,” she said, “they deserve to be believed.”


This film originally appeared on BBC Three.

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.