Are arthritis and sex incompatible? If you suffer from this condition, you may feel that intimacy with your partner isn’t possible or sometimes even desirable. Chronic pain can affect mobility. And fatigue and depression make it hard to get in the mood.
Often it’s easier to simply mourn the loss of this part of your relationship. But don’t do that just yet.
You’re not alone
Sexual desire and functioning are difficult for many people with arthritis. More than half of the respondents in one study said that arthritis placed limitations on their sex lives. They reported pain and fatigue as having the biggest effects. According to experts, both men and women with arthritis commonly experience a downturn in their sex lives.
Roadblocks to desire
Emotions related to arthritis and sex are complex. You may feel fear or anxiety for a number of reasons. Pain or reactions to medication may make you question your ability to become aroused, perform sexually, or have an orgasm. Limited mobility or swollen joints can prompt feelings of unattractiveness or discomfort about your body. Perhaps a previous attempt to have sex with your partner didn’t go smoothly, and you’re afraid it will happen again. Or you may be dealing with a combination of these obstacles.
Ways to help
The good news is that you can have a fulfilling sex life with arthritis. It requires a bit of planning and maybe some new foreplay and positions, but pleasure is possible. You may even experience a break from your discomfort: orgasms release chemicals called endorphins that are natural pain and stress fighters.
To bring more intimacy into your relationship, consider trying a few of the following:
1. Take a warm bath: A soothing soak can relieve pain. If you’d like, ask your partner to join you. Sex needn’t follow. Just relaxing together can be a sensual first step to reintroducing intimacy into your relationship.
2. Plan for “least-pain” times: Your pain may feel worse at certain times of day. Sex in the morning or afternoon may be better than at nighttime. Set your alarm clock a little earlier, or plan a quiet weekend afternoon with your partner. Also, get to know when your pain medication kicks in. By becoming more aware of when you have the most pain relief, you can time intimacy to when you’re feeling your best.
3. Play with positions: Some sexual positions may be more comfortable for people with arthritis. And don’t forget foreplay. Massage, oral sex, and other alternatives to intercourse can help take attention or pressure off of parts of the body that are painful to move or touch.
4. Rule out depression: If you feel as if your sex drive has dropped, talk with your health care provider about whether you might have depression. Lack of desire can be a symptom.
5. Fight fatigue: Keep your energy level up by getting eight hours of sleep, building good nutrition into your diet, and practicing stress-reduction techniques like yoga or meditation.
6. Get moving: Regular workouts will help to keep joints more mobile and boost your energy, mood, and positive feelings about your body. Gentle exercises before sex also can improve range of motion.
7. Monitor medications: The medications that you take to control pain or other symptoms may affect sexual function. For example, some antidepressants can decrease your ability to experience orgasm. Consult your provider or pharmacist about possible side effects.
8. Go slowly: Give yourself permission to nurture intimacy at a comfortable speed. Kissing, cuddling, and other gestures of affection will convey love and let your partner know that you value being close.