(The outlook below was a comprehensive review by Frederick A. Matsen III, M.D., Professor, UW Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine on how Arthritis affects sex)
Table of Contents
- 1 A look at how Arthritis affects sex
- 2 Having a healthy self-image
- 3 Helpful Tips to help you communicate
- 4 Planning can help
- 5 Finding new positions
A look at how Arthritis affects sex
Do people suffering from Arthritis face excessive challenges when it comes to attaining sexual enjoyment?
In and off itself, Arthritis has no direct physical effect on the sexual parts of the body.
However, it tends to present obstacles for you or your partner such as:
- fatigue, pain, stiffness, vaginal dryness which are manifestations of having Arthritis
- impotence, risk for infections, weight gain or bloating which are side effects from medications
- negative self-image, depression or other emotional problems which are emotional reaction to Arthritis
- conflicts with your partner related to the stresses of your illness or your partner’s fear of causing you physical pain
The above issues tend to decrease interest in sex. Eventually, they change a person’s self-image.
Nevertheless, sex should not be limited to just the physical aspect. The following are other was to enjoy the pleasure of sex:
Having a healthy self-image
When looking at how Arthritis affects sex, you have to start with self-image. Arthritis results in changes in your joints and other areas which may change the way you look and the way you move.
However such physical changes should not change who you are as a person. What they tend to do is interfere with your healthy self-image. This cause you to start feeling less attractive, less youthful, or less confident sexually or socially.
Rest assured, it is possible to work through these negative feelings and eventually end up maintaining your personal interest in life.
Consider the following:
Start by accepting the changes you are going through
Acceptance is key and can take a while. You may have feelings of resentment, anger, grief, blame or depression about your or your partner’s arthritis. These feelings are natural and you should not criticize yourself for thinking them. Accepting such feelings is the first step that will enable you to work through them. You will then find you can replace negative feelings with a realistic acceptance of how your body has changed.
Make sure you communicate how you feel
Arthritis affects sex in different ways. Ask your partner how he or she feels about the changes in your body. If your partner is concerned that sexual activity may be painful for you or has negative feelings about the changes in your body, he or she may be anxious about being sexual with you. You may both begin to avoid sex altogether and this could create tension between you. Talking with one another can help prevent this.
If you are not very interested in sex or are less able to have sex physically, share these feelings with your partner. This helps prevent misunderstandings and enables you both to stay close with one another at times when you may need it most.
You can continue to express affection while seeking ways to please your partner and yourself physically. By talking to one another, you can work together to discover satisfying options for both of you. If it’s difficult to begin talking about these matters, you might find help from your doctor, minister, nurse, social worker, or therapist.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
Careful grooming can help you improve your self-image. Selecting the right cut or design in clothes and choosing becoming colors will help you look and feel better. Make it one of your daily goals to look your best. It will boost your morale and have a positive effect on those around you.
Stereotypes are just that! Stereotypes. Don’t accept them!
While it is a know fact that Arthritis affects sex, it still creates stereotypes. If you are disabled by arthritis, some people may mistakenly assume you’re not interested in sex. You certainly don’t have to accept this view of yourself. People with severe disabilities can and do have satisfying sexual relationships. Satisfying sex can help you accept changes in your body, enhance your confidence in your own sexuality and help you feel better physically.
Helpful Tips to help you communicate
As you read this information on how Arthritis affects sex, you’ll have new information and ideas to discuss with your partner about making love. It can be difficult to begin talking. Some people who joke easily about sex in another setting feel awkward talking about their own sex life together. Talking will become easier after the first time you break the ice and with each conversation that follows.
Here are some other ways to increase communication with your partner.
Ask your partner to read this information
Then find a time and private place free from distractions to talk about the sexual needs, desires and ideas you both have.
Try something new to change how Arthritis affects sex
This could provide fresh excitement, comfort, and pleasurable intimacy. Encourage new ideas in one another without pressing or rushing. For example, you might consider creating a novel romantic setting, changing the place where you usually make love or discovering new and pleasurable ways to touch and hold one another. Consider this an adventure well worth your time and patience.
Let your partner know what feels good
You know what you find comfortable, exciting, or painful. Your partner knows what you feel only when you tell him or her. Words are likely to be clearer than smiles or sighs.
Take turns giving each other a gentle massage. This is a good way to learn to talk about body feelings. When your partner’s hand gets near a painful area of your body, simply redirect it toward a place where you enjoy the touch most. Continue to share your feelings through words.
Have clear pre-set signals to let your partner know if you experience severe pain. A signal can enable you to continue your love-making on a positive level rather than bringing it to an abrupt end because of mutual anxiety.
Open communication about your feelings will end the guesswork between you and your partner. The reassurance support and new understanding which can come from talking could open the door to a joy you have never known. Always let your partner know when something really feels good–this is the most helpful guide you can offer.
Planning can help
Pay no attention to the myth that good sex should be spontaneous and unplanned.
You will find that planning is a major help in enjoying sex when pain and fatigue have been constant companions.
Here are some general suggestions to think of in your planning:
- Plan for sex at a time of day when you generally feel best
- Time your dose of pain-relief medication so that its effect will occur during sexual relations
- Pace your activities during the day to help avoid extreme fatigue
- Practice prescribed range-of-motion exercises to relax your joints
- Use a vibrator or lubricant before sex to help produce arousal and to facilitate insertion
- Take a warm bath or shower before sex to relax and soothe your joints and muscles. Showering ahead of time may also help women who report an increased body odor during a flare-up of the disease
- Use your imagination: shower or bathe with your partner. Make it a part of the romance. Gently apply lotion to one another afterwards to heighten sexual arousal. You can enjoy pleasant sensations, warmth and affection even if all the pain is not relieved. Gentle touching may feel especially good to one whose body is often a source of pain.
Finding new positions
Finding new positions for intercourse can put less strain on painful joints and in turn improve your sex life.
The usual position with one partner on his or her back and the other on top can be very uncomfortable, especially if the one (or both) of the partners has arthritis in the hip, knee, leg or arm. If you have had joint replacement surgery, talk to your doctor about when to resume sexual activity and which positions will be most comfortable for you. Here are some ways to find a comfortable position:
Have your partner provide most of the body action if movement causes you pain. You may prefer a position which allows you to move away if you suddenly have joint pain.
Think about what you do to make yourself more comfortable when you are lying in bed. Perhaps these changes of position can be adapted to your lovemaking for greater comfort and increased pleasure for you and your partner.
Use the following descriptions for new ideas about different positions. Since people differ in height, weight, strength and degree of arthritis, the exact arrangement of the bodies suggested will not accommodate everyone’s needs. However, they are good starting points from which you may begin to find new freedom. As you experiment with this freedom, tell one another how comfortable and satisfied you are with a new position. The goal is to work together for your mutual pleasure and comfort.
Credit: Some of this material may also be available in an Arthritis Foundation brochure.