Sex is a hot topic and it is also a taboo topic. Whether you are talking freely among friends or for educational purpose, there will be controversy. As it pertains to arthritis, many of you have found yourselves wondering whether arthritis and sex can even go together, but it is not a topic you want to be open about. In general, people do not want to discuss what goes on behind closed doors. Even couples in meaningful relationships can relate to this as they hide their feelings from one another.
What is Intimacy?
What does intimacy requires and includes? Ideally, it includes love. It can also include romance. Two additional critical components are mood and setting. Last, intimacy includes the act, with positions and physical attributes.
In addition to the requirements of intimacy, we can also look to why intimacy fails and why breakups and failed relationships occur. In looking at the reasons for failure, we find challenges to successful relationships and that once successful relationships can fail. Moreover, when we consider the reasons for failure, we often forget that in addition to emotional factors, physical factors can play a part in the success or failure of a relationship. Emotional factors are a given, as are intimacy issues. Physical factors can include arthritis and chronic pain conditions.
Intimacy and Arthritis
The problems faced by arthritis sufferers are both emotional and physical. Emotional factors include self-doubt and poor body image. Physical factors include joint pain and other symptoms that are characteristic of a person’s specific arthritis condition. These concerns not only affect the patient, but they also affect that person’s partner as well. Barriers include physical pain, the inability to perform because of joint pain or other symptoms, expectations and personal needs — both sexual and emotional. This complete consensus can have strong complications in a relationship.
What it all comes down to is that sex is supposed to be enjoyable, but for arthritis sufferers, it can be difficult. In additional to physical pain, psychological factors come into play. The nature of a couple’s sexual lifestyle prior to the diagnosis further complicates the situation. This can result into resentment, worry and fear for both partners.
The Effect of Arthritis on Sexual Intimacy
The effects of arthritis pain, stiffness, fatigue, lack of mobility, and swelled joints can make sex difficult, painful and unappealing. When arthritis affects your back, your knees, your hips, ankles, etc., sex cannot possibly be enjoyable. In addition, side effects of medications can diminish sexual desire and cause other problems such as vaginal dryness, erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm, and fatigue that also lessen the desire to be intimate. As the sufferer, you feel sexually unattractive and, as a result, you cannot feel relaxed enough to enjoy the actual act. These feelings bring with them anxiety and stress and further worsen our symptoms.
When you sufferer from arthritis, your partner may not necessarily be aware of the changes happening to your body — both physical and emotional. Your partner cannot understand your pain levels, nor can he or she know whether you are using pain levels as an excuse not to be intimate or whether your excuses are legit. All of these factors can lead to the failure of a relationship when the real and best answer comes down to communication.
What Can You Do?
Change Expectations. Sexual intimacy is not just about achieving an orgasm or the act itself. If we can change this perception, we can change our expectations. Taking a slower approach to intimacy works best for partners when they share mutual respect, care, trust and love for each other. Moreover, barriers can be approached through communication on what is comfortable and what is not. Arthritis does not necessarily affect sexual organs but the physical effects of the disease can make intercourse painful. Moreover, emotions come into play because of those physical aspects. Therefore, couples must address the emotional aspects, as well as the physical, openly and honestly.
Communicate. Expressing fears and concerns allows the partner without arthritis to support and reassure. In addition, talking about fears will allow the arthritis sufferer to let go. What the arthritis sufferer must take in mind is that his or her fears can be viewed as rejection to his or her partner. That rejection turns into distance and emotional breakdown of the relationship. If these topics are sensitive initially, writing a letter to a partner to express fears and concerns can be another approach, but the next step would be to talk openly about what has been written down.
Sexual Wellbeing and Changing Habits
Psychological wellbeing and social support can contribute to a fulfilling sexual life. By learning to separate the emotional aspects of arthritis and working creatively to deal with the physical aspects, couples can take a more practical approach in dealing with changes brought about by arthritis and in turn, make accommodations for one another when dealing sexual intimacy.
Changing sexual habits and planning is the first place a couple can start in order to continue to have a fulfilling sex life. For example, if the arthritis sufferer wakes up stiff and in pain in the morning, sexual intercourse can be saved for later in the day or at night prior to bedtime. If being rested helps, perhaps the arthritis sufferer can take a nap beforehand rather than avoiding the act altogether simply because of factors that contribute to the inability to perform. If muscles and joint become tense during sex, then a perhaps considering a warm bath to sooth muscles prior to sexual intimacy may help to ease those tensions.
Other considerations can include taking pain medications so that its maximum effects happen during sex, using massage to help ease muscles and joints as foreplay, using pillows or rolled sheets to support joints, or even pacing yourself to conserve your energy for you and your partner. Vaginal dryness can be addressed by using an over the counter lubricant. Other more difficult issues, such as erectile dysfunction, may require a medical perspective. What it all comes down to is that couples have to be willing to work together in order to allow for intimacy to be fulfilling for both partners.
The Bottom Line
Sexual intimacy should not make arthritis worse. By focusing on the physical and emotional aspects rather than the act itself, being open and honest with each another, and changing habits, couples affected by arthritis can continue to find satisfaction with sexual intimacy.