How to Adjust to Life With Arthritis

Sexual Dysfunction and Arthritis

Discussing the issue of sex and how arthritis might affect it may be uncomfortable for you. It may be uncomfortable for your partner, too. It may even be a topic that your doctor is uncomfortable discussing with you. But it's important not to let discomfort with the subject matter keep you from having a fulfilling sex life despite your arthritis.

Arthritis rarely affects the sexual organs themselves. But that doesn't mean it doesn't affect sexual interactions. Arthritis can have an effect on sexual activity and pleasure in physical and emotional ways. By being creative and flexible and by being willing to discuss the topic with your partner, however, you are likely to discover that your sex life can be as fulfilling -- or perhaps even more fulfilling -- than it was before arthritis.

Arthritis pain, fatigue, limited movement, and reduced strength in the hands, arms, or hips can be physical challenges to a fulfilling sex life. Pain is probably one of the greatest barriers, since it is difficult to feel like making love when you are in pain. But there are likely to be ways to keep it from destroying your sex life. For example, taking your analgesic before lovemaking may help reduce the pain.

Creativity in seeking comfortable positions during intercourse can also help reduce or prevent pain and/or make up for weakness or limited movement in certain joints. When there is hip, knee, or back involvement, traditional lovemaking positions may be uncomfortable or impossible. To make lying on your back more comfortable, you might try placing pillows under your knees to relieve back stress. A side-lying position might be more comfortable if one of you has knee problems. For a man with hip problems, having your partner on top may be more comfortable. The point is, don't be afraid to experiment with different positions to find one that is comfortable for both of you.

To help keep fatigue or stiffness from getting in the way of pleasurable sexual activity, try planning ahead for sex. If fatigue is a factor, consider having sex in the morning, when you are more likely to be rested. If you have severe morning stiffness, try the afternoon or evening for sexual activity. Taking a warm bath or shower may also help ease stiffness enough to keep it from interfering with pleasurable sex.

The physical effects of arthritis can also have an emotional impact on sexual relations. A change in appearance or a decrease in mobility or energy level can affect self-image and self-esteem. The person with arthritis may feel less desirable or more fragile. The fear of pain can cause anxiety that makes it difficult for the person to relax and enjoy sex. The partner of the person with arthritis may also be affected emotionally. He or she may worry about causing pain.

These emotional effects of arthritis can be conquered by talking openly and honestly. By expressing your fears, you allow your partner the chance to reassure and support you, and you allow yourself to let go of fears that are not warranted. It's important to talk about these issues early on. Otherwise, one partner's fear or discomfort may be taken as rejection by the other partner, causing greater distance and emotional pain. You might even consider discussing these issues with a qualified therapist who has experience with arthritis patients.

Probably the most important aspect of a healthy, pleasurable sex life, however, is the recognition that sexual interaction demands the integration of body, mind, and spirit. Your inner thoughts and your ability to communicate with yourself and your partner have a major influence. A healthy sexual relationship requires trust and compassion.

Developing a trusting, loving sexual relationship is challenging for most of us, and for the person with arthritis, it may be more so. Try to take small, slow steps to nurture this process and recognize that sensuality does not always take the form of sex. Having a romantic meal together in a sensual environment, listening to music you both enjoy, bathing or showering together, relaxing in a hot tub, and massaging and caressing each other can all be pleasurable and intimate experiences. Even a gentle touch when your mate is in pain can bring closeness and convey concern and love. Finding ways to overcome the challenges arthritis causes can eventually lead to new self confidence and greater fulfillment for you and your partner both sexually and emotionally.

While your most significant bond will always be with your partner, unless they also suffer from arthritis they will never fully understand what you are going through. In the next section, we will explore arthritis support groups and how a community of peers can help you cope with the disease.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.