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Home Health Education Living With Joint Pain
Find Creative Ways to Enjoy Sex and Intimacy Despite Arthritis Pain Print E-mail

Can sex be part of your life even when you have arthritis? Definitely.

Certainly arthritis can affect sexuality, but your love life need not come to a halt because of arthritis pain. That's the good news from professionals who counsel patients on arthritis and sexuality.

Want more good news? Sex can cause the body to release hormones called endorphins, which are the body's own natural painkillers. Endorphins could help reduce - or at least distract you from - your arthritis pain. And a full sex life can help you feel less like a victim of arthritis, and more in control of your disease.

"Arthritis doesn't have to interfere with your sexual life," says Ginger Dodd, Director of the Northeast Indiana Arthritis Foundation.

"If you have arthritis, this is just one more area in your life that you can learn to adapt," agrees Marcia McKinley, R.N., a nurse who specializes in helping arthritis patients in the rheumatology department at the Medical Group Heart Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Learn to Adapt - It's Worth It

"I reassure patients that even though arthritis is a chronic disease, they can take control of their situation," McKinley said.

Some people avoid sex because they fear it will cause pain. Arthritis-related fatigue can also hinder sex drive. Certain forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause physical effects such as vaginal dryness in women or temporary impotence in men. Medicines can cause side effects that range from weight gain to decreased libido. These problems are very real, but "Patients need to understand that their love life is not over," McKinley said.

Passion, Not Pain

McKinley offers tips based on information from the Arthritis Foundation, including:

  • Accepting change. You may have feelings of resentment or depression. You may become frustrated because you can't predict how you're going to feel from one day to the next. Such feelings are natural. Accept them, and you may find it easier to cope with negative feelings and work toward developing positive ways to adapt.
  • Take care of yourself. "Exercise helps," says Dodd of the Arthritis Foundation. "It keeps the joints flexible and loosens muscles. But the exercise must be low-impact so you don't put undue stress on the affected joints." Make it a goal to look and feel your best, every day.
  • Don't accept stereotypes. According to the Arthritis Foundation, even people with severe limitations 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, according to the Foundation.
  • Try new things. Nothing spices up your love life like a little variety, including new positions. "Make sure that the position is comfortable and doesn't stress your problem joint," said Dodd. "You need to be aware of what is uncomfortable to you and try not to put strain on the joints." Your physician can provide information on positions suited to your particular form of arthritis. The best methods will vary from couple to couple, depending on which partner has arthritis, and which joints are affected. So don't be bashful about asking your doctor for information you need to enjoy a fulfilling love life.
  • Let your partner know what you find comfortable. Open communication about your feelings is the most important way you can adapt to your condition.
  • Use lubricants to overcome vaginal dryness if that is a problem.
  • Take the emphasis off intercourse, if it causes pain. Focus on tender touching, kissing, sexual playfulness, and manual or oral sex. Some of these may be new for you as a couple, but they can become a very fulfilling part of your love life.
  • Enjoy lovemaking at a time of day when you generally feel your best.
  • Save some energy for your love life. People with arthritis often get fatigued more easily. So pace yourself and reserve some energy for you and your partner.
  • Trust your partner, and express your fears and concerns. Many people with severe arthritis may worry that their partner will look elsewhere for fulfillment. The truth is, a chronic disease like arthritis can actually draw loving couples closer together. The best way to deal with your fears is to discuss them with your partner and maintain an open line of communication.
  • Time your medications so they are in full effect when you're making love.
  • Take a warm shower or bath before sex to soothe your joints and muscles.
  • Contact your local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation for more helpful information from their publication "Living and Loving: Information about Sexuality and Intimacy."The document includes diagrams of a variety of positions and techniques used by people with arthritis to make the most of their love life.

Dodd, from the Arthritis Foundation, says, "Since arthritis affects the joints, any activity can be painful. When you have arthritis, there is discomfort in your day-to-day living, and sexuality is an important part of your life. The bottom line is, do what is comfortable for you, and try new things. People with arthritis know what makes them uncomfortable or what activities cause pain. You know your own body and you know what feels good and what causes pain."

Conclusion: It's Up to You and Your Partner

Arthritis can affect sexuality in a number of ways, from fatigue to side effects of medicines to loss of desire. It's up to you and your partner to make sure arthritis doesn't take control of this important part of your lives. Your doctor is your best source of information on arthritis and sexuality. Your physician can provide information on enhancing your sex life safely despite arthritis pain. A good way to raise the question is simply to say, "I've got some questions about the way arthritis affects my love life." This simple statement can initiate a dialogue that helps you continue a healthy, happy physical relationship with your partner.


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