Sexuality and Pain

Chronic pain can take a toll on your relationship with a partner – both emotional and physical. Pain, embarrassment, fear, exhaustion, side effects of medications and a number of other factors may make it difficult to pursue physical and emotional intimacy with a partner when you are hurting. Simply put – sex may not seem worth the effort. By ignoring this natural and healthy urge, people can endanger their relationships as well as their own sense of self-worth and satisfaction.

With a little effort, however, it is possible to re-establish an enjoyable sexual relationship with your partner. Here are some commonly asked questions:

Should I and how can I begin to talk about this?

Your first step in solving this dilemma should be to talk to your partner honestly about the situation. If you are sad, scared, guilty or hopeless about your sexual response or lack of sex drive – he or she needs to know that. He or she also needs to know that you want to make the situation better.

Be brave and forthright about your feelings; hold his or her hand and dive right into the discussion. Try not to pass blame or let your frustration turn into anger. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of your relationship and explain that you only want to better your connection. Be gentle and kind and supportive. Work through the problem together. If the conversation is too much for you or your partner to handle, consider making an appointment with a relationship counselor or sex therapist who can help guide you through this challenging time.

When is seeking medical attention a good idea?

Many people on pain medications suffer from a decreased libido. Some even find themselves unable to perform sexually. If that is the case for you or your partner, it’s time to speak with your health care provider. Impotence and/or a lack of libido are extremely detrimental side effects of your treatment. Your health care provider may recommend a different medication, or tell you to limit your medication around the time you want to be intimate.

Also note that it’s important to talk to your health care provider if you are in too much pain to even think about having sex. This may mean your medication is not working or that you may need to try a different treatment.

How can I recharge those “romance” batteries?

After talking with your partner and health care provider, the next step is to make an effort to reconnect on a sensual level. Express your love and affection by doing little things – cooking dinner, making a mix CD of favorite songs, writing a card – to rejuvenate your emotional connection. Spend quality time with one another pursuing activities that you both enjoy.

Keep in mind that your partner may be scared to touch you for fear of causing more pain. Communicate openly what kinds of touches are painful and demonstrate how your partner can hug, kiss and touch you without causing more pain. Make “being close” the ultimate goal – not sex or orgasm.  This will get you both more comfortable with each other – and with each other’s bodies. Experiment, explore and enjoy!

Is it safe to try new things?

A chronic pain condition may force you to try new positions or experiences in the bedroom in order to ensure a safe and fun experience. This is not a bad thing! Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the event and take pleasure in the journey.

If you are worried about being in pain during sex, try to plan your intimacy at a time of day when you feel the least amount of discomfort. A change in the routine is usually fresh and exciting, so try sex when the mood strikes – in the morning, at lunchtime or even in the middle of the night…

If you walk away from the experience feeling closer and more loved, then it was a big success.


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