Many couples find their sex life has become routine, mechanical, and unsatisfying. Add a chronic illness to the mix, and there may be a diminished desire for sex altogether. Couples develop assumptions about what sex should look like after a diagnosis, leaving them feeling rigid. Sex was focused on intercourse with the goal of orgasm.
After a couple grieves the loss of a healthy body, there is a sense of hope that can emerge, leading to sexual creativity. The core of sexual creativity is being aware of sensual and erotic feelings, thoughts, and fantasies. There is a willingness that emerges in playing them out with your partner. It is important to share them first, and I recommend that you do this with a curious check-in. Sharing your feelings is more important than acting on the scenarios and techniques because sex is all about communication. The curious check-in gives an opportunity in disclosing your sexual wants and desires. Since there may be changes to the body, you can lay out the blueprint of where you want to be touched and pleasured.
When living with a chronic illness, couples often tell me that sex is no longer spontaneous, but when is sex spontaneous? The media portrays spontaneous encounters all the time. Yes, these encounters furnish a sexual rush, but the essence of sexual creativity lies in erotic experiences and the communication that have become part of your sexual repertoire. Once you have discussed an arousing scenario, you can plan it out through erotic play.
Planning an erotic playdate
So, what does erotic play look like? It involves you both contributing to the erotic scenario. This is an opportunity for you both to discuss your thoughts, feelings, and sexual expressions. This is critical because it sets the tone for your erotic playdate. Let me give you an example:
Pick your favourite place to have an erotic scenario. This can be a place in your home, or it may be at a hotel. Have all the props handy… everything from toys to lotions. During this creative scenario, allow yourself to feel free and playful. Take intercourse and the end goal of orgasm completely out of the scenario. Experiment with positions, multiple stimulation, and erotic expressions.
Exploring the body
Explore the areas on your body that you discussed prior to the scenario. Say for example it is the scalp. How often does the scalp get touched? Whether it’s a gentle brushing across the scalp, some light scratching with nails, or hair-tugging, paying the scalp special attention according to you or your partner’s pressure preferences can really heat things up.
If you are someone with diminished sensation in your genitals or find touch and pleasure to be uncomfortable in this region of your body, some people enjoy erotic touch by exploring the navel and lower stomach. The navel is not only associated with sexuality for its proximity to the genitals but also has a history of primal and erotic associations. It is associated with being the giver of life, and it’s rich in nerve endings.
Playing around with this much-underrated zone may make you feel sexy sensations in the surrounding region, specifically across the fibers that lead to your spinal cord, which also relay information from your bladder, urethra, and to your brain. I would recommend playing around with different textures and temperatures, like feathers or ice cubes, tracing or tickling them across your belly button and lower belly area. Or you could have your partner use their mouth to tease your belly button, kissing or licking around it.
We have several erogenous zones, so please do not be afraid to explore them. Eroticism deserves to be a necessary part of your intimate relationship. Remember, it is important to look at what is possible instead of what was once achievable.
Lee Phillips, EdD., LCSW, CST
AASECT Certified Sex Therapist
Dr. Lee Phillips is in private practice in New York City and McLean, Virginia where he specializes in sexuality and chronic illness. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia, and New York. He is a Certified Sex Therapist (CST) by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). Dr. Phillips has been in private practice for more than a decade treating a diverse group of patients searching for relief from the complications resulting from debilitating, and often overlooked, combination of illnesses. He lectures on topics including sexuality, chronic pain, preventative services, anxiety and stress management, caregiving stress, depression in the elderly, mindfulness, and cognitive strategies for chronic pain, reclaiming sexuality for couples with chronic illness, ethical decision making, assessment of mental disorders, and exploring sexual communication, freedom, and pleasure for gender minorities with chronic illness, pain, and other disabilities. He has published in the Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, conducting a research study on LGBTQ-Affirmative Teaching at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Understanding Program Directors Views. He has been a featured expert in Teen Vogue, Healthline, Giddy, Greatist, and Men’s Health. Dr. Phillips is the host of the Sex & Chronic Illness Podcast. He holds a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis in Behavioral Health from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, AZ. In addition. He can be found at www.drleephillips.com