Everyone should be able to enjoy sex and pleasure, and this includes those of us living with a chronic illness. Has your condition ever made you feel insecure, unattractive or restricted? Is chronic pain affecting your sex life and you’re unsure know how to address the problem? Let’s open up the conversation and help break the stigma surrounding sex and disability.
Chronic pain and sexuality
Sex is important. As well as enabling us to procreate, it’s fun and provides a boost to our overall wellbeing. Some of us want to have sex more than others, and that’s okay – we’re all different. Whether you’re enjoying it alone or with a partner, sex has the power to make you feel good, and with that comes a plethora of physical and emotional benefits.
For some, chronic pain is a major obstacle to intimacy. Not only can the physical pain you’re experiencing interfere with your sexuality, but other factors like decreased libido, stress and certain medications may also come into play.
If chronic pain is hindering your ability to have the sex life you would like or makes you lack confidence, you may find that you feel upset, frustrated or anxious. These emotions are completely natural, and with the right approach and support, you can overcome them and experience safe, satisfying sex once more.
How can you improve sexual intimacy while living with chronic pain?
What’s the key to a healthy and active sex life with chronic pain? Well, there certainly isn’t just one answer. It will entirely depend on you (your thoughts, feelings and desires), your relationship or sexual partners and your condition. However, here are a few things to consider:
Communicate with your partner
Openly discussing your needs, feelings and concerns is the first step to taking control of your condition and the limitations it may present. Be honest and work together. You deserve a partner who is understanding and respectful – someone who will stop if sex becomes painful and is willing to experiment and modify to make it enjoyable for both of you.
Sex is good for your mental health and good mental health makes for better sex. If the idea of having sex makes you feel stressed or anxious, try to relax and avoid putting pressure on yourself. Wind down and do something engaging with your partner like going out on a date or explore relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, visualisation, yoga and massage.
While there remains a heavy taboo around sex and disability, the information and support available is ever-expanding. If you want your sex and disability questions answered, it’s worth talking to your healthcare provider, who will be able to offer advice and point you in the right direction for extra support.
You might also benefit from reading a related blog or book, listening to a podcast or watching a film or documentary. Some good examples include:
- The Undressing Disability podcast from Enhance the UK: With new episodes available monthly, Undressing Disability shines the light on sex and disability and helps to break down the taboos. A range of subjects are discussed, from sexual health and dating with a disability to how the LGBTQ+ and disabled communities connect.
- Sex – Interrupted: Igniting Intimacy While Living With Illness or Disability: This book by Jenny Palter and Iris Zinc uses kindness, honesty and humour to explore the ways illness or disability can affect a sexual relationship. It offers suggestions on how to regain intimacy and debunks existing myths about sex with real-life examples.
- Take A Look At This Heart: In 2019, director and producer Ben Duffy released this insightful documentary film about love, sexuality and the human bond within the disabled community. It journeys into the lives of 17 people – some with disabilities and the partners who love them and others struggling to get by in a world that seems to often overlook them.
- Disability Horizon articles: Disability Horizons has published a series of sex stories from people with different disabilities talking openly about their experiences. Articles include ‘Adjusting your sex life to accommodate a newly acquired disability’ and ‘5 reasons to use sex toys – whether you’re disabled or not’, plus many more.
Adapt your sex life to your condition
If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, you’ll likely need to make changes to various aspects of your lifestyle. This includes sex. Although your relationship with sex may change you can adjust and adapt. Find what is most comfortable and pleasurable and get creative in the bedroom (or wherever you choose to do it!).
This could include:
- Using comfortable and supportive pillows
- Trying new positions
- Using sex toys and disability sex aids
- Exploring alternatives to penetrative sex, such as foreplay and oral sex
We’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences relating to sex and chronic pain. Don’t be shy – we’ve created a safe place! You can get in touch via our community page Together For Better Days, where you’ll find a wide range of support, advice and resources spanning a variety of topics.