The Truth About Sex & Arthritis
Sex can be wonderful, but it’s hard to get in the mood when you’re in pain. Arthritis can affect your mood, making you less likely to want intimacy, and the fatigue you might be experiencing can make sex feel like a chore, not a treat. If that wasn’t enough, swollen joints can affect self confidence and make it harder to feel sexy, and painful joints can make some positions less accessible.
Whilst these challenges are very real and valid, osteoarthritis doesn’t have to stop your sex life. In this article, we will explore the truth about sex and arthritis and provide some handy tips to give your sex life a boost.
Chronic pain and its impact on sex
Arthritis can cause pain, discomfort and swelling around the joints, which makes it more challenging to move around energetically. This pain can also affect your sleep, making fatigue and low mood more likely. Whilst annoying, it’s important to keep in mind that pain, discomfort and fatigue are very common and normal symptoms and it’s totally understandable that it would impact your desire to have sex.
“Whilst there is no direct link between sex and arthritis in terms of risk or causation,” says Jana Abelovska, Superintendent Pharmacist at Click Pharmacy, “intimacy in the bedroom is one of the areas that has been most affected by the condition. In a 2014 study, 58% of participants reported that their sex lives had been adversely impacted by their arthritis.”
There is no normal when it comes to libido: it just depends on how you feel about it. It’s a good idea to think about whether your concerns come from a genuine desire to have more sexual intimacy, or because you are concerned that you’re ‘not doing it enough’ or feel pressured by someone else. Everyone is different, and some people want to have sex less than others - and some don’t want to do it at all. Read on for tips on how you might improve your sex life, but make sure you’re doing it because you want to - because you don’t need to.
Communication is key
You’ve probably heard it a thousand times, but communication really is key when it comes to a healthy and fulfilling sex life. Let your partner know when something feels good, and also tell them if you’re in pain, when you need a break and if you need to change positions.
“When discussing sexuality, it is essential to ensure that your partner feels like they can please you,” says Lisa Lawless, Ph.D., CEO of Holistic Wisdom, Inc. “This is because one of our most significant vulnerabilities is not feeling appreciated or desirable. Thus, when discussing sex with our partner, it is always a good idea to ensure they feel valued and desired by staying proactive and reassuring in speaking with them. This is also true when you express your physical challenges around pain or mobility issues in the bedroom. For example, you can say, "I really love when you ____, but it is also causing me arthritis pain, so perhaps if we changed positions, I could still share this pleasure with you and be more comfortable."
How to manage fear around pain in the bedroom
Worrying about whether sex will make your arthritis pain worse and feeling like you won’t enjoy it can prevent you from wanting to engage in sexual activity. “Managing fear around experiencing pain during sex can be challenging,” says Lisa Lawless. “Not only that, but the fear of experiencing it can cause one to tense up, making pain more likely. Furthermore, it can contribute to psychological, sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction (ED) or vaginismus, where involuntary muscle contractions in the vagina make penetration painful and challenging.”
One way to mitigate this is to communicate your concerns and go slowly, with the understanding that you can stop or switch things up any time you need. “Become more aware of your body with regard to pleasure and pain,” says Lisa. “Take time to lay in a bed with your partner or by yourself and explore what feels good and what does not. This way, you can communicate your needs more effectively while helping alleviate anxiety.”
Arthritis-friendly sex positions
Finding a position which is ergonomic and sexually satisfying can be challenging, but it is possible! Experiment with different positions and see which ones feel good for you and your partner at this particular time.
“Leading with what feels good and then problem-solving challenges can make you and your partner feel like a team simply looking for ways to better enjoy sexual intimacy while avoiding pain,” says Lisa. “Taking breaks from certain positions or activities during sexual activity when things are uncomfortable is perfectly fine. What can make that better is communicating in advance about this possibility and planning to complete sexual stimulation by using different forms of sexual stimulation, which may include sexual techniques or products that make it more effortless. If you decide to explore sexual products, hands-free sex toys that are remote-controlled and designed for couples can provide various helpful options.”
The spooning position, with one partner lying in front and the other lying behind can help take the pressure off some joints, and using pillows or cushions to prop you up and support you can help alleviate pain and pressure. Remember that there is no ‘one way’ to have sex either. If certain types of sex don’t feel accessible right now, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do. Oral sex, using sex toys, masturbation and so on are all valid forms of intimacy. You may also find that your pain flares up at different times of the day, and so trying to have sex at less painful times could be beneficial.
“Be patient with yourself and your partner to find solutions for both of you,” says Lisa. “Be willing to explore different solutions and take your time to determine what will be most fulfilling and pain-free. If you're experiencing pain during sexual intimacy, consider seeking the help of a healthcare provider or mental health therapist specialising in sexuality. They can help you and your partner work through challenges and develop strategies for managing your pain.”
Arthritis and Pregnancy
Having arthritis doesn’t mean that you can’t have a safe and healthy pregnancy, or that you shouldn’t try to have a baby if that’s what you want. It is, however, important to talk to your doctor if you are thinking of getting pregnant, as they should be able to offer support and talk to you about any potential complications with pain medication.
“No one approach can help with conception, so working with healthcare professionals to develop a personalised treatment plan is ideal,” says Lisa. “However, two helpful alternative therapy options may be beneficial: acupuncture and massage. These can help manage arthritis symptoms and improve fertility by reducing inflammation, increasing circulation, and promoting relaxation. This can help improve the chances of conception as well as help with managing the challenges that come with being pregnant with arthritis.”
Do you have any tips about having sex when you have arthritis? Let us know on Facebook.