This original story, seen here, can now be seen on philly.com 1/4/19 as a Health & Science, Q&A column, and in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Health & Science, Sunday 1/6/19.
“Doc, I’m having trouble at home. You know…?” Not a great conversation starter in an office visit with a rheumatologist, but common to hear from patients suffering arthritis.
According to health.clevelandclinic.org, patients with various forms of arthritis talk about how it affects their feelings of sexuality and their sex lives. Close intimate, sexual relationships are part of a healthy, quality of life. Working on achieving that might take a little extra work, but the benefits are worth it!
Arthritis sufferers say the following issues affect the quality of their sexual identity and sex lives: pain, exhaustion, fatigue or decreased endurance, loss of self-esteem and feelings of sexual attractiveness, decreased sexual desire and satisfaction, difficulty with sexual arousal, decreased sensation, erectile dysfunction or impotence, vaginal dryness, extreme sensitivity to touch, limitation of movement/flexibility, effects of surgery, depression, and side effects from medication.
Inflammatory arthritis is a group of diseases characterized by inflammation of the joints and tissues, and include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus and ankylosing spondylitis.
How do these conditions affect sex and relationships? Inflammatory arthritis can cause joints to be tender or painful, and when it hurts to move, sex feels like the last thing on your mind or agenda. Swollen or misshapen joints or weight gain can make you feel older, and less attractive and confident. Offshoot immune disorders like Sjögren’s syndrome, can decrease women’s lubrication. Often men’s’ penile blood vessels are affected, causing arousal and erectile dysfunction. So, who wouldn’t be depressed from all of this, which can then further exacerbate the problems?
There’s hope. We’re bringing sexy back.
Having sex can help your pain and your brain! Pleasurable touching and sex releases those blessed endorphins that bathe your brain in happy feelings, and holistically lubricate parts of your body. We’re not kidding!
There is no sex czar to make arthritis complications disappear, nor one magic bullet. But here are some RECOMMENDATIONS AND OPTIONS that can help.
- Boost open and honest communication; allow yourself to be more vulnerable about fears, sexual needs, desires and difficulties
- Accept change; we’re all in process at every age!
- Plan ahead: Take medication or muscle relaxants beforehand, nap with a heating pad, take a warm shower or relaxing hot bath, use an electric blanket to relieve joint stiffness and add more pillows
- Connect: Hug, kiss, cuddle, massage
- Be spontaneous; there are more times than bedtime when you are naturally more tired
- For improved intimacy – more kissing, and experiment with new positions, oral or manual stimulation, visuals, lubricants and sex aid devices
- Make sure to stay active with exercise to increase stamina, strengthen muscles and improve range of motion
- Recognize and address any depression and sadness; seek professional help
- Following joint replacement surgery, discuss recovery and safe positions for sexual activity, with your doctor
Sex and all forms of arthritis can coexist. It’s the journey and destination to achieve satisfaction, happiness and peace in your life, so GO FOR IT!