Sex & Chronic Pain
Health is the ultimate gift of life. Not being healthy can limit one’s actions to a certain degree. Unfortunately, there are people among us who have to live with chronic pain and face it on a daily basis. These people have to deal with lots of inconveniences. In this article we will discuss in which ways chronic pain affects one’s sex life and what can a person do to make sex possible and more enjoyable.
Before we get there, let’s clarify what classifies as “Chronic Pain” and what the name itself implies.
Firstly, pain is the uncomfortable sensation one feels in their body, usually associated with words such as “stabbing”, “pins and needles”, “tension” etc.
Types of such pains include but are not limited to:
- Arthritis or joint pain.
- Back pain.
- Neck pain.
- Pain near tumors.
- Headaches and migraines.
- Testicular pain.
- Lasting pain in scar tissue.
- Muscle pain related to overuse injuries or atrophic parts of the body.
- Neurogenic pain related to the nervous system.
The word “Chronic” refers to a pain which goes on for a prolonged period of time and, therefore, affects their life.
The above types of pain can be caused by various physical conditions such as an accident or fatigue accumulated from an illness or health problem. Furthermore, pain can also derive from a past emotional or mental trauma whether it’s related to a traumatic event or an ongoing, emotionally harmful, situation. Even though chronic pain is a sensation, it can correlate to psychological pains as well, which is more emotional and can cause other issues related to your mental health and wellbeing.
Sex-Related Fears of People Living with Chronic Pain:
People living with chronic pain don’t just face outer world problems. They must win an inner fight as well. It’s only natural for a person to be worried about personal issues and limitations implied on their life by chronic pain.
Fear of rejection can be such an issue. A person who’s not feeling complete can develop mental fears and self-harming questions like “Who is going to like me? I can’t even sit straight on a chair”, “I can’t even go out without sunglasses or earplugs in due to sensitivity, how could I meet someone”. Or “I can’t even carry my own bags from the store due to my arthritis”.
It becomes apparent how easy it can be for such a person to lower their own self-esteem. Their self-image can seriously be damaged. Self-image is a perception one has for their own self. That doesn’t necessarily mean that other people view them in the same way.
Low self-esteem is bad news. Even if other people try to lift you up, you won’t allow them to do so if your self-esteem doesn’t allow you to raise yourself in your own eyes. Consequently, the damaged self-image cannot be restored by others. However, there are ways to guide you towards a better overall self-esteem, you will have to be willing to tap inward to determine the cause and effect yourself.
In the actual act of sex, people with chronic pain fear that they may not be able to function properly. They fear sexual dysfunction- or even before they get to the act of sex itself- they fear their loss of sex drive, the desire to perform sex well or even to have sex without pain.
Before we examine if these fears are valid, let us examine some common myths about sex. Hopefully, that will help people relieve some of their mental stress and abort limiting beliefs.
Common myths around sex:
It has to be spontaneous: Although spontaneous sex may feel great, it doesn’t always have to happen that way. Sex can be a planned activity as well, with extra emphasis on the word activity. Life is getting busier and busier and sometimes there is no time to do anything fun. Planning can help you and your partner find that perfect time and indulge in the unifying and fun activity of sex.
I have to have an orgasm: An orgasm is a point of climax. That doesn’t automatically mean that an orgasm is a must every time one has sex. The act of consensual sex is enjoyable in its core, feel into the sensations and pleasures of the activity, not just the outcome.
I have to have sex frequently: No matter how great sex feels, there are lots of things two people can do together. Go dancing, dine out, go to the movies, give each other massages, play a sport or whatever. Complete lack of sex between two people in a relationship is probably a bad sign. At the same time, having sex too frequently is not meant to be used as a “love meter”.
How People Manage to Live with Chronic Pain:
It is important for anyone to understand how people living with any kind of chronic pain actually deal with it. This understanding will guide you to a more compassionate approach towards these people.
Medication: Medical science has evolved enough to be able to provide medication which is able to soothe and ease the different kinds of chronic pain.
Self-care: This is an obligation for all of us, let alone for people experiencing chronic pain. Self-care can be anything really. Doing helpful activities like swimming or taking baths, whenever it applies, or doing physiotherapy to help one’s body parts and tissues stay active. There are a lot of self-care lists online that are low impact too, such as painting, bird watching, etc. Self-care is essentially caring for self.
Yoga, mindfulness, and meditation: Mental game is a huge part of life. Meditation has been reported to help a lot of people find their inner peace. Yoga is also a practice that helps the body maintain its mobility and flexibility, two attributes that prove to be priceless. One type of yoga is Yin yoga, which is feeling into your body and stretch holding for extended periods of time. These all have a similarity of being in the now and present with yourself.
Diet and movement: If we are what we eat, then what we eat makes a significant difference. In addition, living our lives in inactivity creates lots of muscular imbalances and manifests as lack of fitness or bad posture etc. Which in turn can cause more harm than good.
How to Optimize Your Sex Life with Chronic Pain:
Let’s talks about some useful ideas to help you identify ways to make sex with chronic pain possible and easier.
Knowing what positions work and do not work: This will be a process of trial and error. No matter what you read on the web, you can consult your physician and then try the positions for yourself.
Preparing and honoring your body: As we have already mentioned, maybe there is some kind of exercise or movement pattern that can actually help your body prepare for sex.
Re-adjust the aspects of sex: For example, find out which rhythm works best for your pain. Adjust accordingly and go faster or slower, harder or softer etc.
Let your partner know: Talk with your partner and let them know when something is wrong. If they don’t know they won’t be able to re-adjust and that in turn can cause more harm than good on both sides. You may find it causes more pain and not be enjoyable, while your partner may think they aren’t connecting or doing something wrong, which in turn may cause guilt or shame.
Study sex: Studying the art of sex will help you determine how you can manipulate your pain during sex, by manipulating sex itself.
I would like to end this article with a couple of statements on how to lead the conversation around sex when it comes to partners living with chronic pain.
Be understanding. Don’t judge or implement your opinions on the other person.
Listen actively and ask questions, be curious.
Do not let the four horsemen take over: Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling.
For more on how to communicate your desires “click here”
Be sure to have a safe word or movement in order to stop if pain occurs.
Since we just want more fun in our lives, we want to make sure we do it in a safe, respectful, and loving way.
Stay safe, stay healthy, have fun!