Sex with a chronic illness.

Lots of things change when you have a chronic illness; everyday activities like having sex with your partner may become overwhelming, difficult, or painful. With a chronic illness, sex often involves a complicated mix of feelings, emotions, and practical considerations. For some, the challenge of accepting a diagnosis can reduce sex. For others, sex is difficult because of the lowered self-esteem that comes with being sick. Some may have less energy or desire for sex. Merely the act of can be painful, too. Whatever the reason for the decrease, there can be physiological and psychological turmoil from it. Sex is not just for fun, but an important biological component that can be vital for comfort, pleasure, and intimacy. It is also hugely important in a relationship so when the future of their intimate lives becomes uncertain, both partners can feel that loss.

Things you can do to combat the issues include talking to your doctor regarding pain, erectile dysfunction, and other direct causes of your sexual function. Some medicines diminish sex drive or inhibit sexual function by causing changes in your nervous system. Drugs may also affect blood flow and hormones, which are two important factors in sexual response. Talking to your partner is also very important. Expressing what you need and your desires in a neutral setting often accomplishes a lot. Experts note that using sentences that begin with “I” instead of “you” are more effective – for example, stating “I feel loved and cared for when we have sex” will garner a better response than “you don’t have sex with me anymore.”

Communicating with your partner about what you feel and what you need is important, however, sometimes just talking can’t fix the underlying issues and problems need to be addressed from multiple angles. Before I had my ileostomy surgery me and my husband (Will) talked about how things would change for a time after the procedure. We maturely talked about, and agreed, that sex would be painful and potentially damaging for a while. What I didn’t plan for was that almost a year out from surgery it would still be such a challenge for us. With my adrenal failure and my continued rectal pain, sex can be damaging and has to be avoided regularly.

What’s frustrating is that most of the time I want to have sex. And many times I try to have sex. But Will stops my advances because he is worried it will be hazardous to my health. While he still finds me sexually attractive after my illness, he fears sex will be detrimental and therefore avoids it.

I spoke to him in length about our sex life and he said to me that what’s most frustrating to him is when he has to say no to me and I get disappointed. He pointed out that with my adrenal insufficiency and POTS he is concerned about my heart rate getting too high and causing issues. Of course consent from both parties is important, so I respect when he says no. However, it has led to self-esteem issues. I already feel worthless due to my pain leaving me physically scarred, under-employed, and unable to contribute at home as much. That, mixed with reduced physical intimacy, has led me to feel unattractive and undesirable.

My intention for writing this post is to help you, but also to help me and my husband with our issues. We are still seeking answers ourselves, so if you have any suggestions please comment or message me on the contact page.

In conclusion, there are definite things you can do to improve the situation, so don’t give up! The closeness you feel during lovemaking can help you feel stronger and better able to cope with your chronic pain.

  1. Communicate honestly about the problem.
  2. Reconnect emotionally by spending quality time together.
  3. Try masturbation and oral sex if penetration hurts.
  4. Utilize massages and touch.
  5. Talk to your doctor if problems persist.

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