Living with arthritis can affect many aspects of your daily life - even your sex life. Both the physical and mental tolls of arthritis can make sex unappealing or just plain difficult.
Fortunately, your sex life does not have to fall to the wayside because of this. Through talking openly with your partner and being open to new experiences, you can enjoy a sensual and pleasurable sex life.
Here are some tips on how to maintain or revive your sex life while living with arthritis.
How can arthritis affect my sex life?
For many patients, living with arthritis means living with pain, stiffness, fatigue, limited movement and less strength. Because sex can be physically demanding, any of these symptoms can make sexual activity an unpleasant activity.
In addition, many patients with rheumatoid arthritis experience depression - a condition that can zap the sex drive out of anybody. Depression may cause patients to have low energy, negative self-perception and poor self-esteem.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, patients with arthritis and other rheumatic diseases may have:
- reduced sense of sexual attractiveness
- less sexual desire and satisfaction
- trouble becoming sexually aroused
- less physical sensitivity
- poor blood circulation
- less stamina
- limited motion
- vaginal dryness
- difficulty reaching orgasm
- reduced orgasmic feeling
- erectile dysfunction (impotence)
Research has shown that higher levels of pain, disability and depression may have a greater impact on sexuality among people with arthritis.
Thankfully, there are many ways around these barriers to sex caused by arthritis.
How can I improve my sex life while living with arthritis?
Communicate with your partner
It's not always easy for other people to understand what it's like to live with arthritis. Let your partner know how you feel. Just like any healthy person, you must be open about your wants and desires. On top of that, you have to let your partner know what hurts and what works.
Through open communication, you and your partner can find what is enjoyable to you and how you can return pleasure without hurting yourself.
When you're in the moment, sexual passion can take over. And that's totally fine, unless you rush and overextend yourself. If you are feeling extra pain during sex, you may want to slow down.
Sex does not have to be about reaching orgasm as quickly as possible. Take your time and enjoy some foreplay. Massage and gentle touching can be just as arousing for some people as a rough tumble in the bed sheets can be for others. The point is to find a comfortable pace that is both gentle on your joints and satisfying for you and your partner.
Go beyond the missionary position
Depending on which of your joints are affected by arthritis, not every sexual position will work for you. Use your imagination to find positions that don't stress your joints.
In addition, you may want to bring toys and props into your lovemaking. Pillows, cushions and ramps (specifically sold for sexual activity) can provide support and take pressure off your affected joints. Vibrators and other toys can make stimulation easier without requiring much movement. In cases of vaginal dryness, you may want to use lubricants like Astroglide or other vaginal moisturizers.
Take a warm bath or shower
Try taking a warm bath or shower before sex. Sitting in warm water can loosen up your joints and boost mobility. You can even include your partner in this activity, making a sensual warm bath part of your foreplay.
Boost your libido
Some people with arthritis find that they have less desire to have sex. That is, their sex drive diminishes. While pain is often to blame for this loss of libido, emotional stress also plays a large role.
Arthritis and the medications used to treat arthritis can change the way you look and move. If these changes affect your self-image and your self-esteem, you may feel less confident about having sex, even with a long-term partner.
To overcome these negative feelings, you may need to:
- accept physical changes and the feelings you have about them - acceptance is the first step that will empower you to work through your self-esteem problems
- communicate openly with your partner about how you feel about your body - communication can clear up misunderstandings, and you may get some reassurance from your partner
- put more time into daily grooming - finding clothes with the right style and flattering colors can help you look and feel better, boosting your overall self-image
Depression can also slow your sex drive. If you have depression, talk to a therapist.
Know the side effects of your medications
Some drugs used to treat arthritis can lead to sexual problems, such as fatigue, impotence and vaginal dryness.
Ask your doctor about the potential side effects of your arthritis medications. Your drugs may be to blame for your troubles in bed.
Practice Safe Sex
Arthritis or not, it is important for anyone to practice safe sex. However, a form of arthritis - called reactive arthritis - can be triggered from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia. Condoms can prevent both STIs and pregnancy.