Chronic pain can interfere with sexuality

You and your partner can have a satisfying sexual relationship in spite of your chronic pain. By Mayo Clinic Staff

People need physical and emotional intimacy almost as much as they need food and shelter. Sexuality helps fulfill the vital need for human connection. It's a natural and healthy part of living, as well as an important aspect of your identity as a person.

However, when chronic pain invades your life, the pleasures of sexuality often disappear. Here's help on how to reconnect with your sexuality in spite of the chronic pain.

Talk to your doctor

Sometimes pain is the direct cause of sexual problems. You may simply hurt too much to consider having sex. Adjusting your pain medication may be the solution.

If your pain is so severe that sex seems out of the question, talk to your doctor. You may need to adjust the timing of your medication or create a different or stronger pain control plan.

Alternatively, certain medications, particularly pain medications, may cause sexual problems. Some medicines diminish sex drive (libido) 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.

Tell your doctor about any medication side effects that seem to be affecting your sexuality. Your doctor may be able to recommend an alternative medication or adjust the dose of your current medication.

Examine your emotions

To have satisfying sex, you need to feel good about yourself. So start by examining your own emotions.

If pain has left you physically scarred, unemployed or unable to contribute to management of your home, your self-esteem could be so battered that you feel you are unattractive and undesirable to your partner.

Awareness that your physical and emotional distance is hurting your partner may add to your anxiety, fear, guilt and resentment.

Stress can also worsen underlying difficulties in your relationship. Even strong relationships can be challenged by medical problems or chronic pain. Being aware of emotional conflict and what's causing it is an important first step in strengthening your relationship with your partner. Counseling may help.

Talk to your partner

The next step in reclaiming your sexuality is to talk with your partner about your feelings. At first, this may be best accomplished by talking to each other fully clothed, at the kitchen table or in another neutral setting.

Sex can be difficult to talk about. Begin your sentences with, "I," rather than "you." For example, "I feel loved and cared about when you hold me close," is more likely to invite dialogue than, "You never touch me anymore."

This is the time for both of you to talk about your fears and desires. You may think that your partner has stopped touching you because he or she has lost interest, or finds you undesirable. Instead, your partner may be fearful of causing you more physical pain or discomfort.

Feb. 01, 2014