While the words pain and sex aren’t two that we hope to group together, there is a connection between the two that deserves to be evaluated. Sex is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle and relationship, but for some people with chronic pain, it can pose a problem. For this reason, chronic pain patients should take steps to understand how chronic pain can affect sexual activity.
On the one hand, chronic pain can harm your sexual wellbeing. On the other hand, however, a healthy sex life can actually benefit sufferers of chronic pain. If physical pain has impacted your intimacy, a deeper understanding of how they interact can help.
In this article, we’ll cover a few ways that chronic pain and sex can affect your life. In addition, we’ll include tips for how to maintain a comfortable sex life with chronic pain.
Chronic Pain Can Interrupt Your Sex Life
Not only can chronic pain issues, such as pelvic pain, distract you from the pleasure of sex, but it can also create feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness. This could result in a lack of desire for sex altogether. Lack of self-confidence can affect your levels of stress, anxiety, and depression— all of which can impact your intimate experiences. Excess stress can make it difficult for patients with chronic pain to perform in the bedroom, sometimes leading to erectile dysfunction or performance anxiety.
Additionally, your medications can disturb your sex life, including your ability to get aroused. The prescription medications you take in order to function comfortably in your daily life may affect your blood flow and hormone levels, directly impacting your body’s physical response to sexual activity.
Despite this, intimacy is important for all individuals, even those with chronic pain. So, what steps can you take if chronic pain interferes with your sex life?
Talk To A Doctor
Your doctor can help you establish the proper combination of meds to safely manage your chronic pain and sexual problems. If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction or performance anxiety, a doctor can recommend the proper medication or a combination of different treatments. They may prescribe sildenafil to increase blood flow for a longer-lasting erection. Otherwise, they may recommend seeing a therapist who can advise you on strategies for coping with sexual performance anxiety.
Your doctor can also adjust the dosages of your current medications. Therefore, it’s important that you’re attentive to the combination of medications you’re taking, and any side effects of that might be harming your sexual experience.
Communicate Your Sexual Needs
It’s essential that you’re able to communicate your sexual needs. This may mean talking to a sex therapist about how to deal with performance anxiety or talking to your partner about what you like in the bedroom.
Try spending time talking with your partner about the discomfort that’s keeping you from enjoying intimacy. Avoid any painful areas, and try positions that don’t contribute to your discomfort. You can also try other, non-penetrative alternatives to sex, such as oral sex, kissing, massages, or cuddling.
If you continue to struggle with sexual relationships after openly expressing your needs, you should talk to a doctor. They can help evaluate your situation and suggest methods to deal with any anxieties or insecurities you have during sexual intercourse.
Many chronic pain patients find benefit from planning intimacy ahead of time with their partner. While scheduling sex may not sound spontaneous, planning ahead of time can prevent your chronic pain from ruining intimacy.
Organize time with your partner after you’ve taken your pain medications, during times when the meds are most effective. You should also plan sex for times in the day when your pain is weakest.
Sex Can Actually Help With Chronic Pain
Now that we understand more about how chronic pain can affect your sex life, let’s look at the relationship from another perspective. How can sex have a positive impact on your chronic pain?
Sex Emits Pain-Relieving Chemicals
During sex, your body releases “feel-good hormones”, especially at the point of climax when pleasure levels are highest. In particular, when the “love hormone”, oxytocin, is released, it can relieve pain and heighten pain thresholds.
In fact, one study found that women who had orgasms during sex experienced a 107% increase in pain threshold. The same study proved temporary pain relief in arthritis pain, labor pain, and post-operative pain.
Serotonin and endorphins are also emitted. Serotonin, also known as the body’s natural anti-depressant, can impact your mood. Meanwhile, endorphins can reduce pain awareness and create sensations of euphoria. In fact, endorphins have a similar chemical makeup to morphine. Sexual activity can multiply the release of these chemicals, helping patients with chronic pain benefit from their pleasure-enhancing and pain-relieving characteristics.
Sex Can Relieve Head Pain
For those who suffer from chronic headaches or migraines, sex could be a valuable solution. One study showed that of people who engaged in sex at the same time they experienced head pain, 60% claimed moderate to complete pain relief. However, sex may not help all migraine sufferers. For example, if you suffer from light sensitivity or nausea, sexual activity may not be advised. However, some experts claim that even self-stimulation could be beneficial in these cases and potentially better suit your specific symptoms.
Sex And Arthritis
Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis in which the cartilage that keeps your bones from grinding together breaks down and causes pain, stiffness, and swelling, limiting your range of motion. Interestingly enough, doctors suggest low-impact exercise to reduce the pain associated with OA: including walking, swimming, and sex. Experts say that endorphins emitted during exercise can aid with pain and inflammation, and strengthen the muscles around the joints. They also emphasize its mood-boosting capabilities.
The Bottom Line
While it can be difficult to balance a healthy sex life with your chronic pain, you should know that it can be managed with a better understanding of their relationship. Pay close attention to your symptoms and your individual needs in the bedroom. Most importantly, if pain management of your sex life is becoming daunting, don’t hesitate to express your feelings to your loved one, or reach out to a doctor, OB-GYN or therapist.
What is your experience with chronic pain and sex?
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