Sexual Health and Chronic Pain

by Jules from

I remember the first time I heard the line “not tonight, I have a headache”. I was too young to have any idea what it meant. Everyone around me laughed, so I laughed too. It wasn’t until much later, when I understood what it meant, that it made even less sense to me. I wished from that moment on I could go back to not knowing what that lame line meant.

I have never, in my life understood making excuses for not having sex. If you don’t want to have sex, simply say “Hey, I don’t really feel like doing it tonight, I’ll give you a have a rain check.” If you are not in a place in your relationship where you can be that open with your partner, I can tell you right now that using pain as an excuse is really not the way to go, trust me. Pain is not your excuse to skip sex. Rather, pain is your reason to have more sex.

Before you write me off as totally nuts, give me a few paragraphs to explain myself.

There is no way I am saying that regardless of your level of pain you should be always saying “yes” to sex. I am not saying that you should ignore your discomfort and say “yes” to sex even if you aren’t feeling up to it. What I am telling you is that there are many ways that sex and intimacy can help you to overcome pain.

I am not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV or the Internet. I am a person. I am a woman. I have chronic pain, I am married, and I like to have sex. So I speak on those simple levels of authority. I know what I know based on my experience and on some research. This is research you can do too, if you want to.

Let’s start with the silly headache story. Research at Columbia University (and bedrooms all over the world) shows that orgasm releases endorphins which in turn can relieve and often remove the offending headache.

Obviously, I have made a simple statement with far reaching implications. I can take the endorphin releasing orgasm now and apply it to so many different aches and pains across the body. Tiny steps in logic tell us we have some great medicine here in the endorphin. We even know where to get it.

That does not solve another problem: when it hurts enough that you don’t even want to go there.

Ya, I hear you.

You don’t have to start with the full fireworks show, you can start with sparklers. This is especially true if your chronic pain has kept you from intimacy for an extended period. It might be awkward and painful to try it all at once. Many couples that experience chronic pain or any chronic illness in the relationship have grown apart on this level and will have to work to achieve intimacy again. It’s almost like you are a new couple again. Don’t expect that you are going to pick up where you left off before the pain started.

You can start slowly and still get some benefit from our friend the happy endorphin. This is not a “go big or go home” situation. What are you most physically and emotionally comfortable with?

Here are some simple suggestions:

Just One Part: Hands, Feet, Neck, Shoulders. Pick a part you would like touched, or rubbed. Use a lotion or oil you both like the smell and feel of and take turns massaging just that part for each other. There is no pressure to go any further than just that part.

Hair Brushing: I don’t know about you but I love having my hair brushed. 5 minutes of having my hair brushed can be both intimate and calming. Later if you want to combine that with some other things… well ya…

Bathing: Showing or taking a bath together can be fantastic. If this is still too intimate after an extended period of no intimacy, perhaps even some time in the hot tub?

Talking About It: There is a reason that “sexting” and phone sex are so popular. Words are very powerful. Why not create a comfortable environment for your words. Sit together, lay together in the dark and hold hands, or sit in different rooms and text, whatever works for you: now use your words. You never know where it will lead, wherever it goes: let it.

The goal here is also, in part, distraction. Intimacy and closeness with your partner is an excellent distraction from this lousy chronic pain. You are able to work with your body in a way that is pleasurable instead of painful.

I started this project with the singular goal of compiling other articles. Then I wanted to write an introduction for those links, then this happened. My goodness. So, here are some articles by people that are probably a lot smarter and better qualified than I am on this subject:

How People In Chronic Pain Can Revive Their Sex Lives

Sexuality and Chronic Pain: Mayo Clinic

Chronic Pain and Sex: A couple’s fibromyalgia story

Wired.Com: When Sex Is A Pain

What to do when Pain Meds Dull Your Sex Life

7 Reasons Sex Does A Body Good

Thank you @cinnamaldehyde and @beyondempathy for your inspiration


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