Sex advice for people with chronic pain

Sexual intercourse usually causes some degree of discomfort in people who suffer from chronic pain.

“If some part of the body is very painful, then, whether you’re a man or a woman, sex is bound to suffer. The extent to which your sex life is affected depends on how widespread the pain is and which part of your body is affected,” says Heather Wallace, chair of the charity and support group, Pain Concern.

The good news is that pain needn’t be the end of a fulfilling and satisfying sex life. In fact, research suggests that sexual activity, when comfortable, is often followed by several hours of pain relief.

The key is to return to some form of sexual activity as soon as possible. The longer you avoid sex, the bigger the fear of resuming sex becomes, and a downward spiral sets in. The lack of intimacy can damage your relationship.

Plan ahead for sex

If you live with chronic pain, spontaneous sex is never going to be easy. Planning and preparing for sex may not sound as romantic, but is a better way of achieving a satisfying sex life.

People often experience more pain at certain times of day. So it may help to have sex when your body is at its best, when your muscles are the least painful and your joints not so stiff and when you’re least tired.

Many people are most intimate just before going to sleep at night, but for people with chronic pain this can be the worst time. Instead, plan to spend time with your partner in the afternoon, or whichever time of day you feel the least pain.

Tips for more comfortable sex

If you take medication to control your pain, try to time sex for when your medicine’s therapeutic effect is at its peak.

Experiment with different positions that lessen physical strain, such as lying side by side.

It can help to warm the bed in advance with an electric blanket to ease muscle and joint discomfort.

Also, do some gentle stretches and use polyester or silk sheets to make it easier to turn and move in bed. 

Don't forget cuddling and kissing

Touching and being touched increases feelings of intimacy. Try touching, cuddling, massaging and kissing, without intercourse as your goal. Take a shower together or massage each other in turn if one of you has a bath.

Talk to your partner about sex if you have chronic pain

Talk openly and honestly to your partner about how pain affects your enjoyment of sex and what you want and need from your relationship and each other.

Pick the right moment to have this conversation. It may be better to talk about it over dinner or while out walking, for example, rather than while in bed or in an intimate situation.

Ask for help if pain is affecting your sex life

If your pain is so severe that sex seems out of the question, talk to your doctor. For example, you may need a different or stronger pain control plan. If necessary, your doctor can refer you for professional sexual counselling.

Read 10 self-help tips to beat pain.

Page last reviewed: 23/06/2014

Next review due: 23/06/2016

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