How to not let chronic pain get in the way of getting intimate.
It’s an inevitability that unfolds in a Hemingway-like manner: Slowly, then all at once, those joints don’t move the way they used to. And for some—unfortunately—the pain that comes along with that change is worse than for others. According to the CDC, nearly 30-percent of people between the ages of 45 to 64 in the U.S. are diagnosed with arthritis, and that percentage rises to just under 50-percent for those above the age of 65. But for an issue so common, there’s not a whole lot of discussion about how those aching, stiff joints affect intimacy.
What impact does arthritis have?
From the emotional to the physical, there are a number of ways arthritis can impact your sex life, according to U.K.-based charity Versus Arthritis. Living with chronic pain can, of course, affect your mental wellbeing, which means you’re less likely to be in the mood (fair!). And swollen or painful joints might make your usual positions less comfortable than usual. For those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, the additional symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetite, and fever can also have an understandably negative effect.
Admittedly, there’s not a ton of research on the direct link between intimacy and arthritis, but the studies that have been conducted show it’s not exactly good news. A 2007 study showed that both men and women reported joint trouble during sexual activity, and 2003 research found that sexual ability was negatively impacted by arthritis in 58-percent of study participants. It’s not just physical, either: a journal entry in 2014 showed that sexual drive is diminished by 50- to 60-percent in rheumatoid arthritis patients. When you’re not comfortable, it’s perfectly understandable to not want to get it on.
Does it last forever?
Not all arthritis does: For those suffering from reactive arthritis, which develops most often between the ages of 20 and 50 as a result of an infection like chlamydia or salmonella. It can be treated with antibiotics—most people, according to Johns Hopkins University, typically recover.
Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are chronic. The former happens from general wear-and-tear of cartilage in the joints, while the latter is an autoimmune disease, which results in symmetrical pain (pain in both hands or both hips, as opposed to just one body part), as well as fatigue and other symptoms, according to the University of Michigan.
What can you do about it?
There are various anti-inflammatory treatments for the different kinds of arthritis, which can decrease joint pain, but inevitably might come along with side effects: Vaginal dryness or the reduction of libido in women is one common one, according to Arthritis.org. But for those with osteoarthritis, AARP notes that sexual activity can actually make for positive, low-impact exercise (which also results in a burst of endorphins that will make you feel really, really good).
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to bring up your sexual concerns or difficulties with your doctor when you’re talking about your arthritis—though they might not initiate the conversation, healthy sex life is a crucial part of your general wellbeing, and they can help you find the best antidotes, whether that’s a referral to a sex therapist or just a good lube that can make things go a bit smoother.