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Sex Health Blog

Dealing with Arthritis

Aug 25, 2011

Sexuality remains an important part of our lives as we age. It’s a part of who we are and a form of expression with our partner(s).

But as we get older, our bodies change and sometimes that makes sex more of a challenge. For example, men may have trouble getting erections and hormonal changes may decrease a woman’s sex drive. Fortunately, we can make adjustments for many of these changes and still enjoy satisfying sex.

Today, we’ll talk about arthritis, an inflammation of the joints. While arthritis can happen at any age, many people experience it more when they get older. Arthritis causes pain - sometimes mild, sometimes severe. Some people do fine with pain medication; others need to have joint replacement surgery to get some relief.

Arthritis can make sex more difficult. If you have a more limited range of motion, or chronic pain, you may not be able to do some of the things you used to. You might be afraid of getting hurt during sex. Your partner may worry about hurting you.

Here are some tips for having sex when you have arthritis. Keep in mind that these tips are not “one size fits all.” Everyone is different. Do what works best for you. If you have any questions, be sure to see your doctor. He or she can address your personal situation.

Communicate

Don’t hesitate to talk to your partner about arthritis. It might feel awkward, but it’s a conversation worth having. Your partner may not know much about arthritis and how it affects you. Chronic pain may make you fatigued or depressed, lowering your sex drive. Or you may feel anxiety about having sex because you aren’t sure whether a certain position will cause pain or not. Expressing these feelings to your partner will help that person understand.

Be direct about what hurts. But also be direct about what feels good. Your partner will be glad to know what pleases you. This encouragement might help both of you relax a little more, making sex more enjoyable.

Experiment

You might find that certain positions are painful because of the motion required or the weight of your partner. Experiment with different positions until you find one that works for both of you. Try using pillows to make it more comfortable. Be patient; sometimes this process takes some time. But it can also be a fun, exciting way to explore each other.

Remember, too, that having sex doesn’t always mean having intercourse. You and your partner can still enjoy intimacy by touching, kissing, and massage. You might find that oral sex or manual stimulation is more pleasurable, and that’s fine.

Plan Ahead

It may not sound very romantic or spontaneous, but trying to plan ahead for sex does help sometimes. For example, if you take pain medication, try to have sex when you know it’ll be working well. Or, try to have sex at a time of day when you’re feeling your best. You might try napping before a sexual encounter, so that you’re more rested and relaxed.

Some people with arthritis use heat to ease the stiffness in their joints. You might try taking a warm bath or shower before sex. A heating pad is another option.

Joint Replacement

If you have had joint replacement surgery, you may have some special considerations, especially as you recuperate. You may need to be careful about the way you bend at the hip or how you twist and cross your legs. Your surgeon or physical therapist can give you more specific guidelines and tell you more about recommended positions.

Enjoy and Feel Better

For some people, having sex actually relieves pain. When you have an orgasm, your body releases endorphins, which are natural pain killers. The pain relief can last for a few hours.

Even if you don’t get pain relief from sex, keeping intimacy in your life is still important to your health. It adds to your overall well-being, helps you connect to your partner, and helps relax you. These are all benefits that can help you deal with the pain of arthritis.