Some small adjustments can provide serious relief.
At its most base level, sex should feel good, though the path to pleasure may vary from person to person. Not only does getting it on provide a natural source of stress relief, but orgasms also have anti-aging benefits (seriously: they can help strengthen immunity). But these benefits aren’t always so easy to—literally or not—come by. For people who live with chronic pain, maintaining a healthy sex life can be something of a challenge.
Chronic pain can be experienced in different ways, and medication can also play a role in affecting one’s sex life, a 2008 article in the journal Nursing explained. The best way to figure out how to alleviate pain is by talking to a healthcare provider, who can help you to figure out solutions. Some sex positions, the article explains, can exacerbate pain, so switching things up (or adding some pillows for targeted support) can do a lot of good. Those with hormonal dysfunction may struggle to produce enough lubrication naturally—which is solved simply enough with a good lube. And certain medications can make erectile dysfunction more common, in which cases a phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitor (like Viagra) may be of help.
That said, solutions aren’t always so easy to come by. A 2008 story in ABC News of one woman’s struggle with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and severe arthritis documented how she had to adapt her sex life with her partner—basically, by using lots of pillows, trying low-impact positions, and, most importantly, taking things slow. Communication is key to letting a partner know as soon as things get uncomfortable. There are benefits to a creative, patient approach for those with chronic pain. As Georgia-based rheumatologist, Dr. Theresa Lawrence-Ford told ABC, “Sex can decrease pain because it releases positive hormones like endorphins...Endorphins decrease physical and emotional distress, enabling the patient to reclaim her sensual life and sexual intimacy."
There is some evidence that one’s mental approach to sex while dealing with chronic pain can also have an impact—and that’s not to say that pain is “all in your head.” A 2008 study of 47 women who experience chronic pelvis pain, daily headache pain, and neuromusculoskeletal pain showed that after patients attended a treatment session run by both a physical therapist and a psychologist, all 47 found more satisfaction with their sex lives, even without a reduction in their pain or fatigue level. “Qualitative findings suggest that a cognitive shift, and communication and partner involvement may be mechanisms of change for improved sexual function,” the authors of the study wrote.
While there is still plenty of research to be done on sex with chronic pain, one thing is clear: Talking about it can only make things better. Although stigmas may lead many people, especially older adults, to not bring up sexual difficulties with doctors, doing so can lead to real solutions. Everyone has the right to feel good, after all.