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12 Ways to Make Sex More Enjoyable With Chronic Pain

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

Sex is supposed to be an enjoyable experience – but if you struggle with dyspareunia (painful intercourse) or have a chronic pain condition that is aggravated during sexual activity, this can sometimes put a damper on things in the bedroom.

If pain gets in the way of your sex life, know you are absolutely not alone.”It’s a silent epidemic,” Clifford Gevirtz, MD, medical director of Somnia Pain Management in New Rochelle, N.Y. told Health. “People are embarrassed to talk about it, but they are suffering.” Some may experience pelvic pain due to issues such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts or irritable bowel syndrome. Others may struggle with general muscle or joint pain, making certain positions and movements difficult. Perhaps you have an illness that makes your skin sensitive to the touch, or you take a medication that decreases your ability to get aroused.

While your doctor may be able to provide recommendations based on your unique situation and needs, sometimes it can also be helpful to hear from people who are in a similar boat. That’s why we turned to our Mighty community and asked them to share their tips for making sex more enjoyable with chronic pain.

Of course, if you’re not sure why you’re experiencing pain with sex, always be sure to consult your doctor first. But if you’re looking for some new tricks to bring into the bedroom, perhaps some of the following might be worth a try.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. Find an understanding partner.

Though it may seem rather obvious, having a partner who understands and respects your needs can make all the difference in the world. You deserve someone who will stop the second sex becomes painful and is excited to experiment with some modifications that will hopefully help sex be more enjoyable for you both.

Find a patient, understanding partner.” – Shayla F.W.

“As others have said, an understanding partner and open honest communication are very important!” – Samantha S.

2. Use comfortable and supportive pillows.

Pillows can offer cushion and support under painful areas, and even help partners find more enjoyable angles. Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University, told Practical Pain Management, “One of the benefits of using pillows for support is that sometimes a patient will discover new areas of the body that are stimulated, because people tend to have sex the same way their entire lives.” Our chronic pain community recommended these 27 comfortable and supportive pillows.

Pillows! I have a wedge pillow (bought for other purposes) that we occasionally use but most of the time it’s just basic bed pillows.” – Samantha S. 

“I find that a pillow or wedge pillow under the hips of the ‘receiving’ partner can really improve things for ease of movement, strain and angles.” – Livi D.

3. Find non-penetrative ways of being intimate.

Maybe the act of penetration hurts for one reason or another. That doesn’t mean you need to avoid sex altogether! There are plenty of other ways to be physically intimate with your partner, such as massage or oral sex.

Let go of the idea that ‘sex’ is synonymous with ‘penetration.’ When you don’t focus on that being the ideal or ‘end game,’ it opens up a number of ways that you can be intimate with your partner… Not to mention that this can easily lead to open conversations about what excites you, what doesn’t really do anything, what turns you off, what position/act causes pain/discomfort, etc. It can actually make intimacy more enjoyable for all involved and strengthen your bond/relationship.” – Cole K.

Try new positions, find some that work for you on bad days… also, mutual masturbation is intimate without being taxing!” – Merri E.S.

4. Use lubrication.

Certain medications and health conditions can cause vaginal dryness, resulting in painful friction. Investing in some lubrication may help things go a bit more smoothly.

Using plenty of water soluble lubricant and having a patient and understanding partner.” – Letia N.

5. Have a sense of humor.

In the movies, couples are always portrayed as being flawlessly sexy and romantic. In reality… people get cramps. They hit their head. Their stomachs make weird noises. They pull a muscle. And when you live with chronic pain, things are, truthfully, even more likely to go a bit awry. Don’t be afraid to laugh with your partner – it may even bring you closer together.

“A good sense of humor helps! Sometimes one of us will get a cramp during sex and we laugh it off. There have been times when our attempt at a different position doesn’t quite work and I got my foot stuck in between the couch cushions or he fell on the floor and we laughed so hard together. It also helps that my boyfriend has some physical health challenges, so he and I understand each other’s limits. The right person makes 100 percent of the difference. With my ex, I dreaded intimacy and now I love it so having the right partner is most important.” – Christine C.

Lots and lots of lube, heating blanket, warm up, positioning pillows, gentle or no penetration. But above all: a good sense of humor. My jaw has gotten stuck open a few times. I reset it myself, but usually that means the ~fun~ in that region is over.” – Alex P.

6. Stay focused and relaxed.

Two keys to great sex are relieving stress, and just letting it happen, therapist Arlene Goldman wrote in a blog on Psychology Today. “You have to decompress before feeling turned on,” she says. Relaxing may be easier said than done, but it’s important, as stress can inhibit arousal – a common cause of pain during sex.

I have to be very careful to not get distracted. I have to put all of my focus into my partner and letting my body relax.” – Liz W.

7. Masturbate.

Maybe you don’t have a partner but still want to reap the benefits of the “big O,” or maybe you have a partner but find intercourse too painful. Either way masturbation may be a helpful option for folks with chronic pain as some find that the sensations of an orgasm temporarily “override” the sensations of their pain.

Triple A batteries and a Silver Bullet and a few minutes alone. (Not joking.) Because that groundbreaking orgasm releases a chemical [and in] just a few minutes the pain disappears. (Speaking from experience, I can 100 percent say this is a fact [for me].) Again, not joking.” – KellyAnn P.

8. Try different positions.

It may be intuitive, but if your usual positions tend to cause pain, why not experiment with some new ones? Check out the five disability-inclusive sex positions that Eva Sweeney, host of “Cripping Up Sex With Eva,” shared with The Mighty.

“Sometimes we have to change positions due to endometriosis scarring; there are some ‘risky’ positions and ‘safe’ ones.” – Liz W.

Trying different positions I had never considered as well as having my boyfriend hold my legs up has helped intimacy to become much easier. I have spinal stenosis, arthritis, among other things and when he supports my hips and legs, they don’t cramp up and I can enjoy myself for a lot longer.” – Christine C.

9. Experiment with sex toys.

If intercourse is painful, sex toys may be a fun alternative. There is something out there for everyone, and sex toys are a great way to explore your body and its needs. “Sex toys help us navigate our sexual hot spots more easily,” Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB-GYN and women’s health expert told Healthline. Check out these 15 accessible sex toys and devices that can spice up your sex life.

Getting ergonomic sex toys.” – Livi D.

“Hitachi’s magic wand is great for muscle massages, and doubles as ‘other’ muscle massager when used with varying detachable heads. Bonus is no one knows what it is unless they find the attachments.” – Katrina C.O.

10. Try pelvic physiotherapy.

If you or your partner experiences pelvic pain and/or painful intercourse, talk to your doctor about doing pelvic physiotherapy. This type of therapy is designed to treat conditions or symptoms involving the pelvic floor, which includes muscles, ligaments, nerves and connective tissue.

Pelvic physiotherapy, consistently doing physio exercises, and trying different positions. My physiotherapist also recommended getting a dilator.” – Amanda S.

“There is such a thing as a reproductive physical therapist – and only one of my long list of medical providers has told me they exist. They are lifesavers! Gave me lots of muscle stretches and massages me. They taught my husband how to help too. Sex should not be painful! (unless you want it to be, LOL.)” – Katrina C.O.

Pelvic floor physical therapy, looking up different positions (my PFPT gave me a sheet with positions called “Orthopedic Considerations for Intercourse” or something like that), finding other means of intimacy and sexual satisfaction, and cannabis (cannabis lubricant is great for pain, too). For women, it may also be helpful to try sex at different points in the menstrual cycle since cervix height and sensitivity change throughout which can make sex more or less painful at different times in the cycle.” – Kelliann G.

11. Maintain open communication.

It is essential to be open and honest with your partner. Let them know how you’re feeling, what you want, what you need, etc. If you’re in pain, tell them. More than likely, they would want to know if you’re in pain so you both can stop or make some modifications.

Open communication, lots of patience and plenty of notice. The more I can plan for it, the better chance my body will be ready. It’s important that you don’t push your body to do what might be uncomfortable or painful, for the sake of someone else’s enjoyment. That will only lead to resentment. Wait for your body, it knows what’s best for itself. And what your body can’t do, let your imagination make it up! I recommend lots of phone sex! And when sex does happen it’s such a rare treat, so I make the most of it with lingerie and a sexy, at-home date.” – Jennifer R.

I am 100 percent upfront about the likelihood of my hips dislocating.” – Bridget J.

12. Use your favorite anxiety coping strategies prior to sex.

If you know that sex has the potential to cause pain, it’s understandable that you might feel stressed or anxious about it. That, in turn, can cause even more pain during sex. Try employing some of your favorite methods for coping with anxiety prior to sex, whether that’s meditating, going for a walk, coloring or talking with a friend.

If you’re like me and have anxiety about the pain from sex and that makes you less interested or harder to become aroused, take your anxiety medication (if prescribed) 20 minutes before. Or really anything that will relax you whether it be CBD oil, cartridge vape pens (which they even have specific ones with aphrodisiacs in them now), hot bath/shower, or maybe just an hour to yourself beforehand to get your mind into it and away from everything else going on in life.” – Brittany K.

Getty Image by Napadon Srisawang

Originally published: January 16, 2019
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