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5 Ways to Deal When Chronic Illness Wrecks Your Sex Life

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Before I got sick, I really enjoyed sex. I mean, that hadn’t always been the case. Like many women, it took a while for me to loosen up, to figure out what felt right and let go. But once I did? Once I realized I didn’t have to feel guilty every time I enjoyed sex or caught myself thinking “dirty” thoughts about my husband in the middle of the day? Well, then it was on like Donkey Kong. (Are the kids still saying this? Probably not.)

My husband and I entered marriage with the full intention of getting our freak on as frequently and as thoroughly as possible. But then we hit a little snafu. I got sick(er). And by the time our five-month wedding anniversary rolled around, we found ourselves in the neurology unit of our local hospital spying things out. In addition to the temporary inability to walk, chronic infections, voracious fatigue, and full-body pain, sex was excruciating. It took some years. (Five, but who’s counting?) But I finally ended up with a handful of diagnoses that weren’t going away. One of them was interstitial cystitis. Stay away from her. She’s an evil shrew that made me pee tongues of fire every seven minutes and turned sex into a distant memory of a life gone by. So much for all that hot sex we were supposed to be having. (I know this is a weird thing to talk about. I also think it’s too important not to.)

Maybe your sex life has hit a little snafu as well. It may be thanks to trauma, physical limitations, pain (or even that little one who demands your attention every waking moment of every day). “Is the fun gone for good? Is sex just for supermodels and celebrities? “No. Here are my five tips for getting the magic back.

1. Start sexting. I know your mother told you not to, but maybe what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her? This is an opportunity to create build-up and anticipation. Your partner doesn’t have to know you’re doing this in between ordering more toilet paper from Amazon and catching up on Grey’s Anatomy. This requires no makeup and pajama’s are actually encouraged. A word of caution: make sure your phone is password protected and you don’t accidentally text your boss that steamy text intended for your significant other.

2. Get intimate. So maybe intercourse isn’t a possibility right now. No problem. Sometimes what we need is the intimacy behind the act more than we need the act without the intimacy. Yes, sex can lead to intimacy. But we don’t have to have sex to be intimate. Share your wildest hopes, dreams and fears. Get creative. Celebrate one another with your bodies.

3. Be grateful. Being appreciated is sexy, and that’s all there is to it. We all long to know we’re seen and appreciated. Call your spouse and thank them for working so hard. Send an “I really appreciate you getting up with the baby last night.” text. Let them know how much you value the fact they made dinner. (Yes, even when it’s burnt.) Gratitude is sexy.

4. Be affectionate. Those little, affirming touches go a long way! Hold hands. Kiss. Cuddle. Even if it feels unnoticed or unreturned in the beginning, keep going! Think of it like a campfire. Keep nurturing and stirring the fire, until it burns the whole place down and turns Smoky the Bear into Smoky the Angry Bear.

5. Be kind. Maybe you are wondering if I knit gloves with my Grandma on the weekends, and it’s starting to affect my judgment because, “What the freak does this have to do with sex?” Everything, actually. We all want a partner who treats us with kindness and respect, who speaks to us like we’re the coolest thing since sliced bread and makes us feel like the best version of ourselves. Compliment one another. And watch the magic start happening.

So maybe right now you have the make-out skills of an overeager seventh grader. Maybe you’re a little rusty. There’s no better time than now to get back on the, ahem, bike, and to start rediscovering how much you can enjoy physical intimacy on any level. Take it fast or slow — it’s up to you. But let’s not let a little snafu (or five or 10) keep us from enjoying the magic of physical intimacy.

Follow this journey on Chronically Whole.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 14, 2016
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