The Mighty Logo

The Constant Struggle of Sex vs. Arthritis

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

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.

To some people pain is sexy – if that’s your kind of thing, that’s fine, whatever floats your boat, but there really isn’t much sexy about arthritis. Being diagnosed with what I originally thought was an old lady’s disease doesn’t make me feel very sexy, that is for sure. There really is nothing sexy about arthritis at all for me. And yeah, it makes my sex life a little dry.

Chronic illness brought out new insecurities I never had issues with before. The older I get, the more my arthritis progresses and the more pain I am in. I’ve slowly become scared of anyone touching me because most touch hurts or is uncomfortable. I can barely handle someone sleeping next to me. I can thank rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia for this. Sometimes I can’t even handle them sitting next to me. Arthritis has forced me to desire being alone because sometimes the simplest human interaction is painful. How could I be a fulfilling lover? A girlfriend? A wife? I already struggle to take care of myself and add in a child. Anxiety and depression make me crave but question love, attention, affection and passion. As a mother I sometimes need it. Yet my child’s soft cuddles relieve me of the loneliness chronic illness creates in one’s heart.

Obviously with all this illness I have to take some medications. A common side effect for my medication is low libido. A common symptom of my chronic illness is low libido. Another common side effect of my medication is difficulty reaching an orgasm. Sex almost seems like a faint memory of my past that chronic illness stole.

Sex and arthritis are no fun together, but that doesn’t mean I still can’t enjoy myself.

There are toys, lotions, lubes, cooling sensations, warming sensations, positions and so much more.  Your sex life doesn’t have to be completely dry but chances are it will lower because of your illness. And hope to hell you have a kind, compassionate, giving and patient lover.

Like most physical exercise or emotional outbursts, sex requires energy that takes up my precious spoons, which is an indicator us chronically ill use to measure our fatigue levels for the day. I am better off with a nap or a bedtime after a romp between the sheets, or couch because that’s more comfortable and I am lucky if I can recover after. With my schedule, it’s hard to even find time to think about sex these days. If I do, it’s usually planned out rather than spontaneous.

However, I am 32, I am still in the years of my sexual prime, no? I also have to mourn the loss of being able to wear high heels, which made me feel sexy. I could run in 8-inch heels during my early 20s. Arthritis stole my ability to wear heels. R.I.P. Seriously, I am 5-foot nothing.

Not tonight, honey. I have arthritis.

After my diagnosis of arthritis, my self-esteem dropped severely low. It became easy for some men to walk all over me because of that. I was scared no one would accept the new me, with all this illness. What more did I have to offer? Could I even accept myself?

It seemed to be the only thing men wanted from me, like they could smell my insecurities a mile away. I think of men who prey on women like that now with absolute disgust and it doesn’t come without a boatload of trust issues. My boyfriend during my diagnosis constantly berated disabled people. With my ability to work going out the window, so did my self-worth.

As if dating with chronic illness isn’t difficult enough, obviously dating as a single mother makes it even more difficult for me to find true love. To even question if “through sickness and health” is real for me.

I once broke up with a boyfriend who gave me the good ol’ guilt trip of not enough sex. What really got me was it had only been two days since we were intimate. I was in intense pain as I was just diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my neck and started experiencing side effects from a biologic, mainly vertigo. I knew then he wasn’t cut out for my life with chronic illness and kicked him to the curb. No more. That vulnerability I also kicked to the curb.

One time I told a Tinder match about my arthritis; his response was, “I guess a hand job is out of the question.” If you want a quick way to lose my attention, that might be it. Netflix and back rub? That’s more like it. The real Netflix and back rub, I’ll probably fall asleep within 15 minutes or squirm trying to cuddle.

It can’t always be take, take, take though. A relationship is a two-way street and communication is key.

Not only do I want a good lover, I want a compassionate and understanding one. Preferably one who is excellent at massage, that’s my foreplay now.

Suns out guns out…

It’s very true, when the sun is out, I feel more active and feel a need to up my self-care routine. And out come the selfies because maybe for the first time this week I had a chance to wear mascara and lipstick! Or a fancy bra! Lingerie is great, it can help you feel sexy. If you can find arthritic hands-friendly pieces. Even a little lace here or there over PJs all the time. Plus it can be light and airy, wonderful when you skin hurts from regular clothing. If searching for a bra with arthritic hands, go for a front do-up one.

Losing weight also really helped me accept myself, chronic illness and all. I was there and believed I couldn’t do it, but I took it day by day, goal by goal. Healthy choice by choice. Nothing is perfect but balance.

Set yourself free of the negativity, the best you can.

I found the key to a healthy sex life and arthritis for me is being active myself and accepting there is no real key – every case of arthritis and relationship is different, and life is a journey. Exercise boosts my endorphins, gets my blood pumping and help loosens my stiff joints. I keep hydrated to WD 40 my joints, get comfortable and search around for the right positions with my partner. For times I am single, or looking to spice things up but my hands are hurting, there are plenty of toys out there. Ohh, and I find marijuana is a great way to loosen up and calm my pain!

And remember, a positive attitude is sexy as hell!

This story originally appeared on Eileen vs. Arthritis.

Getty Image by nd3000

Originally published: June 5, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home