"Not tonight honey, I have a headache" (or back ache, fibromyalgia or arthritis), might be OK once in a while, but you don't have to let chronic pain interfere with your sex life. In fact, it might make you more creative than ever.

Millions of adults live with chronic pain conditions that make sex challenging. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates nearly 46 million Americans have arthritis. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 303 million people have migraines.  Add in millions of adults with chronic back pain, and fibromyalgia and that's a whole lot of people who may be avoiding sex.

Why is Sex Important? 

For a lot of Americans, sex is the glue that keeps relationships tight.  If chronic pain is preventing you from experiencing a fulfilling sex life, it's time you took matters into your own hands. 

First, identify the obstacles. Are traditional positions uncomfortable? Are you too tired or in too much pain to want sex? Maybe your medication is putting a damper on your desire or sensitivity or simply not working well enough. If it's your partner who suffers with pain maybe you're worried you'll hurt him. Whatever it is, it's time to talk about sex. 

  • Talk to your physician about how chronic pain interferes with your sex life. Don't be shy; sex is part of a healthy lifestyle and doctors are there to help. Talk about how your medication may affect your sexuality and what modifications you might need.
  • Talk to your partner. You might be surprised to find out how much she's missing sex too.

Once you've identified the challenges, make a sex-date. Chronic pain may interfere with spontaneity, but with a little planning, a romantic night is absolutely doable. Pick a time when you're not too tired or stressed. Take your pain medication in advance. Then, when your pain is under control, move on to romantic activities like showering or bathing together, candlelight and music.

Next, do some homework. Make your first few sex-dates all about exploration to learn what does and does not feel good. Try out positions and sexual activities that are less stressful and painful. The Mayo Clinic offers these tips:

Sexual intercourse is just one way to satisfy your need for human closeness. Intimacy can be expressed in many different ways.

  • Touch. Exploring your partner's body through touch is an exciting way to express your sexual feelings. This can include holding hands, cuddling, fondling, stroking, massaging and kissing. Touch in any form increases feelings of intimacy.
  • Self-stimulation. Masturbation is a normal and healthy way to fulfill your sexual needs. One partner may use masturbation during mutual sexual activity if the other partner is unable to be very active.
  • Oral sex. It can be an alternative or supplement to traditional intercourse.
  • Different positions. Lie side by side, kneel or sit. Look in your library or bookstore for a guide that describes and illustrates different ways to have intercourse. If you're embarrassed to get this kind of book locally, try an online book retailer.
  • Vibrators and lubricants. A vibrator can add pleasure without physical exertion. If lack of natural lubrication is a problem, over-the-counter lubricants can prevent pain associated with vaginal dryness.




The National Pain Foundation
Chronic Pain and Sexuality, author Kathy Church, MSW

The Mayo Clinic
Chronic Pain Can Interfere With Sexuality (Dec 2008)