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Arthritis and intimacy

Arthritis can create emotional and physical barriers to intimacy—but they can be overcome.

The emotional and physical strains of arthritis can change many aspects of life, including intimate relationships.

Chronic illness can add to the usual stresses of marriage, such as money, careers and parenting. And fear of pain, or fear of causing pain, can cause a couple to grow apart physically.

But you and your partner can maintain a close, loving relationship and a healthy, satisfying sex life, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Staying intimate

Clear and constant communication is the key to maintaining intimacy. Talking with one another can help you work through emotions such as fear, denial, anger, frustration and sadness. It can reawaken physical needs and desires and help you express them.

The Arthritis Foundation offers the following suggestions for staying intimate:

To preserve emotional intimacy, try to accept the realities of arthritis, educate yourselves about the disease and keep a positive attitude. Finding things that you still enjoy doing together can help compensate for other losses and keep you close.

To foster physical intimacy, adapt and don't stop looking for ways to express yourselves sexually. Be patient and creative, and don't expect perfection or even sexual intercourse from every intimate encounter. Remember that simply touching each other helps create intimacy. A massage, kissing or just holding hands can be romantic.

Managing symptoms

Arthritis pain and fatigue can sabotage your sex life. Mental health issues such as depression and negative body image can interfere with physical intimacy too. Here are some tips for coping with these issues:

Pain. If you're in so much pain that sex seems out of the question, see your doctor. Your treatment plan may need to be modified. Your doctor also may be able to provide information about lovemaking positions to ease pain. Also, take your pain medication so that it peaks at a time you anticipate a sexual encounter. Women who experience vaginal dryness can purchase over-the-counter lubricants.

Meanwhile, try with your partner to give—and to get—a clear understanding of what feels good and what causes discomfort. Take the time to touch and explore each other's bodies and ask questions.

Fatigue. Planning ahead can help you save your energy. Make "dates" for lovemaking and create a relaxing atmosphere. Don't try to have sex when you are tired.

Mental health. If you have lost interest in sex because you are depressed, talk with your doctor. Counseling or medication may help. To overcome worries about unattractiveness or undesirability, look for ways to feel good and enjoy your body. The better you feel about yourself, the more attractive you'll be to others. Let go of assumptions that you are unlovable or undeserving of satisfaction.

Talk with your doctor

It's also a good idea to talk with your doctor about any sexual problems you're having. He or she may be able to help.

For example, if you are taking medications for your arthritis, you may experience side effects such as sexual difficulties and disinterest. Don't assume you have to live with this. Review your medications with your doctor, and be direct and specific about what you're experiencing.

Reviewed 10/18/2022

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