Feeling Sexy When You're Hurting: Body Image and RA

by Cathy Kramer Patient Advocate

Let’s be honest, feeling sexy in the traditional sense of done-up hair, makeup, and sexy lingerie is most likely a low priority when your body is in pain. If you are anything like me, a shower and shaved legs might be as seductive you get. Is it even possible to feel sexy when you can barely walk, moan in pain, and feel you’ve aged a hundred years? Absolutely. However, it takes some work and reassessing what “sexy” means with a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Be vulnerable

One of the scariest things is the bedroom is a spouse seeing how truly bad off we are physically. Communicate these fears. Often, our significant other doesn’t see our insecurities and therefore can’t be sensitive to them. Once we share our fears, it is easier to move on and enjoy the experience.

Get comfortable

The goal is to figure out what works best for you in your current state. My husband and I used to love bathing together. It set the mood for relaxing together. However, scrunching up my knees turned bathing into a painful experience. Plus, needing help out of the bath didn’t really set the tone for romance. Finding a comfortable spot is key to letting yourself feel attractive. For me, it could be as simple as finding an agreeable spot in the bedroom with pillows that can be propped up as needed. The intent is for you to feel the best you can.

Find one thing you love about yourself

Look in the mirror. Find one thing you like. If you can’t, choose something a lover has mentioned liking and let it be yours, too. Let go of everything else — the wonky toes, stiff knee, or annoying nodules. Just focus on that one beautiful thing about yourself. For me, it’s my breasts. No matter how awful I feel, they are the two things that I can always turn to when I want to feel sexy. Why? Chronic illness never touches them. They are the only part of my body I can count on rheumatoid arthritis not affecting. Plus, they can easily be lifted in a pretty bra or shown off in a nightie.

See yourself through the lens of your lover

During my worst years with RA, it was hard to see myself as attractive. However, after an intimate conversation with my husband, I found out that despite having to crawl into bed moaning, he still found me sexually alluring! After discovering this gem of information, I started seeing myself the way he does — beautiful.

Fake it till you make it

When all else fails, fake feeling sexy and set the mood as if you were someone who would feel this way. Turn on some romantic music, turn down the lights, and put on new lingerie. Intimacy with our love is something we don’t want to miss out on. Let him/her know they are still a priority.

Living with a chronic illness generally doesn’t go hand-in-hand with a genuine feeling of sexiness. Beside the pain, there is the anxiety of how we will perform and how we look. Yet, please take this time to let yourself be more than your chronic illness. Let yourself be a person who is alluring. Let yourself be “normal again,” even if it is for a short 15 minutes. You have been through a lot and deserve some time to love yourself and to be appealing to the person in your life.

Cathy Kramer
Meet Our Writer
Cathy Kramer

Cathy Kramer has been married longer than not and is a mom to two young adults plus an aging border collie. She splits her days/nights between two community colleges as an ESL/ABE instructor. She is a strong believer in gratitude and attempts to leave a smile everywhere she goes. Cathy shares her positive voice as an advocate in the rheumatoid arthritis (RA), chronic illness, and self-care communities. Her ongoing journey with RA can be found on her blog The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo. She often hangs out @cateepoo88 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Cathy is also a Social Ambassador for the RAHealthCentral Facebook page: facebook.com/RAHealthCentral.