Intimacy and Sex with Chronic Disease

Patient Expert
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Years ago I met a young lady who had psoriasis, an auto-immune disease that affects the skin causing red, scaly, itch patches. I could relate to her because I also had psoriasis. She and I shared a common insecurity when it came to being intimate with another person --- we were terrified to allow another person near our bodies. At that time she was pregnant, yet the father of her child had NEVER seen her skin. Before they had sex, the lights had to be off, a routine I myself was very familiar with. For a variety of different reasons intimacy and having a healthy sex life for those with chronic disease can be challenging. Depending on the disease those with chronic illnesses can experience the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Painful intercourse
  • Embarrassment or shame
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of interest/desire in sex

Individuals can also experience the above things even if a chronic disease is not present. The everyday happenings of life such as time, work, and kids can also pose an issue on sex and intimacy between couples.

Licensed Professional Counselor Elaine Wilco of North Atlanta Couples & Family Counseling Center has been assisting couples with sex, relationships, and intimacy for over 20 years. “I think the hardest thing to solve in a relationship are intimacy issues…,” says Wilco. She advises that oftentimes people can work through other issues such as finances by themselves, but usually need professional help to push through intimacy problems.

Lack of sex and intimacy is unfortunately an issue that a lot of couples face, and without the proper help the issue can lead to a downward spiral for a couple. “I think the number 1 issue of intimacy in a relationship is we are simply not equipped for it, we aren’t educated about it, we just don’t understand what intimacy in a long term relationship should look like…”  Wilco states that often times growing up as children we don’t see intimacy in the relationships around us, and then we receive a distorted view of what intimacy is through movies and television. The truth is intimacy happens before you enter the bedroom and begins with communication, openness, affection, and understanding.

If you're having trouble with intimacy while living with your chronic illness, read on to maintain or regain a healthy sex life.

Communication

What is intimacy to you, what does it entail, what do you need? “Every couple should be able to communicate about what they want, how they feel and what’s going to work for them…” says Wilco. She states that every couple should have flexibility on how they want to experience intimacy, but advises that when you have a chronic illness flexibility and communication become essential to a quality sex life.  Be sure to ask your partner questions to gain a better understanding of how they are feeling to gauge the next course of action.

A Healthier Life Style

Exercising regularly can help your body regulate hormones and endorphins imperative to a healthy sex life. Working out also gets your blood flowing which helps which lubrication (for women), energy,  and much more. Other things that may help are eliminating unhealthy habits such as cigarettes and alcohol which can both have an effect on the body’s libido (sexual desire).

Trial and Error

There is no one single solution for sex and intimacy, it takes two people who having the wiliness and are open to trial and error. “You have to allow your partner to decide what satisfaction is to them… and then figure out how you can work together to find satisfaction in intimacy…” advises Wilco. Being in a committed relationship allows you to explore your partner and to get to know them in a deeper way. What may work today, may not work tomorrow, so getting to know your partner intimately is a deliberate and focused driven task.

Counseling and Additional Help

If you try the above suggestions and the intimacy still does not improve the next step is to receive extra help from a counselor. There are also books that provide help and will also assist on keeping you and your partner informed. Wilco suggest contacting a professional is usually the best choice, “often times it’s hard to promote change by yourself.”

The most important thing to remember is intimacy does not have to involve intercourse. Wilco has worked with people who were unable to have sex due to different diseases. She explains there are some illnesses that may cause erectile dysfunction or painful sex for women, but because of intimacy, couples can still find ways to be close without actually having to have sex. “There are other options, the key is to feel close to each other…”