Let's Talk About Sex
Sex, everyone wants to talk about it, but nobody does. So, let’s talk about sex. What are the benefits of sex to those with chronic pain? How does chronic pain create barriers to a fulfilling sex life? Too often the barriers to sensuality and sexuality, do not allow a person to enjoy a necessary and beneficial sex life. This intimate communication becomes lost in pain. Feelings of guilt, anger, frustration and fear start to strain all forms of communication, especially the most intimate forms. Soon, all communication breaks down as the partnership tumbles towards disaster. Instead, a couple should be fumbling towards ecstasy.
The rewards for a fulfilling sex life are great. Starting with the basic need for nurturing touch; researchers have actually study this with baby monkeys. These famous studies showed that baby monkeys failed to thrive when not given any forms of contact from another living being even though the other basic needs for survival were met. This finding is profoundly supportive of the idea that non-sexual, nurturing touch is critical for life. Touching is a good place to start intimate communication because it is rewarding by itself. Touching can be without obligation for sex; but, all that touching can lead to something more–sexual pleasure. All this pleasure causes the brain to release powerful chemicals of pleasure like dopamine. These pleasure pathways in the brain need to be swept off once and a while or else the pathway becomes lost in the weeds of pain. These brain chemicals of pleasure need to be released once and a while to restore balance to the entire brain experience. From the basic need for touch to the restoring features of pleasure, the benefits of sex can help to break the cycle of pain and anxiety. By developing a good strategy with your partner through open communication, patience, and gentleness, you possess the key to unlocking the rewards of a fulfilling sex life.
When you have chronic pain, many barriers block the way for establishing intimacy. Pain is like an alarm going off in the brain that warns of threat. Imagine that you are a zebra in the savanna being chased by a lion. During that chase, some bodily functions are sudden less important like digestion, healing, and reproduction. So, the brain shuts those unimportant bodily functions down. That’s right. When the brain senses a threat, sex becomes less important. Sexual drive slows down. Erectile dysfunction occurs. Orgasm is difficult to achieve. None of these bodily functions are important when you are being chased by a lion. Only to compound the situation are the drugs that reduce sexual functions. For example, the opioid pain medications actually reduce testosterone levels. A low testosterone level leads to erectile dysfunction and a lack of sexual drive. Compounding the situation even further is the pain. The pain can make sex downright uncomfortable and a chore. All of these barriers may seem insurmountable. And that brings me back to the importance of touch and sensuality. Gentle touch in a non-threatening, relaxing atmosphere can gradually bring pleasure back into intimacy. Additionally, testosterone supplementation and experimenting with different techniques (or toys) can also help to eliminate the barriers to a fulfilling sex life. Ultimately, a couple needs to work as a team to bring sexuality and sensuality back into the relationship.
Teamwork is worth it because sex fulfills a basic need for pleasure and touch. These benefits are not impossible to obtain even with chronic pain lurking in the bedroom like a lion. Many relationship predators exist and most threatening of those is a lack of communication. Frequently, communication gets lost in pain. A dialogue can begin by casting away the shyness and embracing the caring necessary to discuss even the most private subject–sex. Decide to talk about sex.
For more information about this subject, I ask you to read a book called Sex and Back Pain by Lauren Andrew Hebert, PT. If you decide to share a personal experience about sex and chronic pain, please write a comment. Sharing creates solutions
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.