When you’re managing the crushing fatigue and painful joints that come with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), sex is often one of the first parts of your life to fall by the wayside. It’s yet another thing to do rather than an experience to enjoy. But there’s good reason to find your way back to passion. Not only does physical intimacy help you feel less alone, but research shows that a good orgasm can also ease your pain (in the best possible way).
“There has been real evidence that the endorphin release from orgasm can alleviate migraines and help people to manage chronic pain in general. This is because endorphins block pain while enhancing the parts of our brain responsible for pleasure,” said Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., a sexuality and relationship expert from New York City. But the feel-good train doesn’t stop there! Oxytocin, a bonding hormone that increases when we hug and have orgasms, may also have pain-killing effects, according to a report by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
So how do you get in the mood and stay there so you can reap these awesome benefits? By addressing your pain and fatigue head on. We’ll show you how:
Optimize Your Treatment Plan
RA takes up a lot of room in your life—so much room that you might not even get to the front door of desire.
“Fatigue is such a major component (of RA)” says Kirsten Schultz, a disability activist and sex educator, who lives with chronic illness. “If you want to sleep every time you lay down your head, it doesn’t really help.”
The first step is to make sure you’re maximizing all of your treatment options so your daily symptoms are as well-managed as possible. If you’re not currently treating your RA with medication, talk to your rheumatologist about options. Do the same if you think your medication has side effects that are getting in the way of feeling sexy, like causing nausea, more fatigue, or even a lower libido, a rare side effect of methorexate and some biologics. Tweaking your RA treatment might reduce your pain enough that you’re once again open to the possibility of intimacy and the pleasure it can bring.
Talk to Your Partner About What Hurts—and What Helps
When you’re in pain, it affects you and your partner: You don’t want to be touched for fear you’ll ache even more. Your partner, afraid of causing you pain, may withdraw and feel isolated too.
The solution? Talk about your pain regularly, suggests Schultz, who's also the founder of chronicsex.org. When you check in about each other’s day, include your pain levels in the conversation. “You both can acknowledge that even though the pain sucks, it’s our normal.”
Knowing that you’re facing this together can go a long way to helping you rebuild intimacy as can simply reminding each other that you really are still drawn to one another. “When we’re dealing with chronic pain, we may not feel attractive,” Schultz says. “Having our partners share the things they find attractive about us and the ways they still see us as ourselves can be really helpful.”
Making more of an effort to touch each other—despite the pain—is the other crucial component. “If we avoid physical touch, we miss out on all of those things that help remind us how valuable we are and how important we are to other people’s lives,” Schultz says. So show your partner what feels good outside the bedroom, even if it’s simply laying his or her hand across your forehead when you’re watching TV. That connection is powerful and ultimately can help you feel more comfortable about discussing workarounds in bed.
Try a New Toy (or a Sexy Show)
Whether you have a partner or not, sex toys can be a great go-to if you have RA. They not only make pain-relieving orgasms easier to reach, but they can take some serious strain off your body, especially if your hands ache or you have trouble with strength and mobility.
Several online sex shops, such as Come As You Are and Good Vibrations, also test products for people with disabilities. Definitely do some research online and, if you can, visit some brick-and-mortar sex shops so you can see the goods in person. If you’re too shy to ask questions, Schultz has some favorites to recommend:
“The most beneficial sex toy is the wand vibrator. That would be things like the Magic Wand or you might see it called the Hitachi wand,” says Schultz. “The Doxy massager is another really popular one. You can just plug them into the wall. There are also rechargeable versions, which are really nice, because then you don’t get caught up in a cord!”
Massagers with strong vibrations can also perform double duty, Schultz says. “They’re amazing for people who have shoulder pain, neck pain, back pain. They can really help loosen up some of those knots.”
For men, a company called Hot Octopuss makes masturbation sleeves. These products are not only great for men who have low dexterity in their hands, but they also have some extra massaging inside the sleeve itself for extra stimulation.
And if all of this still feels like too much right now, you can always Netflix and chill. If you and your partner are watching other people get it on, you might start to feel like getting it on too. Queue up your favorite sexy movies and see where the night takes you.