Sex With Chronic Illness: What to Expect

Alisha Bridges | May 2, 2017

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Almost half of Americans living in the U.S. have some type of chronic illness. The National Health Council reports 133 million people currently have a chronic disease, and the number is continuously growing. While many seek treatment for their disease,  people may be afraid to speak with their doctors about how these conditions can affect their sex life. Here’s how five common chronic illness can affect sex — and possible solutions to help you in the bedroom.

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Joint pain and sex

Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of arthritis affecting 1.5 million Americans. This disease causes the small joints of the body to swell, such as the hands, feet, elbows, wrists, knees and ankles. Depending on the severity of the disease, it can affect one’s ability to have sex due to fatigue, stiffness, vaginal dryness, and decreased sex drive. A study found 59 percent of people with RA felt the disease had a negative effect on their sex life. So what’s the fix?

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The solution

The solution for the physical pain of RA may be low-impact exercises, including yoga, stretching, and water workouts. Check out these 7 tips on exercise for people with RA to learn more. Exercise is good for your body, but it is also linked to improving mental health, which could assist with increasing your desire to have sex. Try these tips Mark Borigini, M.D. provides on sex positions for people living with RA for a better and more satisfying sex life.

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Diabetes and sex

If not controlled, diabetes can take a toll on an enjoyable sex life for men and women. In men, the disease can cause erectile dysfunction (ED) and a low desire to have sex due to decreased levels of testosterone. For women, diabetes can also affect desire and may cause vaginal dryness that makes it painful to have sex. But you can still have a healthy sex life with this condition.

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The solution

For men, one option is ED medications, like Viagra, which will get the blood flowing to the right area. However, diabetes can increase the risk of cardiovascular issues, and these drugs also may increase the risk of heart problems. Here are some other ways to address ED. Talking with your doctor can help you figure out what treatment is right for you. For women, personal lubricants may help. The best option is to gain control of your diabetes, which in turn can help your sex life.

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Multiple sclerosis and sex

“63 percent of people with [multiple sclerosis (MS)] reported that their sexual activity had declined since their diagnosis,” according to The National MS Society. This disease affects the nerves of the body and can cause issues with mobility, both of which can have an effect on sexual performance. Other issues MS can cause include lack of sensation, vaginal dryness, and erectile dysfunction. MS can also lead to psychological issues that could decrease one’s desire to engage in sex.

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The solution

The NMS suggest speaking with a doctor about these sexual issues, which can potentially be addressed with treatment and lubricants, as stated earlier. They also suggest using alternative means of stimulation, such as vibrators, and inflatable inserts for men.

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Sex and psoriasis

For those living with psoriasis, showing more of their body and revealing their plaques can be a common insecurity when it comes to sex. The flaking, bleeding, and itching can be embarrassing for one to reveal. The effects this disease has on self-esteem can make a person scared to be intimate or go to extremely lengths to hide it.

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The solution

If you are currently having a flare, there may be little you can do about it. But what you can do is work on your insecurities about showing your disease. Talk to your partner about how psoriasis makes you feel. If you still aren’t feeling confident, you can seek counseling to help you to feel more comfortable with your partner. Just know that someone can love you even with your flakes.

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Sex and IBD

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation , most complications of sex for those with IBD come from certain medicines that can affect sex drive and sperm count in men. Other issues include rectovaginal fistula, which is when there is a tear between the vaginal canal and anus. However, this only affects a small number of women. Some people have other psychological issues that may stop them from having sex, like fear of erectile dysfunction or lack of lubrication of the vagina.

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The solution

If you are experiencing a low sex drive, it’s important to speak with your doctor about the changes in your mood to determine whether the medicine you are on is affecting your hormones. It’s also important to tell your partner why you are feeling this way. Lack of communication could cause problems between you and your partner, so it’s important to express yourself.

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It is important to remember…

When living with a chronic illness, patience, communication, and understanding are key. Please speak with your doctor before incorporating any of these techniques into your lifestyle, and be vocal about how your condition affects you in all areas of your life — including sexually. Also remember this is a great opportunity for you to build true intimacy with your partner and to focus on other things that bring you closer together outside of sex.

NEXT: 6 Ways to Naturally Treat Erectile Dysfunction