“Not tonight”: How health conditions can affect your sex life + relationships

Posted 1 month ago by

Personal (but important) question: How’s your sex life? Explore how your diagnosis (and symptoms and treatments) can impact your romantic relationships, see what members are saying about the topic on PatientsLikeMe — and learn what you can possibly do about love-life struggles.

Intimacy, interrupted

According to sexologists, people with a variety of health conditions can have some common issues with intimacy, such as:

  • Loss of interest in sex following a life-changing diagnosis
  • Physical and emotional stress and fatigue that zaps energy and self-confidence for sexual activity (or dating and romance, in general)
  • Disruptions related to physical symptoms and treatment side effects. Just to name a few examples: Parkinson’s disease can cause rigidity and tremors, digestive and neurological disorders can bring bowel incontinence, and chemotherapy for cancer can bring nausea and weakness.
  • Some side effects (whether mental or physical) can be even more sex-related, such as vaginal dryness, erectile dysfunction, issues with orgasm and low libido. (join PatientsLikeMe to read more about the sexual side effects of anti-depressants here in our forums).

Sex therapists say that people often push intimacy issues aside after their initial diagnosis because they may have seemingly bigger fish to fry. But sexuality doesn’t end when illness strikes, and research has uncovered the many mental and physical benefits of sex — so it’s an important topic.

Ignoring intimacy issues can have a snowball effect, Newsweek reported in an article about cancer and sex. “A lot of folks think it will get better over time, and it doesn’t, or years go by, and they’ve lost intimacy in their life,” says Catherine Alfano, vice president of survivorship at the American Cancer Society and a rehabilitation psychologist. “Sexuality is a very understudied area for the same reason it’s an undiscussed area in clinical practice: People just don’t want to talk about it—not in their research, not as a patient, not as a provider.”

So what can you do? Talk about it

Include intimacy issues on your “must-discuss” list when you see your healthcare provider. Could any adjustments help improve your sex life? For example, ask about different medications or dosages, tweaking your medication schedule to avoid sex-related side effects some days, and any tips that could make sex feel better (such as using pillows for body positioning or lubricants for dryness issues). Showering before sex may help loosen your muscles and clear your mind for the main event.

Also, talk with your partner about how your condition has affected your romantic life and what you can do together to improve your intimacy. That may mean more foreplay and less intercourse, or making a conscious effort at hand-holding, cuddling, dancing, date nights and other activities that can help bring back some closeness.

Consider seeing a counselor or therapist (solo or with your partner) to talk about the changes and challenges you’re experiencing, and get advice on treating related mental health or self-image issues and affirming your relationship.

On PatientsLikeMe

Nearly 35,000 members with a wide variety of conditions say they’re interested in the topic of relationships. What kinds of conversations is the community having about sex? People are sharing about everything from mental health conditions affecting their sex life to self-image issues when they’re dealing with lots of physical symptoms.

How is your condition impacting your sex life and romantic relationships? Join our community and this forum discussion to help make this important issue less taboo.

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One Comment

  1. Very interesting thoughts!

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