Sex can be good for arthritis … says science. The endorphins released during physical activity — like sex — are noted to be similar to pain-relieving drugs. In fact, Webster’s includes in its definition endorphins “produce some pharmacological effects (as pain relief) like those of opiates.”1
Yet, studies have shown on average that about half of people who have some form of arthritis experience some sort of sexual problem due to their condition.
So what are the most “shocking” ways arthritis could impact YOUR sex life? In short:
2. Stiffness (not the good kind)
5. Hormonal imbalance
8. Reduced libido (sex drive)
10. Negative body image
Okay. They may not be earthshattering shocking … but oftentimes they are just not thought of during the diagnosis and course of a condition like arthritis. Some are intuitively more obvious than others if you stop and think about arthritis affecting your sex life at all. But they really boil down to two issues: physical variables … and psychological ones. And of course, many of these issues are interrelated.
Physical variables of arthritis that affect sex
While arthritis itself rarely affects sexual organs, the physical factors associated with arthritis on other parts of your body are what can be limiting in one way or another. These include pain, stiffness, fatigue, dysfunction and hormonal imbalance.
Limited mobility and its impact on sex can include quite commonly limited hip and knee movement, as well as the ability to assume certain positions.
If you have any type of arthritis, then you know the pain associated with joint inflammation and stiffness. You also know that the result of these factors can be limited mobility. Limited mobility and its impact on sex can include quite commonly limited hip and knee movement, as well as the ability to assume certain positions. This can result in actual sexual dysfunction (disability) because of the difficulty in performing intercourse due to physical limitations, not necessarily to “working parts.”
For women, sexual disability can further materialize as vaginal dryness, which results in additional physical pain. This can partially be caused by some hormonal imbalance because of age and some forms of arthritis … or it could be associated with side effects of medications taken for arthritis or depression.
Fatigue also plays a big role in impacting sex drive when you have arthritis. Many people, especially those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), may feel extremely tired. If you have or know someone who has RA, then you know it can take a considerable amount of time to get going during the morning … and exhaustion can set in early in the evening. This can make it difficult to be motivated to have sex during prime time.
Psychological variables of arthritis that affect sex
The physical effects of arthritis can have an emotional impact as well, further impacting sex life. Commonly, these would include depression, anxiety, negative image — all of which impact your emotional attitude.
How is this possible? Consider that with arthritis, limited mobility may result in weight gain — which, especially if you are a woman, can negatively impact your perception about yourself. You don’t feel attractive or good about your overall appearance, you may be worried about your partner’s interest, and you feel less desirable. All of this can really put a damper on wanting to be naked in front of someone else … which does tend to go hand in hand with love sessions.
Studies show that higher levels of pain, physical disability and depression do, in fact, have a greater effect on sexuality.
Emotionally, you may have a sense of inevitability and fear of pain from any movement associated with sex, simply because your joints are inflamed and/or there are areas of your body that are very sensitive to the touch. This causes associated anxiety, which tends to reduce the desire for any kind of physical intimacy.
A deeper issue is depression. As with many chronic conditions, depression is a common associated condition. This is, in fact, both a physical and a psychological variable.
Medication as a variable of arthritis that affects sex
There are a variety of medications taken for arthritis. While there is no substantial evidence to conclude that medication affects sexual functionality in and of itself, there are side effects of some that are associated with reduced sex drive. For example, for people treated with methotrexate (common for RA), there have been cases of erectile impotence.
In fact, the side effects report, “This medication may affect your reproductive system, resulting in the menstrual cycle or sperm production becoming irregular or stopping permanently. Women may experience menopausal effects including hot flashes and vaginal dryness. In addition, the desire for sex may decrease during treatment.”2
Additionally, for those that do suffer from a coexisting depression condition, loss of libido and some functionality have been reported. If you feel this could be happening as a result of your treatment regimen, you should consult with your doctor.
Studies show that higher levels of pain, physical disability and depression do, in fact, have a greater effect on sexuality. When it comes to arthritis, this is a trifecta that is stacked up against you. So, what should you do? Should you give up sex? Absolutely not. Remember, those endorphins could actually help with your pain!
- Take pain relievers at least 30 minutes ahead of time to help reduce inflammation and pain
- Plan your timing accordingly. Not to give up on spontaneity, but if you have arthritis and know there are times when it takes you longer to get going because of joint stiffness (like in the morning) or when you usually suffer from fatigue, plan your intimate times around those
- Keep the bedroom climate warm! Take a warm bath or shower ahead of time, or snuggle under warm blankets. Avoiding cold and staying warm may help alleviate joint pain and put you in a relaxed state of mind.
- Have open dialogue with your partner about positions that are uncomfortable. Avoiding them will help to reduce the emotional fear of the possibility of pain during intercourse
- Stay positive about yourself and who you are … and enjoy yourself!
2 “Methotrexate: Sexual & Reproductive Concerns.” http://www.oncolink.org/treatment/article.cfm?c=2&id=140&s=10. Accessed May 3, 2016.