Sex, intimacy and musculoskeletal conditions
Note: This article was written from my perspective as a heterosexual woman in a long-term relationship. If you’d like to share your tips and advice about intimacy when you live with a musculoskeletal condition from a differing perspective, that we could share in another blog, we’d love to hear from you. Contact email@example.com
Living with a musculoskeletal condition/s can sometimes interfere with your sex life. Pain, fatigue, body image issues and side effects from medications can really interfere with this aspect of your life. Added to the physical and emotional impact of your condition, the everyday pressures of work/study, family, finances and COVID, can also affect your desire to be intimate.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. In our report Making the Invisible Visible, we revealed that 32% of people said their condition had affected their ability to be intimate with their partner.
The good news is there are many things you can do to overcome many of these issues and enjoy a satisfying and fulfilling sex life.
Tips for happy sexy times
Be open and honest with your partner about how you feel. Only you know what hurts – both physically and emotionally. Show them the positions that cause you the least pain. If you’re feeling sad or depressed about how your body has changed, tell them this. Not letting them in and not telling them what’s going on can strain your relationship.
Be kind to yourself. When our bodies change, it’s understandable to feel sad or a sense of loss about the things we used to be able to do or the way we used to look.
But it’s important not to get in the habit of describing yourself in a negative way – both to yourself and your partner – such as ‘I’m fat’ or ‘I’m ugly’. It’s not constructive, and it just makes you feel worse. It certainly doesn’t make you feel sexy! I know this is hard – we really are our own worst critics. Instead, focus on what you like or love about your body. Take time to really look at your body and be proud of it. Over time look at the parts of your body you haven’t been so happy with, and look at them without the super-critical lens. Admire it…our bodies are amazing! And they’ll continue to change as our health changes, and we grow older. So we need to become comfortable in our own skin.
Be kind to your partner. They may be worried about hurting you, self-conscious about their body, or changes to their health and wellbeing. If you haven’t been communicating well recently, they may be worried that they’ve done (or not done) something. Communication is key.
Talk with your doctor. This may be a little embarrassing or uncomfortable, but your doctor can give you practical advice about pain relief strategies, as well as sexual positions you can try that won’t aggravate your condition. You can also discuss your medications in case they’re causing loss of libido or issues such as vaginal dryness. You can then explore the potential of alternative treatments.
Have a massage. Book an appointment with your favourite massage therapist and have a relaxation massage to soothe any muscle tension away. Or, better still, ask your partner for a massage. A little oil, some light strokes along your arms, and some gentle back rubs, and the next thing you know, things have taken a lovely, sensual turn 💜. Read this article for tips: How to give your partner a super hot erotic massage.
Plan things. It doesn’t sound terribly romantic or sexy, but putting some thought and planning into sexy times can make things so much easier. Consider taking a warm shower or bath to loosen up your muscles, take a pain reliever, do some stretches, use your heat pack, have a massage, or take a nap. Basically, do all the things you know relieve your pain.
By planning, you can choose a time when you’re feeling your best, the kids have been shipped to the grandparents, the phones are off, and there are no other distractions.
Planning also involves setting the mood, so light some candles, wear something that makes you feel desirable and self-confident, dim the lights and put on some music.
Get adventurous! Try new positions – you know your body and what makes it hurt – so avoid those positions and find new ones. Versus Arthritis (formerly Arthritis UK) has a great booklet that provides a range of positions for you to try.
Use pillows to provide some support if you need it.
Try sex aids and toys – there’s a huge range available including, vibrators, lubricants, feathers, rings, and sexy wear – so pop down to the adult store together and find things that excite you both. Or go online and order them if you don’t feel comfortable going into a store.
Read erotica or watch porn together – whatever excites you and gets you in the mood.
Don’t forget the romance. If you’ve been with your partner for some time, cast your mind back to the giddy days when you were getting to know each other. When every look, every slight touch was electric, and you went out of your way to do romantic things together. Now think about your life today and how you can add some romance or spice things up. Whether it’s a date night, with dinner somewhere special, followed by dancing in your lounge or cuddling on your couch; sending your partner flowers or other love tokens; leaving little notes for them to find; or just surprising them with a good old fashion, toe-curling pash (sigh 🧡). Put in the effort – it’s well worth it, as it will make you both feel special and loved.
Keep a sense of humour. Inevitably things will go pear-shaped. Your back spasms, your hips fail you, someone falls asleep, or the children/cat/dog make an appearance. All you can do is roll with it. It’s no one’s fault, so laughing about it and moving on is your best option.
It’s not all about penetration. Cuddling, touching, oral sex, lying skin-to-skin, masturbation, and staying in bed sharing your deepest hopes/dreams/thoughts are also so important when it comes to intimacy with your partner. While sex is great, these things add a layer of richness and depth of feeling that sex alone cannot give. So don’t forget to do the things that strengthen these intimate bonds with your partner.
And have fun 😉.
Contact our free national Help Line
If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via Messenger.
More to explore
- 5 ways to boost intimacy when your spouse has chronic pain
The Mighty, June 2019
- 12 ways to make sex more enjoyable with chronic pain
The Mighty, January 2019
- How to give your partner a super hot erotic massage
Cosmopolitan UK, February 2019
- Let’s get intimate: 8 tips for when chronic illness gets in the way of your sex life
Healthline, April 2019
- Sex and arthritis
American College of Rheumatology, December 2020
- Touch and pleasure are essential: Here’s how to give them to yourself
NPR Life Kit, 18 February 2021