Talk to your partner about sex if you have chronic pain
When sex hurts, communication is key.
Millions of people suffer from diseases such as migraines, endometriosis, and fibromyalgia, which cause chronic pain. It can affect any area of their life, including their relationships. Sex, in particular, can be difficult if you or your loved one are in chronic pain. Common disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis not only disrupt the sexual experience due to the pain itself, but drug side effects or decreased libido also add to the difficulty.
In the general population, couples who talk about sex have better sex, and people in pain that can interfere with sex need to communicate even more. It can be difficult on either side of the relationship. Your partner may understand that you are in pain, but they still feel rejected. When you’re in pain, sex can be the last thing you think about and talking about it can feel vulnerable. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when talking about sex.
Try talking about sex when the pain isn’t at its worst. If you are in severe pain, it can affect your ability to listen and focus on the conversation.
If you experience pain during sex, let your partner know what is causing the pain. For example, intercourse itself can be painful, or lying on your back can trigger a flare-up. You are the expert on your body and you remember that your partner cannot read your mind.
When you are the listener, ask a few questions about your partner’s pain. Do not accept anything. Show concern and interest in learning about your partner’s pain.
If your pain or medication is causing low libido, talk to your partner about ways to increase your cravings. If you are aware of the accelerator and brakes of your partner and your partner on both ends, you can understand the power-up well.
You may need to get creative. If pain takes a lot of sexual acts off the table, then work together to consider how you can be sexual together. A variety of suggestions and are available online. Download the Gottman Card Decks App to search for ideas on the Salsa Cards.
It can be helpful to develop a ritual for communicating pain levels or interest in sex. Some examples could be a rating on a scale from 1 to 10 for your pain as well as your desire and opening a discussion. Some couples like to use objects or symbols to communicate their desire for sex. You can put a special object on the bedside table as a signal.
On days when sexual intimacy is not an option due to pain, try to find other ways to get in touch with your partner. Ask your partner how you can make them feel loved and what they need from you that day. You can share appreciations with your partner, have a good time together, deal with your partner’s pain, or engage in other physical intimacies like holding hands or kissing.
Follow the general rules to avoid conflicts. Express your feelings and needs, take responsibility, and when you feel overwhelmed, take a break, practice calming yourself, and then come back together.
If you have been in pain for years, or if your pain progresses, your sex life may end. In most cases, this certainly doesn’t have to be the case. Bring your partner to a doctor’s appointment so they can learn about your pain, and you will be able to ask your doctor any questions about managing your sex disorder. Your doctor will likely have some great resources to help you cope. The key to remembering is to have open conversations with your partner about sex and to check-in frequently through your connection.