Maintaining Your Sexuality With Chronic Pain

Taking responsibility for your sexual self is the key to unlocking desire

Two years ago, I was the fittest I’d ever been. I’d been weightlifting for years, discovered a love for interval training, and my physique showed it. More importantly, I felt strong, powerful and sexy. This was when I realized that our sexual desire and our identity as sexual beings is our responsibility. No one can make you feel hot or desirable. You need to desire yourself. 

At the time, Hubby and I discussed opening our marriage, and, after several months of pillow talk and serious conversations, we decided to leap. When women reach their mid-thirties, their libido explodes—a decline in fertility that makes them biologically wired to seek more frequent sexual encounters. Often, women over 35 have gotten over their body image issues of their youth and are ready to ravage their lovers. 

Couple that libido explosion with being married to someone who was encouraging me to embrace my inner slut as much as I wanted, I was a sexual tornado. 

Pain took over and threatened my newly discovered sexual goddess

When the joint pain started, it was annoying and ever-present. It affected my hands and feet primarily, so sexy time was still enjoyable. My ability to workout changed, I struggled to hold weights and my feelings of power and strength evaporated along with my muscle definition.

Sexual desire in women is directly related to their sexual relationship with themselves, and when I started to lose my power, I felt my sexuality begin to wane. Some people may shrug their shoulders when that happens and accept a lower sex drive as part of the deal with chronic pain. 

But, I only recently discovered that my sexual being should be worshipped rather than hidden. I wasn’t going down without a fight. I did what I could to maintain my fitness level and adjusted my eating habits to account for the loss of muscle mass. 

The pain got worse, but I continued to fight

Then my large joints were affected. Now my hips began to seize up, my knees ached with any pressure and my arms couldn’t support my weight when I was in a flare. The first time I noticed the effects on my large joints was when Hubby attempted to lift one of my legs over his shoulder.  The angle caused a burning in my joints that was now depressingly familiar. I knew that the discomfort my wrists and ankles had experienced for months had reached my hips. 

I fought back harder. I hired a personal trainer seasoned in working with clients with chronic health conditions. He and I collaborated to find other grips, gloves with hooks and straps and methods of modifying exercises so that I could keep myself in fighting (or sexy) shape. 

Regular exercise is crucial for people with chronic illness. It can slow the deterioration of joints and help maintain both stability and flexibility. Exercise is proven to boost female libido and enhance sexual pleasure. It is also associated with positive sexual health effects in men. 

People with chronic pain reap even more benefits from regular exercise such as lower pain levels, improved function and a better quality of life. Working with a physical therapist or trainer can help people develop exercise regimens that are appropriate for their abilities and limitations. 

On my good days, I was still able to (mostly) keep up with my favorite partners. Though my ability to climb on top and ride is limited, and my hips often need a change in position. None of my partners mind, and I’ve gotten used to asking for help modifying positions, which is a useful skill for anyone living with chronic illness anyway. 

Another roadblock

Now, I’m quarantined at home, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have a suppressed immune system on top of joint pain, and can’t risk exposure. I’ve lost access to the methods of pain relief that have helped me maintain my sexuality. 

I can’t get to the gym or see my trainer. He’s sending me workouts via text and helping me with modifications based on my feedback, but it isn’t the same as having him there to guide me through each exercise. I need him to push me when my mind, rather than my muscles, is holding me back. 

I can’t get massages or acupuncture to keep the pain at bay. I’ve traded my daily soak in the hot tub at the gym for two or three Epson salt soaks in my oversized tub. It’s still lovely, but not quite as effective. 

My sensual self has taken quite a hit from this isolation nonsense (I do think it’s important, but my inner goddess wants to call it nonsense because she is dying to get out). 

I’m in pain all day long as I try to homeschool my children and squeeze in some freelance work. All of this takes a toll on my overall energy level and especially my sexual energy. I’m not alone in this. Many women report that the demands of childcare serve to lower their libido, thought there is some evidence that this can be offset with proper self-care and a partner who shares the load. 

Last night my spouse and I finally had a few moments when I wasn’t hurting. We tried to have sex. We both tried so hard to make it work, but in the end, my mental state couldn’t handle it. Rather than change positions when something hurt, I got frustrated and gave up. My partner didn’t do anything wrong, though he worries that’s the case. My sexual desire and satisfaction are my responsibility, not his. 

Your sexuality is your responsibility

Our sexuality is directly linked to our mental health, and when we fail to properly care for ourselves in any area, our desire and confidence takes a hit. If you’re dealing with chronic pain, maintaining your identity as a sexual being will be more difficult than it was before. 

Chronic pain makes everything more difficult, but you don’t stop washing your laundry of preparing meals just because you hurt, you find easier ways to do it and move on. The same logic applies to your sexuality.

I need to fight harder for my sexuality. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it now. I’ll double my efforts until I’ve found some semblance of sexual balance. Today, I will cast aside the stay at home isolation wardrobe and wear one of my favourite dresses. I will let soft fabric dance against my legs, reminding me of the delights between them.

I may even skip panties to make myself feel a bit naughty. 

Today I will do my hair and apply makeup as I would if I were meeting a friend for dinner. These are things that make me feel sensual, not something I do for others. I love my long, flowing curls and have spent way too much time with them tied in a knot atop my head this week. 

Today I have a “Facetime and Wine” date with my friend, Alice. She’s the first woman I’ve had a romantic interest in and our interactions are always part flirty, part female griping and part comedy show. 

By this time tomorrow, I’m planning to be well on my way towards feeling like the incredible sexual creature I know I can be. When are you getting started? 

Photo by Imani Clovis on Unsplash

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