Relationships & Sex

Disability and sex: being intimate when you have chronic pain

If you have a disability, especially one that causes you pain, sex can be tricky. But there are ways around it. We hear from one reader about how she not only had to come to terms with living a new life after becoming disabled, but also learning how to have and enjoy sex again. Read on to find out how she did it, as well as her top tips.

More than 10 years ago I suffered a fracture that resulted in me having severe chronic pain condition. I was in agony, all the time. So the thought of having any kind of personal contact was a million miles away from my mind. For months, I couldn’t bear to move, let alone be touched. Even being held or cuddled was difficult.

As time passed by, my ‘normal’ life changed and I started to come to terms with my completely different life. By that point, my husband and I were trying to manage my pain and I was on a huge cocktail of drugs to help. They left me feeling quite spaced out and so again, being close to my husband was something that was a trillion miles away.

The doctors gave me a lot of advice, especially regarding my drug dosages. They were kind and told me to take time for myself, to look after myself, to even go on holiday to rest, recuperate and come to terms with our new future. But at no point did anyone give us advice about our personal life. Learning how to be intimate again was just a new as learning to live with my disability, and I needed just as much advice.

The lack of conversations about it meant I felt I had become a completely ‘sexless’ person, and that that part of my life had been pushed to one side, not addressed in any way.

As a couple, my husband and I are a very close. We have always been very touchy-feely with each other, holding hands, giving each other pecks on the cheek etc, both at home and in public. But my chronic pain now presented us with a huge challenge – how the hell could we have anything resembling a sex life when I can hardly move without pain?

Going online for advice

With seemingly no doctors to turn to, like everyone else these days, I turned to Dr Google. Very quickly I realised that a lot of people were in the very same boat as us and that there is a wealth of advice out there, from a mix of charities, such as Scope, and complete strangers. Nothing from the medical professionals, but instead people who had found their own ways of coping and combining a long-standing condition with some kind of sex life.

So, after a very wide-eyed educational evening and with all this information to hand, it was time to put some of this advice to the test!

Talking openly about sex

One of the key things people stressed is that you need to talk about sex. Be open and be honest with each other about what you want, what it means to you and the issues you face.

For us, the talking bit was surprisingly the easiest bit. We have always been able to talk, but doing it in this way took it to another level. Once I’d started saying how this lack of intimacy was really affecting me, my husband found it relatively easy to join in. In fact, he admitted how much it had been bothering him too, but he hadn’t wanted to bring it up. He didn’t want to be seen as just wanting that ‘one’ thing, like most men.

He also found it incredibly difficult to see me suffering and in such pain, so didn’t feel he could broach the subject. It wasn’t the easiest of conversations, but I’m so glad we had it. We both acknowledged that we wanted to be closer physically, but hadn’t known before how the hell to start THAT conversation!

Logistics to help you have sex

The more hands-on advice came in a range of forms, but a lot focused on the logistics to help make things easier. Some tips that you might find useful included: 

  • working out what time of day your pain is least severe so you can try and have sex then;
  • trying different positions and different places, maybe somewhere other than the bed to make sure you are as comfortable as you can;
  • reloading with meds beforehand to make sure that you’re as pain-free as possible;
  • if penetrating sex is difficult, then using sex toys instead can really help.

Also, a lot of people talked about focusing in on other senses, not just penetration. Using hands, props, music, touch and taste, all your senses can be part of a wonderful sex life. It doesn’t have to be all action to count.

Unfortunately, the tip about looking to have sex in other places didn’t work for us. We thought about it and tried a few alternative locations, but the pain was too severe for me and, believe me, pain is not a good form of foreplay!

It did remind me of the need to preload my meds, a tip that has been really useful. It’s meant I’ve made sure I am as pain-free as possible, every time. So, the good old traditional bed won. I can’t have any kind of weight on me, but being so close physically with my husband who in many ways, has become my carer, was wonderful.

Using sex toys

Having had a very healthy sex life before, my husband and I had played around with sex toys, but never had them as the main focus. So, after a promise from each of us that we really wanted to try it, we gave it a go. 

Well, ladies and gents, I must say, from a lady who cannot bend, wriggle, squirm or hardly move her legs, this made the world of difference! Oh yes, indeed it did! Plus, hubby thought it was enormously sexy seeing me having such a great time, so he had a brilliant time too! So thanks Dr Google for that tip!

Help and advice out there

So yes, Dr Google has been more than helpful. There’s a whole community of support out there that has helped me enormously, and I am sure could help you too.

Rebuilding our private life has been a difficult challenge. It’s bad enough when your work life, your social life and your family life suffers due to chronic pain, but when your private life suffers too, it feels like there really is nothing left from before. Life is very hard indeed. But, thankfully, I have a very understanding partner and we’ve worked at it together

We all need that closeness, that touch, that feeling of connection and belonging. So being disabled or dealing with a long-term condition shouldn’t mean that your sex life has to suffer. It may well need to adapt or change, but it needn’t end. After all, we all need a bit of ‘ooh la la’ in our lives, don’t we!

By Sarah Smith

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