How To Talk To Your Partner About Sex
If living with RA has had a negative impact on your sex life, you are certainly not alone. Although it is an extremely difficult and personal topic, I’ve shared some of my experiences and gotten enough feedback from readers to know that others are dealing with similar issues. Joint pain can make intimacy difficult, completely unappealing, or even impossible. Sometimes the medications used to treat RA can take a toll on your libido or have other side effects that make sex difficult or lower your self-esteem. And if you are dealing with fatigue it can be really tough to find energy to do anything in bed other than sleep.
If these issues sound familiar to you, one good way to start addressing them is to talk to your doctor. While it may not be easy to bring up these personal issues with your practitioner, having a healthy sex life is an important component of your overall well being. Sex is also a very important component having a healthy relationship as it promotes intimacy and reassures both partners that they are wanted and needed.
Unfortunately, having a healthy sex life takes a lot of work, particularly in a long-term relationship. It can be a struggle for almost any couple, and even more so when one partner has to deal with a chronic and painful disease. While it may be quite uncomfortable, good communication is critical to sustaining a healthy sex life, particularly when arthritis places additional obstacles on the path to intimacy.
If the idea of talking to your partner about sex seems daunting, here are some tips that may help you foster communication with your partner on this very important topic. (Please remember that I am not a sex therapist or an expert on this topic. This advice is based on my own research and experience. If this advice doesn’t seem useful to you, it may help to speak with an expert!)
Make Sure Your Partner Understands Your RA
Before you even bring up the topic of sex, it is important to make sure that your partner has a basic understanding of your RA. It may be useful to start by asking your partner to read some basic articles on the subject, such as “What Is RA?” or the articles listed under “Living With RA." Once your partner has a basic understanding of your disease, ask if they have any questions about how it impacts your daily life and answer as honestly as you can. It may also help to see if you can come up with a simple way to communicate your daily level of pain and fatigue to your partner, such as a number scale or promising to ask for help on particularly difficult days.
Make Time To Talk About Sex
Good communication is critical to building a healthy sex life. As difficult as it may be to initiate a conversation about sex, you will probably both feel relieved to discuss the issue rather than avoid it. It’s best to initiate this conversation while fully clothed and in a neutral setting, rather than when you are already in bed together. Do your best to be open and honest so that you can clear up any potential misunderstandings. Ask your partner to do the same. For example, you may think that your partner has stopped touching you because he or she has lost interest or finds you undesirable, but your partner may be fearful of causing you more pain. Open communication will help eliminate guesswork and lead to new understanding. Chronic pain suffered by one partner definitely ends up impacting the lives of both partners, so sharing your feelings, concerns, and desires is the first step to discovering satisfying options for both of you.
Share The Burden
Being chronically ill can make you feel like you are bringing less to the relationship than your healthy partner. You may feel guilty, inadequate, or like you are holding your healthy partner back. I have felt all of these things! These feelings can create a vicious cycle that ends up taking a brutal toll on your self-esteem, serving only to make the problems in your sex life worse. If you have similar feelings, try to share them with your partner so he or she can understand what you are going through. You did not choose to have arthritis, so instead of considering these issues as your problem alone ask your partner to share the burden. The arthritis may be yours, but having a healthy sex life takes the participation of two people. Make it a shared goal to find creative and interesting ways to keep your romantic life exciting and pleasurable for both of you. Encourage each other to try new things, but try to do so without placing undue pressure on each other. If you and your partner can both believe that arthritis is a shared problem you must overcome together, it can even help increase your emotional connection as you work together to address the problem.
Laugh Together and Stay Positive
Once you open the lines of communication about improving your sex life, try to stay positive through the inevitable process of trial and error. Be patient with yourself and your partner. If you encounter setbacks, first try laughing about it together! Then it may help to discuss what happened without placing any blame to see what you can learn from the situation. Remember that every problem you face is also an opportunity for you and your partner to learn and grow together. Improvements will take time.
Consider Outside Help
If you still find it difficult to communicate openly with your partner or you feel that you aren’t making any progress, you may want to consider getting outside help. You, your partner, or both of you together can talk to a doctor, nurse, social worker, minister, or therapist about the issues you are facing. If you do plan to get outside help, it can be particularly helpful if you can find someone who understands the difficulties of living with arthritis, or is at least willing to learn about it.