That Thing No One Talks About

I am the mother of a toddler – my son is now 18 months old and he is a major handful! Luckily, my husband and I have found a great group of friends consisting of other couples with little kids. We call them our “mommy/daddy friends” and we try to help and support each other as much as we can.

Parenting and maintaining a sex life

When we get together with our mommy/daddy friends, it isn’t at all rare for us to talk or joke about the toll parenthood takes on our sex lives. It comes up often, even in mixed company with both moms and dads joking about it. And if the mamas are ever lucky enough to get a girls night out it is often the main topic of conversation (especially if wine is involved!) Everyone knows that while making babies may be intimate, having babies makes intimacy difficult. Parents have no time. We have no energy. We didn’t get enough sleep last night. There’s spitup on the sheets and maybe you can’t remember the last time you shaved your legs. Your sex life inevitably suffers.

For the most part, people tend to be very understanding and supportive when it comes to the issue of maintaining a healthy sex life as a parent. And if you start searching for advice on the topic you will find it everywhere. Articles like “Keep Your Sex Life Alive Post-Kids” and “5 Ways To Protect Your Sex Life From Your Kids” and “Eight Sex Secrets Every New Parent Should Know.” No one really seems that embarrassed to be asking for help or advice on this topic. It’s just reality, and there’s a lot of help out there for the troubled couple.

But let me be honest with you (and perhaps give you a little too much information about my personal life!): our sex life took a nosedive way before our son was born. Way before he was even conceived. For us, parenthood was just another little bump on the road. The real issue affecting our sex life for the past five years has been my rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

RA's impact on my sex life

Arthritis can have a huge impact on a person’s sex life. It can really mess with your body image – and sometimes treatments you take to make your RA better can actually make this problem worse. Maybe prednisone caused weight gain or you are having trouble losing weight because your RA makes it difficult to exercise. Maybe your legs are covered in bruises from injections and your hair is falling out as a methotrexate side effect. It can be really, really hard to feel sexy in these situations. RA also saps your energy and can do a number on your libido. And if you are dealing with joints that are painful it can feel overwhelming – or even impossible – to find an intimate act appealing.

But, for some reason, no one talks about it. While it’s totally ordinary for the parents of young children to lament about their sex lives and look for support, those of us living with a chronic, lifelong condition like RA are seemingly left in the dark on this topic. You don’t see the topic of sex come up much on RA blogs or message boards. And whether you are trying to start a family or you just want to have a healthy relationship with your significant other, there just isn’t much information or support out there for dealing with the impact of RA on your sex life.

Seeking sex life advice with RA

Have you ever googled “rheumatoid arthritis & sex” looking for advice? I have, and I really don’t recommend it. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the articles addressing the topic are highly depressing. In order to weed out any potentially useful information or advice you have to wade through multiple paragraphs of horrendous facts and statistics about how likely your sex life is to suck after getting diagnosed with RA. Things like “studies show that RA substantially diminishes the sex lives of 1 in 3 patients, and 1 in 10 say sex is out of the question.” I’m sorry, did you just say that 10% of people with RA just give up on sex all together?!? Or “people with RA can have poor self image – from joint deformities, weight gain, facial swelling (moon face), hair loss, depression, reduced libido, lack of endurance, medication-related vaginal dryness, etc. – which can seriously damage their sex lives.” Thank you for that all-inclusive list of every hurdle I have to overcome to feel sexy!! I had actually managed to forget about a few of those and I truly appreciate being reminded!! I even found one article where a woman blamed her pending divorce solely on the impact her RA had on their sex life, and another article that said a full 85% of marriages faced with the challenges of chronic illnesses eventually fail. It is shocking how often these seriously depressing facts are repeated without offering much advice for how to overcome them.

The sexual hurdles are difficult to overcome

Maybe the lack of positive, uplifting advice about RA and sex is due to the fact that the hurdles arthritis puts on your sex life can be extremely difficult to overcome. You can put the kids to bed early. You can hire a babysitter. You can have a quickie during naptime. But if your hip feels like there’s a knife in it, or your fatigue makes it difficult even to walk, there’s not a whole lot you can do to make sex seem more appealing.

Or maybe no one talks or jokes about arthritis and sex because the toll is permanent. Kids will eventually grow up, but the strain of arthritis on your sex life is forever. Perhaps it will even get worse. Yes, I will admit that reality can be very depressing. I often feel inadequate. Guilty. Miserable about my own body. And I have often felt like the poor state of our sex life is entirely my fault.

You aren't alone in looking for advice

I’m not a sex therapist and I am certainly not an expert on this topic. But I do think it is important to talk about this issue and share whatever resources and support we can to help each other. Because having a healthy sex life can have a huge impact on your overall well being – not to mention that of your partner. It takes a lot of work, a lot of communication, and a lot of patience to improve your sex life while dealing with RA. And, unfortunately, it’s a battle that is never completely won, as the changing nature of RA will make you face this issue again and again.

For starters I just want to say this: if RA has ever had a negative impact on your sex life, you are not alone.

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