Posted in arthritis, Chronic Pain, Questions

Arthritis in the Bedroom

Sex as a Taboo Topic

When I asked to discuss this topic, I was a bit hesitant because I was not sure how the readers of this blog would respond. Moreover, I generally offer my personal experience when asked to write about a particular topic, and I was not prepared to do so in this instance. I did eventually decide that this was a topic worth discussing because there is so many people who feel like arthritis and chronic pain have no place in the bedroom, in particular those of us who suffer.
I also took into consideration that society looks the discussion of sex as taboo and talking about how it pertains to chronic pain is similar to opening Pandora’s Box. In general, people do not want to discuss sexuality because we do not want to talk about what happens behind closed doors. This even applies to couples in meaningful relationships because even they hide their feelings on this subject from each other.

I debated the subject and decided to forget the taboo and go ahead to discuss the effect that arthritis and chronic pain have on sexuality. After all, what do I have to lose?

What is Intimacy?
We all know what intimacy requires and includes. Ideally, it includes love. It can also include romance. Two additional critical components are mood and setting (hopefully, setting is ideal). Last, intimacy includes the act, with positions and physical attributes.

In addition to the requirements of intimacy, we can also look at why intimacy fails and why breakups and divorces occur. In looking at the reasons for failure, we see that there are challenges to successful relationships and that once successful relationships can fail. Moreover, when we consider the reasons for failure, we often forget that, in addition to emotional factors, physical factors can play a part in the success or failure of a relationship. Emotional factors are a given, as are intimate issues. Physical factors can include arthritis and chronic pain conditions.

Intimacy and Arthritis

The problems faced by arthritis sufferers are both emotional and physical. Emotional factors include self-doubt and poor body image. Physical factors include joint pain and other symptoms that are characteristic of a person’s specific arthritis condition. These concerns not only affect the patient, but they also affect that person’s partner as well. Barriers include physical pain, the ability to perform because of joint pain or other symptoms, expectations and personal needs- both sexual and emotional. This complete consensus can result into strong complications in a relationship.

What it all comes down to is that sex is supposed to be enjoyable, but for arthritis sufferers, it can be difficult. In additional to physical pain, psychological factors come into play. The nature of a couple’s sexual lifestyle prior to the diagnosis further complicates the situation. This can result into resentment, worry and fear for both partners.
The Effect of Arthritis on Sexual Intimacy

The effects of arthritis pain, stiffness, fatigue, lack of mobility, and swelled joints can make sex difficult, painful, and unappealing. When arthritis affects your back, your knees, your hips, ankles, etc., sex cannot possibly be enjoyable. In addition, side effects of medications can diminish sexual desire and cause other problems such as vaginal dryness, erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm, and fatigue that also lessen the desire to be intimate. Then, as the sufferer, you feel sexually unattractive and, as a result, you cannot feel relaxed enough to enjoy the actual act. These feelings bring with them anxiety and stress and further worsen our symptoms.

When you sufferer from arthritis, your partner may not necessarily be aware of the changes happening to your body – both physical and emotional. Your partner cannot understand your pain levels, nor can he or she know whether you are using pain levels as an excuse not to be intimate or whether your excuses are legit. All of these factors can lead to the failure of a relationship when the real and best answer comes down to communication.
What can we do?
Change Expectations

Sexual intimacy is not just about achieving an orgasm or the act itself. If we can change this perception, we can change our expectations. Taking a slower approach to intimacy works best for partners when they share mutual respect, care, trust and love for each other. Moreover, barriers can be approached through communication on what is comfortable and what is not. Arthritis does not necessarily affect sexual organs but the physical effects of the disease can make intercourse painful. Moreover, emotions come into play because of those physical aspects. Therefore, couples must address the emotional aspects, as well as the physical, openly and honestly.


Expressing fears and concerns allows the partner without arthritis to support and reassure. In addition, talking about fears will allow the arthritis sufferer to let go. What the arthritis sufferer must take in mind is that his or her fears can be viewed as rejection and vice versa applies. Rejection turns into distance and emotional breakdown of the relationship.

If these topics are sensitive initially, writing a letter to a partner to express fears and concerns can be another approach, but the next step would be to talk openly about what has been written down.

Sexual Wellbeing and Getting Creative

Psychological wellbeing and social support can contribute to a fulfilling sexual life. By learning to separate the emotional aspects of arthritis and working creatively to deal with the physical aspects, couples can take a more practical approach in dealing with changes brought about by arthritis and in turn, make accommodations for one another when dealing sexual intimacy.

Changing sexual habits and planning is the first place a couple can start in order to continue to have a fulfilling sex life. For example, if the arthritis sufferer wakes up stiff and in pain in the morning, sexual intercourse can be saved for later in the day or at night prior to bedtime. If being resting helps, perhaps the arthritis sufferer can a nap prior rather than avoiding the act altogether simply because of factors that contribute to the inability to perform. If muscles and joint become tense during sex, then a perhaps considering a warm bath to sooth muscles prior to sexual intimacy may help to ease those tensions. Other considerations can include taking pain medications prior so that its maximum effects happens during sex, using massage to help ease muscles and joints as foreplay, using pillows or rolled sheets to support joints, or even pacing yourself to conserve your energy for you and your partner. Vaginal dryness can be addressed by using over the counter lubricant. Other more difficult issues, such as erectile dysfunction, may require a medical perspective. What it all comes down to is that couples have to be willing to work together in order to allow for intimacy to be fulfilling for both partners.
Sexual intimacy should not make the disease worse. By focusing on the physical and emotional aspects rather than intercourse and orgasm, being creative, and open and honest with each another, couples affected by arthritis can continue to enjoy sex and find satisfaction with intimacy.

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If you like have a question related to rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia that you would like me to answer, please feel free to either leave it in a comment box anytime (leave your email/website link so I can notify you when it is answered) or send me an email to I will do my best to answer your question. See Disclaimer.


6 thoughts on “Arthritis in the Bedroom

  1. This is something that I have wondered about – the effects RA has on other people in the bedroom. It is very frustrating when I am too exhausted or in pain and my spouse doesn't understand.I'm glad you addressed this issue.

  2. You are so very brave, tackling this subject. I admire that. 🙂 Something I would like to point out, just from personal experience: No matter what the books or pamphlets say, go with what feels best for you. They all say that certain positions work best for those with RA, but in my experience, "they" are wrong. So just try everything as best you can. An open mind can solve a lot of problems. 🙂

  3. Well said! Another issue – because we feel so inadequate and unattractive at times, jealous can raise it's head. Communication is so very important! When Sex isn't an option we can share Intimacy can be found in many places – with a touch or shoulder rub when saying good night, a kiss goodbye when off to work, cuddling while watching a movie… Peace and blessings!

  4. I remember early on in my diagnosis reading about this topic and panicking that it would change every aspect of my life. In reality, sex does change if you are hit hard with disease. But, due to having the most incredible guy alive, it doesn't have to mean it is a bad change. You learn new ways, you laugh at yourself sometimes and you just keep trying. Thanks for sharing this information Lana!

  5. Lana, It's crossed my mind to post about this but I haven't quite had the courage. So thank you 🙂 The final little paragraph was a prefect summary. Sexual intimacy should not make the disease worse and, if you're with the right partner who works to really understand you, it can actually make things a lot easier. I am thankful to my boyfriend for showing me the good things my body is still capable of feeling and doing.In my eyes, openness and complete honesty is essential to any healthy relationship – so why not a sexual one? Thanks again – great post as always ❤

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