Chronic Illness and Intimacy

Chronic Illness and Intimacy

Having a chronic illness can complicate sex. Many people experience major concerns over how their chronic conditions will affect their quality of life; the ability to be physically intimate and enjoy sex is one of those concerns. 

Like the average able-bodied individual, many of those with chronic conditions have wants and desires too; we are still human after all. But even though we have those similar desires to become physically intimate with a partner, sometimes we just mentally or physically cannot. Depending on your diagnosis, your body may not be able to function the way it used to. It may not have the same feelings and sensations that it used to have, or you may be experiencing significant levels of pain and limited mobility. But regardless of the diagnosis, physical intimacy is often possible, and can be gratifying for both you and your partner. With the right attitude, creativity, and support, you and your partner can strengthen your bond while continuing to enjoy being physical. 

Having a chronic disease already comes with an overwhelming list of emotional and physical concerns. Physical intimacy with a partner can bring up a multitude of other issues including, but not limited to:

  • feeling less attractive 
  • feeling insecure with the way your body moves
  • feeling less desire or energy to be physically intimate
  • feeling anxious about how your partner feels about you
  • feeling pain during sexual activity

It’s normal to feel any one of the above concerns around physical intimacy. But that should not stop you from seeking comfort and pleasure from each other. And here are some tips to help both of you keep that fire burning. 

  • Be Knowledgeable. Learn as much as you can about the ways your body is able to move, what activities cause pain, and what helps to take the pain away. The more you know about the way your disease affects you, the more you’ll be able to communicate and get creative with your partner. 
  • Communicate. We’ve all heard it: communication is key. Your partner cannot read your mind. If you are in pain, less mobile, or under some emotional or mental distress, don’t be afraid to let your partner know. Even though it’s natural to have anxiety about how your partner may look at you when you communicate these types of issues, it’s important to express your feelings and concerns so you don’t get hurt or cause more damage. All you can do is communicate how you’re feeling. If your partner does not want to listen or work with you on those issues, then you might want to think about if you want to be physically intimate with someone like that in the first place.
  • Do Your Prep Work. We would all love to be spontaneous and fun when it comes to sex, but the reality is that doesn’t always work when you have a chronic disease. Sometimes we need to do a little bit of prep and planning whether it’s taking some medication, warming up the muscles, or having some downtime to re-energize. Invite your partner to become a part of the “prep work” and you might find it makes you even more comfortable to be physically intimate. 
  • Don’t be a Hero. When things are going well and both of you are having a great time, it’s very easy to want to push yourselves a little further, especially if it’s to make your partner happy. Having a chronic disease means introducing a variable of unpredictability. In one moment, things can be going great, and in the next, something goes wrong or starts hurting. It’s okay to stop and let your partner know what’s going on. As much as we want to keep going when things are going well, there’s nothing wrong with taking a little pause. You can always pick up where you left off. 

While these tips are geared towards those people with chronic conditions, what about those able-bodied individuals who are becoming physically intimate with those who are disabled? We’ve got you covered with the following suggestions around becoming physically intimate with someone with a chronic disease. 

  • Be Compassionate and Respectful. While trying to be physically intimate, things may not always go as well as you’d like. And that’s okay. Many times, the issues will have nothing to do with you or your partner and will be a result of the disease. That can be frustrating and it’s important to remember that if that happens, it’s not a reflection on you or your partner. When and if issues arise during physical intimacy, let them know that you’re there for support. It’s tough enough as it is for your partner and it’s comforting to know that you’re in their corner.
  • Ask. Do not Assume! We’ve all heard the saying about what happens when we make assumptions. When it comes to physical intimacy it’s okay to ask the harder or more awkward questions even about the more intimate details. More times than not, asking and talking about specific issues around chronic conditions and physical intimacy will lead to more comfort between the two of you. While many people make the automatic assumption that those with chronic conditions are less likely to engage in physical intimacy, that may not always be the case. Just as each person’s illness is specific to them, so too is their perspective on sex. In other words, if you are in the mood, it’s okay don’t be afraid to ask. Just remember that sometimes even though we want to say yes, we will have to say maybe next time. 
  • Comprehend, Communicate, and Respond. Your voice is just as important as your partner’s. It’s important that you also communicate your issues and concerns. But it is equally as important to listen and comprehend what your partner is saying and respond in a constructive way. It’s very easy to share how you feel without really taking to heart how your partner feels. Bounce off each other and work together to find ways to be intimate.

Physical intimacy is crucial to quality of life. With the right attitude and approach, you and your partner can achieve a sense of comfort and pleasure from being physically intimate. No matter how much your body changes due to chronic illness, you should still be able to enjoy the pleasures that come from sex and intimacy. 

Sadiq Jiwa

Sadiq Jiwa is a 27-year-old professional golfer from Vancouver, Canada. He graduated from Kenyon College in 2018 where he was recruited to play golf and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Economics. Sadiq was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) at the age of six and has been living with the disease for 20+ years. The arthritis started in his neck and soon evolved to a systemic condition affecting multiple areas, causing joint stiffness, muscle weakness and chronic pain. Throughout this time, Sadiq has constantly battled his arthritis through various medications, physiotherapy regimens, and other muscle/joint restorative therapies. Fortunately, through the help of his rheumatologist, parents, coaches, and physiotherapy group, he is able to manage his condition and continue chasing his dream of playing on the PGA Tour. Outside of his professional golf career, Sadiq works in marketing with the Maple Leaf Junior Golf Tour (MJT) and volunteers with various arthritis awareness groups across Canada and the United States. 

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