Chronic Illness: How it Can Affect Your Sex Life


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How can a chronic illness affect my sex life?

A chronic illness is a health problem that you have over a long period of time, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis or cancer.

People who have a chronic illness can feel tired and depressed a lot of the time. They may have pain, stiffness or trouble sleeping. They may need medicines or other treatments that can affect their sex life. They may have a surgery that changes how their body looks. As a result, they may feel less interested in sex, or they may not enjoy sex like they used to.

Suggestions for keeping your sex life healthy if you have a chronic illness

Read about your illness. There are many self-help books that discuss sex and specific chronic illnesses. You can also join a support group to talk about your illness.

If you have a chronic health problem, the following might help you get ready for sexual activity:

  • Plan sexual activity for the time of day when you have the most energy and your health problem bothers you the least.
  • Be sure that you are rested and relaxed.
  • Wait at least 2 hours after you eat to have sex.
  • If you need pain medicine to feel better, take the medicine 30 minutes before sexual activity.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink, and avoid using tobacco in any form. Alcohol and tobacco can affect sexual function.

The following might help you maintain your sex life:

  • Hold hands, hug and touch your partner, even when you do not plan to have sex.
  • Use your senses to make sexual activity more enjoyable. For example, have satin sheets on the bed, light some scented candles or play music.
  • Tell your partner what you like and do not like. Listen to your partner's likes and dislikes.
  • Try different sexual positions to find positions that are comfortable for you and your partner, or use pillows for comfort.
  • Try personal lubricants (one brand name: K-Y Jelly) to help reduce discomfort with sexual intercourse.

Talking to your partner

Even with the best of intentions and preparation, there may be times during your illness when you decide that you do not want to be sexually active. Talk to your partner about how you feel and why you feel that way. Talk about how you can help your partner deal with his or her feelings and interest in sexual activity.

Talking to your doctor

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about your sex life. Your doctor may have some suggestions that can help.

Be sure to let your doctor know if you are feeling depressed or if you think that side effects from a medicine are affecting your sex life.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 09/10
Created: 09/03

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