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Sex, Intimacy and Chronic Pain


Sex and chronic pain are not exactly synonymous.  And talking about the effect of chronic pain on one’s sex life and intimate relationship is what you might call a “hush, hush” or taboo topic.  However, many people living with chronic pain may feel alone, confused or even embarrassed by the issues that pain has on their intimate relationships.  So, here goes…the sex talk!

The relationship I have with my husband has undergone numerous changes as a result of my back surgeries and the accompanying chronic pain.  One area that has certainly been affected is our ability to be intimate.  Pain doesn’t exactly make me feel “sexy.”  Not to mention, the numerous pain medications that I take throughout the day can hamper libido.  Although my husband would attest to the fact that I am, in his eyes, a wonderful and perfect wife, these issues often make me feel as if I am failing as a spouse and, more importantly, as a woman.

I saw a Facebook post the other day on a chronic pain site where a woman said that sex with her husband was “a chore.” My personal (and professional) advice to those of you in pain is this: try not to let pain stop you from enjoying the connection and love you share with your partner.  I know, that is like saying you should try to run on a broken foot, but the truth is there are many things you can try to make sex more enjoyable, even with a chronic pain condition (think “Cosmopolitan” meets “Senior Magazine”).  Some suggestions on enhancing your sex life when dealing with chronic pain include:

  • Do a Google search for “sexual positions for (fill in the blank) pain.”  There are many websites that have helpful information, such as positions to avoid or positions that can enhance pleasure while minimizing pain.
  • It may sound cliché, but during the times when the pain does not allow you to be as physically intimate as you would like, figure out something else to do to focus on the physical connection you feel with your partner.  Kiss, caress, cuddle…sometimes an old-fashioned make-out session can be more enjoyable, less stressful and certainly less painful than sex, while still fulfilling the need for intimacy.
  • Join a support group.  There are many internet-based support groups that help people deal with chronic pain and intimacy-related issues.
  • Talk to your doctor.  He or she may be able to suggest topical or oral medications, lubricants or other aids that may be helpful in making sex more pleasurable and less painful.
  • Talk openly with your partner about how you feel, about what you desire and what your limitations are.
  • If you sense your partner is hesitant to engage in intimate activity for fear he or she may hurt you, talk it out and reassure your loved one that you will tell him or her know if something is hurting you.
  • Be patient with one another. This is a “touchy subject” for many couples and the best way to approach it is openly, calmly and as a team.

Do you experience similar issues? What have you found that works for you?

Photo courtesy of Toni Blay via Compfight

Sex, Intimacy and Chronic Pain



APA Reference
Rydzy MSW, T. (2013). Sex, Intimacy and Chronic Pain. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 22 Mar 2013
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Mar 2013
Published on All rights reserved.