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Arthritis can have significant effects on everyday aspects of a patient's life, including their sex life. This article outlines how arthritis can affect your sex life.

Arthritis is a chronic disease that can be debilitating for those that suffer from it. Arthritis can significantly affect people’s quality of life. In particular, having arthritis can affect relationships, including relationships with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse.

Most couples, regardless of whether or not they have a chronic disease, go through periods in their relationship in which their sex life is not as exciting as it is used to be. In the case of arthritis, this can be both emotional as well as physical due to the restraints imposed on patients from the stiffness or pain of joints that may be involved in sex movements.

Additionally, the emotional toll of having a chronic debilitating disease may also cause sufferers to be less willing to participate in sexual activity. These are the eight ways in which having arthritis can affect sex in your relationship:

  1. If the affected arthritic joints include the hips or other important joints that are used for sexual activity, then sex can cause significant pain and a reduction in pleasure for the patient.
  2. Arthritis in certain joints can also lead to a reduction in the ability to carry out hobbies or activities that you both previously enjoyed doing together, such as going for a hike. This can cause a distancing in the relationship and lead to a lack of intimacy.
  3. Arthritis can impose certain financial burden on the couple as you may need to adjust your living situation or obtain expensive equipment to make life easier. Financial burdens can have a significant impact on the patient’s relationship, including their sex life.
  4. Having arthritis can affect your ability to do household chores, which leads to fights and tension with your partner and a reduction in sexual activity.
  5. Arthritis can have an emotional toll on the individual, leading to issues with self-esteem and causing you to not want to have sex. For examples, patients with swollen joints may feel like they are less attractive and therefore, will not want to have sex.
  6. Your partner may refrain from wanting to have sex with you as they may be worried that you will be negatively affected.
  7. Many patients with arthritis feel tired a lot or have fatigue. This can cause the patient to not be in the mood for sex.
  8. In some instances, having arthritis can lead to a dry vagina, making sex very discomforting. However, there are lots of lubricating gels that can make sex a lot more enjoyable.
The good news is that many couples with arthritis are able to make their relationships work and are happy with their sex lives.

he most important thing is to be able to talk about the problems in the relationship openly and to not keep things bottled up. By communicating with your partner about the issues in the relationship (including sex), it will help the two of you become stronger as a couple. You can discuss the issues and come to a solution together. In this manner, your partner will know exactly how you are feeling and vice versa. This will help the two of you get closer. Once you have initiated open communication about the issues plaguing you, that will be a great relief for your partner and you two can continue the open communication for the rest of your relationship.

Furthermore, not every day is a painful day for patients with arthritis. When your arthritis is well-controlled and you have minimal pain and the ability to move your joints without significant pain, you should take advantage of those days and have sex with your partner or do activities that are physically demanding that make the both of you happy (like going for a long walk, swimming, hiking).

Is having sex bad for my arthritis?

The good news is that having sex will not worsen your arthritis. However, you may experience certain issues during the act of sex, particularly if the joints affected are in the hips or back. Therefore, while sex won’t worsen your arthritis, it can be uncomfortable, physically demanding and even painful. There are lots of different positions that can allow you to be more comfortable and still enjoy a good sexual relationship.

Medication and sex

In most cases, medications that are used to treat arthritis will have no effect on your ability or desire to have sex. The one exception is if you are taking steroids, as that can lead to a reduction in your desire to have sex or, in rare cases, cause short-term erectile dysfunction. If you think the medications that you are taking are affecting your sex life, then discuss it with your doctor who can advise you on what to do.

Surgery and sex

For anyone undergoing surgery, it is known that you should refrain from having sex for a short period of time. The good thing is, in the case of arthritis, if you are undergoing surgery then your sex life will likely improve following surgery once your joint has had time to heal. While many patients feel nervous about having sex after a surgery, once you have given some time for the wound to heal, generally about 6 weeks, you can start having sex regularly. However, it is important to keep in mind that if you are having a hip replacement, that you should be careful with the kind of hip movements you do after sex for about 12 weeks after the surgery. 

  • Hill, J., H. Bird, and R. Thorpe. "Effects of rheumatoid arthritis on sexual activity and relationships." Rheumatology 42.2 (2003): 280-286.
  • Currey, H. L. "Osteoarthrosis of the hip joint and sexual activity." Annals of the rheumatic diseases 29.5 (1970): 488.
  • Elst, P., et al. "Sexual problems in rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis." Arthritis & Rheumatism: Official Journal of the American College of Rheumatology 27.2 (1984): 217-220.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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