Sex and Chronic Pain

Sex is sometimes discussed on headache forums — as in, ha! like I want to have sex when I’m in pain all the time — but it generally goes unmentioned on headache information sites or blogs (including this one). It’s an embarrassing topic for many, but one that should not be ignored.

Pain itself can reduce your desire and so can medications used to treat pain, like antidepressants. People with chronic pain can also have depression, low self-esteem, relationship problems, exhaustion, anger (toward themselves and others), guilt, anxiety — all of which can affect sexual desire. Ironically, having sex releases endorphins that can reduce pain and encourage good sleep.

With lots of googling, I’ve found a plethora of resources on sex and illness. Here are my favorites:

Sexuality and Chronic Pain: The Mayo Clinic touches on issues of sex and chronic pain and gives some ideas for overcoming obstacles. It’s a short overview that’s a good place to start thinking about the topic.

When Sex is a Pain: An accessible, non-clinical article from Wired. It acknowledges the strain that a lack of desire has on relationships and points out that desire is “use it or lose it” — but that your body can re-learn the skill.

Rekindling Desire: Provides practical, realistic ways to increase desire and how partners can work together to reach this goal. It emphasizes the connection between intimacy and desire without being too self-helpy.

Beware the Sex Killers: Antidepressants are known to decrease libido (Wellbutrin/bupropion is is an exception), but other medications can do the same. This Psychology Today article claims that any medication that warns of potential drowsiness can also reduce sexual desire.

Rediscovering Sex After Illness or Trauma: Although cancer is the primary illness addressed, this article stresses the importance of positive self-image and an acceptance that life is not bad, just different, in igniting desire.

Do you know of any other useful information? Share it in the comments or e-mail me.