Coping, Resources, Treatment

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.

4 thoughts on “Sex and Chronic Pain”

  1. Thanks for the great comments. I know this is tough to talk about, but it’s great to hear what you have to say.

    Brenda, I bet your husband would be up for the duty, even if you feel like you look terrible. I do the same when Hart has a migraine and its amazingly intimate in its own way — more like an act of caregiving than anything else.

    Thanks for the link and the information, Dr. Peterson. I didn’t realize serotonin release was at work too.

    Not sure if you’ve tried other antidepressants, Erin, but Wellbutrin doesn’t have the same sexual side effects as the others. There’s actually talk of using it to treat sexual dysfunction in people without depression.

    Thanks again!


  2. Kerrie, I am SO glad that you brought this up. I was on Effexor for my migraines. It worked GREAT, but I had no desire. Zippo, nada, none! Also, when I WAS up for a little hanky-panky, I never got any satisfaction from it. After a few months of serious frustration I dropped the med, pronto!

    And yes, with all the other junk that comes along with chronic pain (exhaustion, difficulty achieving satisfaction, etc), relations with your partner can be difficult. It takes a lot of communication and compromise.

  3. This may be the time to talk about a recent study that found that headache sufferers have somewhat higher sex drives than non-headache sufferers. The results are summarized here on WebMD:

    And yes–often orgasm during a headache can yield relief, via endorphin and serotonin release. I’ll bet you’re partner would be happy to oblige, and if you are really feeling gross-looking, well…there is always the shower. 🙂

  4. It is a somewhat embarrassing subject. One I have always wanted to comment on myelf. I have found that when I am in the midst of a horrible migraine I feel the need for sex. But when my mouth tastes worse than wall paper paste and my hair is plastered to my head with sweat my logical mind cannot fathom being intimate with a partner. mastrubation is sometimes the only relief. To my husbands dissapointment, when the migraine is gone so is that urgent need. lol

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *