Archive for ‘chronic illness’

15 May 2012

Fibromyalgia and sexuality

Fibromyalgia affects 2 to 5% of world population and many people affected are living in industrialized countries. 80% of sufferers are women. The disease usually begins between 30 and 50 but children and teens may also be affected. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized fibromyalgia only in 1992. Previously, people were discriminated against because he had not yet officially recognized. 20 years later, several people said they had to fight for their diagnostic recognition among government agencies.

Fibromyalgia is characterized by many signs and symptoms and vary from person to person, which is why it is called a syndrome. It is not fatal but it is a disease which is very challenging and often prevents the sufferer to perform daily activities. Fibromyalgia is incurable, it can not heal but  the symptoms are treated.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia [1]

Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain and diffuse, mainly muscle, associated with chronic fatigue and sleep disturbances. However, symptoms vary from person to person. Moreover, climate, time of day, stress levels and physical activity are factors that influence the severity of symptoms and their variability over time. Some of the symptoms:

  • Diffuse muscle pains that are accompanied by morning stiffness, and specific locations of the body painful to touch. The neck and shoulders are usually the first place painful, followed by the back, chest, arms and legs.
  • In extreme situations, a simple touch or even a touch causes pain throughout the body. The pain may be accompanied by the feeling that sore areas are swollen.
  • Constant pain, but aggravated by the efforts, cold, humidity, and lack of emotions.
  •  A lightweight and non-restorative sleep, causing fatigue upon awakening.
  • Persistent fatigue (all day), in 9 of 10 cases. The rest does not make it disappear.
  • Headaches or severe headaches, possibly caused by muscle tension in neck and shoulders, and a disruption of the natural ways of controlling pain.
  • An irritable bowel syndrome: diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain.
  • Depression or anxiety (in approximately one third of persons with fibromyalgia).
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Increased acuity of the senses, an increased sensitivity to odors, light, noise and temperature changes (in addition to sensitivity to touch).
  • Numbness and tingling hands and feet.
  • Painful menstruation and premenstrual syndrome marked.
  •  An irritable bladder syndrome (interstitial cystitis).

Fibromyalgia: Couple and Sexuality

Many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia affect the sexuality of people. When the pain is obvious, the first thing that might be affected is the libido.

Medication can affect sexual function in many ways and your doctor may suggest a new medication that would have less impact on your sexuality. The negative effects of drugs are found in different phases of sexual response:

  • Sexual desire may be numb by the medication: not responding  to stimuli that previously made you want to have a more active sexuality.
  • Excitement: When intercourse is started, men will have a hard time to achieve or maintain an erection and it becomes difficult to be motivated to continue. Lubrication in women is minimal or absent.
  • Orgasm and ejaculation: the desire and arousal are present but you can not (or only with extraordinary efforts) to have an orgasm or to ejaculate  for men.

Pain during intercourse or genital fondling:

Some may develop genital pain during intercourse, they will greatly affect sexual activity in marriage. To have more information, the Human Sexuality Reseach Laboratory of University of Ottawa   advises women with these disorders. You will find on his website full of tips to help you.

Couple, Communication & Comfort

The key when you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia is to keep communication open in your relationship. When frustration becomes too large, couples can begin to avoid talking about sensitive issues for fear of hurting each other and the situation can escalate. If this happens to you, it is good advice to consult a sexologist before giving up. Sexology also implies affection, communication, and of course sexuality. Consult before a third person opens new horizons and help find solutions and practical advices for both of you. Sexuality implies expressing love for each other and live in greater relational intimacy.

Be comfortable

You read about it, you do whatever it takes and still, the pain prevents you from accessing the pleasure. You do gentle stretches, the room is at the right temperature, a cozy little music is playing, the linens are fresh and soft, you have a small heating pad  you can use if you need it and you have a water-based lubricant in case. That is a good starting point to begin ….

That’s it, you’re fit and want to be sexual but you can not find a comfortable position long enough. Have you considered a more suitable furniture for you and your partner? To find a position where you will not be crushed under the weight of the partner or a position that will not ask you to balance for too long is not always obvious.

Some furniture is designed for sexuality, research on the Internet and find furniture or accessories that will help your sex life. Some sex toys may also help you to please your male partner unless you have too much effort like this Tantra chair.

Tantra Chair

There are toys for men  called masturbators and you can use them together when you want to have an intimate moment. Sophisticated or smaller, they can be useful at times. If the pain bothers you too, do not hesitate to visit a sex shop to see if certain toys could help you maintain a sexually active life.

Finally, this small article is intended as an overview of the different areas affected by fibromyalgia. The main objective is to enable you to discuss sexuality in your marriage and to present some solutions. There are alternatives to pain, it’s up to you to discover and adapt to your married life.

For information on men with fibromyalgia, you might want to check this website:  Men with fibro

(1) free traduction

11 February 2012

Sexuality & chronic illness

Lately I was asked to do a  conference for the Canadian Liver foundation in Montreal. Much of my work that evening was to open the discussion, listen to their concerns and questions about sexuality and to answer to the best of my ability. Living with a liver condition can mean living with a chronic illness. And this is how I prepared that evening.

People living with chronic illness, elders, people living with disabilities or mentally challenge are very often denied a sexual life. When they meet their doctors, they don’t really talk about sexual concerns. On the doctors side, if the patient says nothing, the doctor  don’t come up with the subject.  That situation makes people give up on the topic even when the situation could improve more easily with some adjustment with the medication.

If you are living with a chronic disease, you might have to deal with some problems, whether it’s from your medical condition,  because of all the medication you take or just plain sexual dysfunctions that has nothing to do with your condition.  For all these reasons, its important to talk with your doctor and to meet a sexologist to talk about your sexual concerns. If it is important for you to have a sexual life, its  a good idea to learn to maximize your sexual potential to your satisfaction.  Sexuality is not only about genitals, it includes many more aspects of life. Health Canada (1)  defines sexual health in these terms:

Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction of infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.

Here are some situation that can be present when you have a chronic illness. Check it out, you and your partner may want to try a few tips to prevent or diminish the impact of your medical condition.

Self-image: Because of illness, your body may change . It is not always easy to deal with it  and many adjustments are needed.  Sometimes it is psychological, you have to deal with the loss of your old self and/or  you need to deal with the loss of the body you use to have.

  • You may need the help of a friend to buy new clothes that will fit your new shape better or seek the help of a seamstress.
  • If your hair  fall or go thinner: you can wear a wig, use Nioxin® or Nutricap®, they are good hair products to use in that situation.
  • Use a a large comb, avoid using a brush, use a satin pillow;
  • Avoid hair dye, avoid using the hair dryer if possible.
  • If you feel depress, tell your doctor, you may need to adjust your medication or you may need to see a psychologist for a few sessions.

Sexual script: Sexual scripts are those little stories and movies we play in our mind. « That’s what I will do when I meet my lover (…) he will be so surprise that he will (…). These stories keeps our sexual desire alive. When sickness comes in , your sexual desire can go away at the same time. Keep in mind that sexual desire is the  anticipation of a pleasant activity to come.

Sexual desire: Your libido might be affected very fast when you face illness. Sometimes its your medical condition or medication that affect your libido or it can also be psychogenic. With all your body changes, with the extra difficulties you have, you may have given up on sex. Remember that everyone no matter their size, their age or color is entitle to have a sexual life. Make sure that you are not giving up because of what other think about it. This decision is about you and your partner.

Remember your sexual script? Think about it, feel what it would feel, talk about it with your partner, get in the mood…

Pain during sex: Be more present to yourself and to your partner and less acrobatic, you can have intensity without using strength.  Intensity and passion is the way your intention passes in your hands to your partner’s body .  Find a comfortable and enjoyable position and stick to it for awhile. Pain medication is not the best for sex but take it well before you have sex to avoid drowsiness.

Fatigue: Its important to plan ahead for a sexual encounter with your lover. If extreme fatigue is part of your symptoms, you need to take a nap before that intimate moment. Be careful with alcohol and medication, it might make you sleepy. A hot bath before you have sex will do the same.

To avoid extreme efforts, have you ever consider using a vibrator for Madame or a (Cautious, content may be offending) masturbator for Monsieur?  The idea is to have fun and still be curious and innovative in your sex life. It can also be easier to reach an orgasm or to give one to your partner.

These are suggestions,  if you don’t need or want to reach an orgasm, this is your full right. What I hear sometimes in private is Her or Him wanting to please the healthy partner.  These sex toys can be very useful in that situation. Talk together about that alternative.

Dryness of the skin:  Put a lot of cream on your body every day, put a little  oil in your bath, use less soap.

Vaginal dryness: You have to talk with your doctor about this because he might have a solution for you. When women reach menopause, the level of estrogen (female hormones)  drop down. When women take medication, it can do the same thing. Side effects include: vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy(your vagina shrinks), the loss of elasticity of the vagina, itching, etc.  If you lubricate enough at the beginning of intercourse but you «dry up» during sex, you can use a water base lubricant. If you use a sex toy, always use lubricant for comfort.

Erectile dysfunction: This is a problem that have many possible roots: too much cholesterol in the bloodstream, medication,  too much anxiety, diabetes, etc. You definitely need to talk about this to your doctor. He will ask you questions, he may even request some tests and he could even prescribe some medication like Viagra® if its ok with your condition.

Remember, your sexual life can improve even with a medical condition. People with chronic diseases, elders or people with an handicap think about sex too. Sexuality is great to show  your love and attachment to someone. Its a good way also to be intimate and close to your partner. I am very grateful  for the little crowd present at the Canadian Liver Foundation that night. I want to thank them for their willingness to discuss openly about what it means to have a liver disease in this Over Sex Society and how they managed it so far. Its only when people talk about what is really going on that its possible to understand and help.

Next on your list, have that talk with your doctor!

Please feel at ease to make any comment, suggestion or to ask me a question. This blog helps me to stay tune to what is going on in my field and I enjoy receiving feedbacks.


1. Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education, Revised Edition of the 2003.

%d bloggers like this: