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Maintaining Sexual Health with Chronic Disease

Sexual activity is essential to life and contributes to physical, emotional, and social wellbeing. However, people with chronic diseases may face challenges in maintaining sexual health. Chronic diseases are defined as medical conditions that last for more than three months. These conditions can affect physical and mental health, impair the overall quality of life and restrict sexual activity. In this blog, we will discuss the challenges imposed by chronic diseases on sexual health and ways to manage these challenges for optimal sexual health.

Chronic Diseases and Sexual Activity 

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and multiple sclerosis can affect sexual activity in different ways. Some of the most common challenges of sexual activity faced by people living with chronic diseases include:

  • Physical limitations such as loss of sensation or mobility can make sexual activity difficult or painful. For example, arthritis can cause joint pain and stiffness, making certain positions uncomfortable. Similarly, multiple sclerosis can cause muscle weakness, spasticity or spasms, and other issues that interfere with sexual function.  
  • Side effects of medications for chronic diseases, such as antidepressants or blood pressure medication, can affect sexual function. These side effects may include low libido, reduced vaginal lubrication, erectile dysfunction, or difficulty achieving orgasm.
  • Nerve damage from diseases such as diabetes can lead to decreased sensation or neuropathy in the genital area. For example, nerve damage or blood flow issues due to diabetes can make it difficult to achieve or maintain an erection resulting in reduced sexual desire, or difficulty maintaining an erection.
  • Psychosocial impact and the stress of living with and managing a chronic disease can affect sexual activity. For example, individuals may experience depression or anxiety related to their condition, which can interfere with their ability to engage in sexual activity and impact sexual function and desire, leading to reduced libido or difficulty feeling aroused.
  • Stigma and misinformation associated with chronic diseases can make individuals feel self-conscious or ashamed of their condition. This can lead to a lack of communication with partners about sexual health concerns.

Chronic Disease and Managing the Challenges of Sexual Health 

Managing the challenges of chronic diseases and sexual activity requires open communication, patience, and a willingness to work with healthcare providers to find solutions. Below are some tips for managing sexual health challenges associated with chronic diseases.  

  1. Do not hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider about sexual health issues related to a chronic condition or medication. Your doctor can guide your medical condition related to your sexual health, which may include medication adjustments that can help reduce sexual health-related side effects.  
  2. If physical limitations are a barrier, consider modifying your environment to make it more comfortable and accessible. For example, pillows or wedges can support and ease pressure on specific body parts, while grab bars or handrails can help with mobility.
  3. Experiment with touch or sensual activities that do not require intercourse. 
  4. Chronic diseases can be isolating, but support groups for many conditions provide a community of people who understand what you’re going through. Support groups may provide information on managing sexual challenges and emotional support.  
  5. Managing a chronic disease can be stressful, so make time for self-care. This could include relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation, engaging in physical activity that you enjoy, or taking time to do things that nourish you. 
  6. Living with a chronic disease can be emotionally challenging, and therapy can help you manage the emotional impact of your condition on your sex life. A professional counselor can provide advice, tools, and strategies to help you manage anxiety, depression and improve your sexual health.  
  7. If you’re experiencing challenges related to sexual function or desire, a sex therapist can help you identify strategies to overcome these challenges. A sex therapist can also help you communicate more clearly with your partner and provide skills to enhance sexual pleasure and confidence.
  8. Educate yourself and your partner about your chronic disease and sexual health. This can help dispel any myths or misconceptions and improve communication.

The Bottom Line 

Living with a chronic disease can affect sexual health and wellbeing. However, a willingness to communicate, and work with healthcare providers and experienced counselors, can help to overcome the challenges associated with sexual health. Above all, be kind to yourself and your partner and remember that sexually intimate relationships have many facets, so find what works for you, and try to find pleasure in the common and new ways of being affectionate.

Akwaowo Akpan is a talented health writer on the topic of sexual health. You can reach him here.  

Here are some resources to learn more about intimacy and aging:

American Academy of Family Physicians: Chronic Illness and Sexual Functioning

https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2003/0115/p347.html#:~:text=Patients%20with%20chronic%20illness%20may,the%20diagnosis%20of%20their%20disease.

MyHealth Alberta: Learning About Chronic Disease and Sexuality https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=ut3340

American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists: How Chronic Illness Can Affect Sexual Function

https://www.aasect.org/how-chronic-illness-can-affect-sexual-function

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