Home / Intimacy: Improving or maintaining sexual relations

Intimacy is important in every romantic relationship and begins with honest communication. This is even more important when one of the partners has chronic pain.

  • BOTH partners must be honest about their expectations and the reality of the situation while sharing their feelings of attraction.
  • For established relationships, talk about what you miss about the past and how to change things to help both partners feel satisfied and have their needs met.
  • If the affection and attraction is present, along with the ability to have open communication.then a new relationship can work. It may take work—more than you expected—but the rewards can be great.
  •  Open communication with your doctor is also key in overcoming barriers to intimacy. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to discuss this with your doctor.

Many factors—including fear and anxiety, pain, depression, alcohol, and medication—can interfere with sexuality or intimacy, especially when one partner has chronic pain. Below are pointers in dealing with and overcoming difficulties to intimacy.

To overcome fear of rejection by a partner:

  •  Share your feelings and fears with your partner. You may think that your partner is less interested or less attracted to you because you are in pain. On the other hand, your partner may think you are less interested or less attracted to him/her, when in reality, your pain is affecting your mood and responses.
  •  Be willing to listen, calmly and without interrupting, to your partner’s concerns and feelings.

To overcome fear of pain with sexual activity:

  • Tell your partner of your fear and discuss what makes your pain worse.
  • Experiment with different positions and techniques to find what works best for you and your partner.
  • Use lubricants to help with pain during sexual relations.
  • Try different times of day when your pain is least troublesome.
  • Talk to your doctor, gynecologist, or urologist about ways to lessen your pain with intercourse.

To overcome fear of intimacy in general:

  • Talk to your partner about your fears and learn what you can do to please him/her.
  • Try trust-building activities, such as sharing stories with your partner.
  • Experiment with touch in a sexual and a nonsexual way. Touch has been shown to stimulate feelings of intimacy and can include kissing, cuddling, massaging, stroking, and other forms of gentle physical contact.

To overcome fear that you will be unable to perform at your pre-pain level:

  • Focus on pleasing your partner without stressing your body. This will help ease your own anxiety. Anxiety can impair your ability to perform.
  • Investigate aids and ways to increase sexual pleasure without aggravating your pain.

To reduce factors that affect sexual performance:

  • Avoid or reduce your intake of alcohol.
  • Talk to your doctor about reducing or replacing pain medication that may be affecting sexual performance.
  • Talk to your doctor about treatment for depression, if that is an issue for you.
  • Do what you can to reduce pain: stretching, meditation, yoga, calming music, massage, and other techniques may help you relax and ease your pain before sex.

Sometimes pain can make traditional sexual intercourse impossible. Partners may want to explore manual stimulation or oral sex as an alternative.

Partners can be intimate without having sex. To increase feelings of intimacy in nonsexual ways:

  • Share feelings so that you understand what each person is experiencing and what is important to each of you. Share deeply personal stories.
  • Take time to be alone together: share a romantic dinner, go for a walk, share mutual hobbies/interests.
  • Use the sense of touch to develop closeness: hold each other in bed, take a relaxing bath together, give each other a massage (or foot massage).

NOTE: During all forms of sexual intimacy, partners should practice safe sex (for example, using condoms) to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.