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Friday, November 20, 2009

Chronic Pain vs. The Libido

Chronic Pain vs. the Libido

M. Hull © Nov. 20, 2009

Chronic Pain: continuous pain all the time

I live with chronic pain. This means that I am in pain every minute of every day. Sometimes the pain is not too bad and other times it is very bad. For me it feels like my life (and everything within it) is now a battle between that thing and the pain. I’ve read many articles and blog entries about chronic pain but very few have discussed how chronic pain affects one’s sexual desires. For me this aspect is definitely a fight; the desires fighting to survive despite extreme pain or fighting to survive despite the fear that fills me at the idea of sexual activity. With my conditions the more I move around, the more I hurt and intercourse isn’t exactly a sedentary activity. Chronic pain affects every aspect of a person’s life in at least two ways; physical and mental/emotional.

The physical effects of chronic pain on one’s sex drive are fairly logical if you think about it. Pain is not conducive to sexual arousal (even for masochists, constant intense physical pain caused by an injury is not arousing as it is a different pain from what they usualy enjoy). One’s body image is lowered if there are physical signs of a chronic condition (such as scarring). Sexual activity may increase the pain, either by aggravating the condition itself or just from muscle strain. For some, the endorphins that are released into the body during sexual arousal can act as pain control. For many, this stops upon orgasm, for some it lasts a bit longer but for most once the body calms down and returns to normal, the pain returns and usually at a higher level due to the physical activity. People who suffer from chronic pain are often very physically tired and being tired is another drawback to physical intimacy.

Chronic pain has many mental/emotional effects as well that impact upon one’s sex drive. Depression, anxiety, exhaustion, anger and other psychological effects occur. Many of these conditions have a negative impact upon the sex drive and if the condition itself doesn’t the medications used to treat those conditions often have the side effect of decreased sex drive (anti-anxiety meds, antidepressents, blood pressure meds). One’s self-esteem takes a major hit when one suffers from chronic pain. As the pain increases the one suffering must take medication or undergo painful procedures to control the pain. This can cause thoughts of weakness and feelings of shame to crop up. Society is very against medications for pain, often judging anyone who takes such medication regularly as a drug addict (regardless of the condition of the person). We often tell ourselves to just deal with it, suck it up and smile no matter how bad it gets. So when we can’t just “deal with it” without medications, we feel guilty for needing them as if we are somehow a failure. Those negative feelings have a negative impact on sexual desires. Add in how one’s life changes (fewer activities we can do etc.) and those feelings of not being good enough anymore start up and also decrease the sex drive. (If we're not good enough to cook dinner regularly, then how can we be good enough for sex?) The psychological and emotional impact of chronic pain are not always logical.

There are more ways to be intimate with one’s partner than intercourse, but we are human beings and as such intercourse is something we enjoy. Society also teaches us that intercourse is very important and is a necessary part of any loving intimate relationship. Add in a partner who truly does not understand what it feels like to hurt all the time and how it affects us mentally/emotionally and the sexual arena (difficult in the best of situations) becomes even more difficult. People start to avoid it in the hopes of avoiding the emotionally painful interactions that may occur when there are differing expectations and lowered ability.

There are ways of dealing with this, but it takes a lot of communication, understanding, and the ability to be open to trying different things to find a way that works for the people involved. Sex is a difficult subject to discuss under the best of circumstances, when one’s self-image is more deeply tied up in it due to physical issues it becomes harder to talk about.

If your partner suffers with chronic pain and thus has a lower sex drive than they used to have, be patient and understanding. Be open to discussing sex and other ways of being physically close. Realize that we are exquisitely aware of how our conditions affect our loved ones and we would give anything to stop it if we could. Sex is great, but it is not the end all be all of a relationship. The end all be all of any intimate relationship is the emotional attachment that brings the people together and there are many ways to show love!


  1. Strange, I wrote a comment and it didnt show up yet,,,ok

    " Add in a partner who truly does not understand what it feels like to hurt all the time and how it affects us mentally/emotionally and the sexual arena (difficult in the best of situations) becomes even more difficult."

    I will take this as a General You statement......Because I do try and understand abd I do empathize if somewhat imperfectly

    Just know I always love you and do try ...and besides your a great snuggleraven...*grins*

  2. Sweetie, it was a general "you" hon. bratman..LOL

    You have always been more understanding, compassionate and empathetic than I had thought possible. I know that you have times of feeling frustrated and helpless, anxious and angry at my condition (not at me, but at the pain itself) but even during those times you have never made me feel that I was not holding up my end of the bargain or that you were unsatisfied.

    You really are wonderful and I love (and NEED) you very much!


Thank you for taking the time to read and/or comment on my blog. For people who are chronically ill and/or in constant pain, it can be difficult to socialize as frequently as we would like to do so. Talking with others online is a way for us to socialize, chat with others, make new friends, reach out to others in similar circumstances and many more positive effects.

Knowing that someone has read my posts and commented on it, helps in many ways. The biggest two being that it helps ease the feeling of being "alone" and that no one could possibly understand. Secondly, it reminds us that others truly do care and that just feels wonderful!!

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and/or comment on my blog, it really does mean a great deal to me and is helpful too!