Maybe you hurt too much even to think about sex. Maybe your medications seem to have reduced your libido. Or maybe you’re in the mood, but don’t feel energetic enough to become intimate with your partner.
That was the case for Beth (not her real name), who struggled with symptoms of fibromyalgia and Cushings Disease, a condition resulting from the adrenal glands’ secreting excessive cortisone.
"When I was suffering with Cushings Disease and fibromyalgia, I would frequently want to make love, but had no energy," says Beth.
To make matters worse, she and her husband weren’t communicating about the issue. "Because I was so depressed from the effects of both conditions, I wasn't telling him my feelings. He thought I was mad at him most of the time. Our lovemaking dwindled to once every two months or so, and it was tearing us apart."
There are lots of ways people with FM can celebrate their sexuality, despite pain, exhaustion, and side effects from medications. Try some of the following tips, and make this one a Valentine’s Day to remember.
- If you hurt too much to make love…
… remember that sex may actually make you feel better. "Sexual activity is good for fibromyalgia pain," says Marline Emmal, author of Fibromyalgia and Female Sexuality (see review in this newsletter). "Rather than fibromyalgia pain making you shy away from sex, you should embrace it, because it’s one of the best treatments. It increases the happy hormones in your brain; they in turn reduce your pain level."
- If you need to ease into an intimate encounter…
… a hot bath can ease aches and pains. KY Jelly may also be helpful. And Carolyn Dodge Adams recommends setting a date with your partner. The vice president of patient services for the Arthritis Foundation, Southern California Chapter, she has had rheumatoid arthritis since she was 3. "You can balance your energy, balance your fatigue, and get yourself ready in other ways emotionally," she says. Setting dates can be especially important for men with FM, some of whom may take Viagra.
- If you’re worried that your partner’s enthusiasm may inadvertently pain you…
… you need to talk about the issue. "The partner should know that the woman is very sore, and has sore spots," says Emmal. "A gentle touch should be used. Some women are so sensitive even to a gentle touch on the skin that they can’t stand even that." It’s a good idea to talk about these issues before you’re in bed, in a neutral environment like the kitchen. If you’re experiencing pain during lovemaking, however, tell your partner immediately.
- If you’ve had difficulty making love in your favorite positions…
… try a new position. "You may have to be a little more creative, but sometimes that can be a fun thing," says Adams. "You can adapt anything as long as you’re both in it together." One issue of Arthritis Today offered several suggestions for alternative positions. Among them is one especially good for women who have difficulty lying down or kneeling: both partners stand; the woman leans on furniture high enough to comfortably support her, and the man enters from behind. Men with FM may find sex more comfortable if the woman is on top, providing most of the movement.
- If your medications have depleted your libido…
… it may be time to consider new medications. Talk to your doctor about your concerns, and find out what other options you have. If your doctor gives the go-ahead, you may want to try what Emmal calls a "drug holiday." Suspend use of your medication for a weekend, giving your libido enough time to recover so that you and your partner can make love. Then on Monday you can resume your prescription.
- If you believe an active sex life will add more stress to your life…
… change your perspective. "Use sexuality as a way to introduce more relaxation into your life," Adams suggests. "Warm oils that help alleviate strain in the muscles also are for foreplay. Massage … can elicit relaxation and heighten sexuality, but also deal with some of the issues people with fibromyalgia are dealing with." Remember, too, that your activities outside the bedroom can help when you’re inside it. Exercise can rev up your libido, and if your exercise regimen is FM-friendly, it can increase your strength and stamina, help you control your weight, manage pain, and improve your self-image—which will make you more comfortable with your partner.
As for Beth and her husband, their relationship—and their sex life—is back on track. She has recovered from Cushings Disease, and knows how important it is to communicate her needs to her husband. "He knows when I am in the most pain and is very understanding," she says. "We figure we can get through anything if we survived the Cushings."