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Arthritis and Sex

Arthritis is an illnesses involving pain and swelling in the joints. There are many conditions that cause arthritis and lead to expressions of this disease, in all parts of the body.

Arthritis is possibly the most common cause of disability in aging populations. Its prevalence increases with age and it is slightly more common in women than in men.

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of this disease, comes with age and usually affects the fingers, knees and hips. It not only makes the affected area painful and swollen, but obviously also difficult to maneuver and this can make sex seem like a challenge.

Some of the more common causes of arthritis are old sports injuries, gout, psoriasis lupus and viral hepatitis. These tend to hit certain joints or organs and not go beyond. Rheumatoid arthritis, the cause of which is not completely clear, is an auto-immune disease in which the arthritis spreads and becomes more progressive over time.

The best treatment is prevention and proper handling of the cause, but there are also a wide range of treatments for the outcome, especially physical and occupational therapy in order to maintain the flexibility of joints and improve the range of motion. Pain management and anti-inflammation medications can eliminate some or most of the symptoms. Most important is to deal with the process, in consultation with a rheumatologist, so that you can continue to maintain maximal physical capability, including the ability to enjoy your body and share it with your partner. 

Special Considerations

    • Pain and stiffness can limit a person’s ability to will to display intimacy. Consider the possibility of different sexual positions that circumvent physical limitations by not placing stress on sore or disabled areas. Begin by placing cushions in strategic areas and if this seems helpful, you can purchase specially designed body pillows and sponge supports.
    • Side effects from painkiller medications known collectively as NSAIDs, which relieve stiffness and discomfort, can lead to impotence (erectile dysfunction) in some men. This may be overcome by finding another drug from the same family which doesn’t cause you the same side effect, but some sufferers might still make this their choice when the find the right drug for their arthritis. This doesn’t have to mean the end of sex, just an adaptation to other sex acts.
    • Vaginal dryness is associated with various forms of arthritis. This can make sex painful and tear the vaginal tissue, so it should never be ignored. There are many ways of dealing with it, including hormones, but the simplest solution, and one that will not interfere with other medications, is simply to use water-based lubricants.
    • Fatigue and stiffness are part and parcel of arthritis but they improve at certain times of the day, when you are better rested. Plan sex for these times.
    • If the fingers become stiff and debilitated, touch is not impossible. Use the back of the hand and learn to enjoy the sensation of skin from other, more mobile parts of the body.
    • Although sex (like many other activities that require mobility) can initially be awkward and uncomfortable for an arthritic person, the release of endorphins during orgasm actually has the same effect as a pain killer. Faking, though, won’t work, so make sure everyone is satisfied. Otherwise, it may not be worth making the effort next time.


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