The pain, stiffness, and fatigue caused by arthritis can interfere with a person's sex life or even bring it to a halt, says Annette Owens, MD, PhD, a sex counselor and cofounder of the Sexual Health Network.
Some people with severe arthritis give up hope of having an active sex life.
has seen that attitude before.
"It's easy to cut sex out of your life if you think it's too much trouble," she
also knows that many people are more resilient than they realize.
If patients miss having sex, with a little creativity, patience, and planning, even people with severe arthritis can rediscover the pleasures of that kind of intimacy, she
Planning for pleasure
specializes in helping people with disabilities and chronic diseases enhance their sex lives.
Ignoring the condition -- whether it's multiple sclerosis, cancer, or arthritis -- isn't the answer, she
Instead, people need to pay close attention to the strengths and weaknesses of their bodies.
In the case of arthritis, partners can experiment with positions that put the least amount of pressure on sore joints, Owens
For example, if one or both partners have chronic soreness in the hips, they can try lying on their sides during sex.
If a woman has sore hips or knees, she
can lie on her
back with her
Whatever position couples use, strategically placed pillows and cushions can add a lot to pleasure and comfort, she
A little bit of planning may make sex much easier, Owens
"Foreplay" can include a warm shower, bath, or heating pads to loosen stiff joints.
Couples can arrange to have sex at the time of day when the person with arthritis feels most limber and energetic, and they should have a cold pack handy in case joints feel a little sore or stiff afterward.
"People complain about wanting to be spontaneous," Owens
says, but they eventually see the value of planning ahead.
likens preparing for sex to getting ready for a vacation.
"The planning alone can be enough to get you excited," she
Once the schedule has been set, people with arthritis can time their medications so that their lovemaking coincides with the peak of relief, Owens
In many cases, as Owens
puts it, "practice makes perfect."
Even after taking every possible precaution, some people may find that regular intercourse is still too painful or uncomfortable.
But that doesn't mean they should give up on intimacy altogether, especially if they long for more romance in their lives.
Physical contact -- whether it's cuddling, a light massage, or sexual stimulation with the mouth or fingers -- is good for both body and mind, Owens
Couples may also want to experiment with vibrators or other sexual aids.
Some vibrators are specially made with easy-grip handles for people who have lost function in their hands, she
It's not uncommon for people with arthritis to lose interest in sex, Owens
Some may think that their arthritis makes them less attractive, a mind-set that can easily kill desire.
Others may have simply forgotten how sex makes them feel.
"If you never have sex, then you don't know how much you really enjoy it," she
Patients who have lost their sex drive -- whether they're too tired, too anxious, or merely out of practice -- may benefit from talking with a sex counselor, she says. (To find a licensed counselor near you, visit the Web site of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists at http://www.aasect.org).
In many cases, a few good lovemaking sessions are all it takes to rekindle desire for the long term, she
Above all, people with arthritis shouldn't hide their concerns about sex, Owens
Interview with Annette Owens, MD, PhD, a sex counselor and cofounder of the Sexual Health Network