Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Let's Talk About Sex and Chronic Illness

DSC08109Image by EssG via Flickr
Last night as I was standing in front of the microwave waiting for my leftover won ton soup to reheat, I started thinking about our upcoming 13th wedding anniversary on May 31. Which lead to thoughts about the Penny in the Jar theory of marital sex.

For the uninitiated, the theory goes something like this:
Put a penny in a jar for every time you had sex BEFORE you got married.
Now remove a penny for every time you have sex AFTER marriage.
They say that once you are married, you’ll never empty the jar.
That got me thinking about all the ways that my chronic illnesses have been pilfering my sex pennies! So here I go: I am going to talk about how my chronic illnesses affect my sex life.

Hepatitis C

Being a responsible adult, I let my partner know that I had a blood-borne illness I could potentially spread through sexual contact. Granted, the odds of passing Hepatitis C (HCV) in a monogamous heterosexual relationship is only about 1% per year. But when you are telling someone you want to get intimate with that you have HCV, you never know how they are going to respond. Disclosure can be a real relationship litmus test.

My husband obviously passed this test with flying colors. We "had the talk" and he decided he felt comfortable with this very small risk. Yet despite our decision, I still feel the occasion pang of worry every once in a while.


Nothing has the power to make sex not fun like an infertility diagnosis.

We started with a lot of hopeful sex in the service of getting pregnant, followed by disappointment when it was clear it wasn't happen. So we tried again, this time tinged with fear, doubt, duty and hope, only to be disappointed again. By the time we got to the infertility doctor's office where we willing submitted to humiliating exams and got the subsequent bad news, the joy of sex has been replace by feelings closer to anger, betrayal and sadness.

From that bleak place, it takes quite a bit of work to get back to a place where lovemaking becomes something fun once again.

Chronic Pain and Fatigue

Talk about 'Not tonight honey.'

These two buzz kills really drain my penny jar. So even when I am in the mood, they rear their ugly heads with physical roadblocks to having fun in the bedroom. I mean, how sexy am I when I am complaining about being in pain or I am needing to stop and rest like every five minutes?

Like everything else in my life, I've needed to figure out ways to work around these handicaps in the bedroom. This means I am doing "it" much less than I would like simply because I don't have the energy. To put it another way, my sex life is more about quality than quantity these days.

Early Menopause

Yes, I know that all women deal with this sooner or later. Personally, I wish it had been later. My experience with early menopause, caused by my cancer treatment 23 years ago, has not been a pleasant one. Plus I am at a disadvantage here because I don't have a mother or aunt to guide me through this transition. Not that I would necessarily be talking with them about how menopause is putting a crimp in my sex life...

...then again, I never thought I'd be writing a blog post about this either!

In conclusion, all I can say is thank goodness my marriage is about more than just sex. I am grateful that I am married to a man who sees me as more than just a lover. Being each others partners, friends and confidantes really helps smooth things over when chronic illness makes lovemaking complicated.

So sure, chronic illness is draining pennies out of my marital sex jar. And sure, for me having chronic illness means I'm not having as much fun in the bedroom as I would like. But I still have a sex life.

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Migrainista said...

It is complicated isn't it? Sounds like you found a great partner in life.

Happy said...

One of the best things a disabled person can do for their sex life is to look at sex toys and other useful products such as lube, foam wedges that help with positioning, and gels and balms that make it easier to achieve orgasm. Best of all, there are much more sophisticated and classy toys available for men, and many couple friendly products that can be used together when physical problems prevent intercourse.

I have ME/CFS and my husband have arthritis, and the technology available has kept our sex life active and healthy. Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Great article Selena. It is difficult to keep a good and healthy sex life when you don't feel good. My Hubby is so understanding, but like most men he is always "willin and able" to take advantage of any opportunity that arises. About a month ago he asked me if our sex was getting better, or is it because we do it less that it seems better? I laughed. Both of us are in our 50's, so sometimes we just love to get in the bed and SLEEP! Every chronically ill woman needs a partner that gets it...and still can make us feel like the most beautiful desirable woman in the world.

Jessica said...

I feel so guilty for my lack of libido due to fatique and pain...and meds...even though Jesse is very understanding and never pressures me. BIG SIGH. This coming from a gal who used to looove sex!

Fibrofog said...

Sounds like you have a very understanding partner, Selina. Congratulations on 13 years together! My husband and I just celebrated our 28th anniversary on May 15, and it hasn't always been easy, especially with a chronic illness (I have FM). I've found that it helps to switch sex to a time when I have the most energy, like in the morning instead of the evening. Morning sex has been great the last few years, and my hubby is more than happy to go to work a little later :)

Rachel said...

Quality over quantity - absolutely.