Don't Let RA Ruin Your Love Life

If Rheumatoid Arthritis has put a damper on your love life, you're not alone. About 75 percent of chronic pain sufferers experience some form of sexual dysfunction. Although intimacy may be more of a challenge when you-or your partner-has arthritis, sex and arthritis don't have to be incompatible. The keys to resurrecting a lagging love life are planning, communication, and a positive attitude.

The physical symptoms of arthritis, such as fatigue, pain and stiffness can negatively affect your interest in, and enjoyment of, sex. So can the side effects of some medications. In a study of women with Rheumatoid Arthritis, 60 percent reported experiencing some level of sexual disability, and diminished sexual desire and satisfaction. Difficulties in performance were related to the patient's overall disability and the extent of arthritis in the hip, while desire and satisfaction were primarily influenced by perceived pain, age and depression.

Another study, however, reported no difference in desire in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis compared to healthy individuals. These researchers also found that severity of disability did not affect sexual activity.

What is clear from these (and other) studies is that psychological factors-particularly self-image-exert a strong impact on sexual functioning in people with disabilities, particularly women. So having a realistic body image and accepting the uncontrollable changes in your body is the first-and perhaps the most important-step to enjoying a fulfilling sex life.

Maintaining open communication with your partner is critical. Let your partner know how you feel and be clear about what you enjoy and what causes discomfort. If you are the partner of a person with Rheumatoid Arthritis, it's important for you to share your feelings and concerns as well. You may be pleasantly surprised to find you are worrying unnecessarily.

Spontaneity is not all it's cracked up to be when it comes to sex. Schedule time for sex when you're most likely to feel your best and least likely to be fatigued or in pain. Some patients find they enjoy sex most shortly after taking their pain medication. A warm bath or shower before sex can further relax stiff muscles and painful joints.

Be open to alternative ways to enjoy sex. Try different positions that lessen strain on your joints. The Illustrated Guide to Better Sex for People with Chronic Pain, by Robert W. Rothrock and Gabriella D'Amore, may be one of the best sources of information on this subject.