Got a Chronic Condition? You Can Still Enjoy Your Sex Life

iVillage expert Gail Saltz looks at the top challenges that those with chronic health problems face when it comes to romance -- and how to overcome them

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Everyone is can get a little nervous about dating and having their romantic expectations met. But imagine if on top of the usual hurdles to creating crafting the perfect date, you also had the stress of having a chronic illness. Chronic conditions often are associated with fatigue and even pain, which can definitely affect your intimate relationship. Everyone wants to feel loved, desired, appreciated and sexy. Some illnesses can impact your self-image or physical abilities to the point of hampering your sex life and your romantic life in general.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), for example, is an autoimmune disease that affects well over one million people. It is usually diagnosed in relatively young people, often in their 30s and 40s, and about 70 percent of those with RA are women. The joints become inflamed causing pain and fatigue and disfiguring damage. Many women with RA fear how potential mates will react to their condition. Those currently in a relationship often worry about their sex life becoming limited by pain or they are embarrassed by their bodies. (Check out "Playing the Dating Game with RA.")

Arthritis is hardly the only health condition that affects women--and may pose challenging to someone who wants to engage in an intimate relationship. But whether it's fibromyalgia, diabetes, asthma or another condition, educating yourself on how to best manage the symptoms and how to navigate your relationship through open honest communication are the best tools to making romance go smoothly. Some tips:

See your doctor regularly
You need professional help to manage your physical symptoms. Chronic conditions can wear you down, but don’t deal with it by avoiding the doctor. This can backfire because you could be missing the treatments that will help you feel better.

Plan ahead
Talk openly with your partner about how to stop your condition from getting in the way of your sex. For instance, talk about issues like what time of day you feel the most comfortable and energetic, and that is a good time for sex. If the evenings are usually tough for you, propose a candlelight brunch.

Plan to take a bubble bath together…it's romantic and playful and at the same time the warm water will help ease any pain, allowing for a more relaxed intimacy afterwards. Sometimes with chronic illness, though, the best laid plans don’t end up working out, so it’s also important to be flexible. If you wake up feeling crummy, there is no catastrophe in telling your mate you’d like to postpone the romance until tomorrow.

Be a good listener
Spouses of someone with a chronic illness often feel their needs come second. They need to know that isn’t true. Find out what you partner likes sexually and needs emotionally. Consider telling your spouse or partner that for you, giving is as gratifying as receiving.

What if you are single?
Relationships are so important when you have an illness -- any relationships! When romantic holidays arrive, you can still enjoy yourself. Gather together some single friends and make your own celebration. If you want to start dating, try getting set up through friends or join a dating site. Once you’ve starting dating, you many wonder when to bring up your condition. The first date is too much too soon and may scare a potential mate away. On the other hand, waiting too long is a bad idea -- your date may misinterpret you ending a date due to pain or exhaustion. So once you have been on some dates and have a sense that the person is someone you want to invest time and energy in, it’s the right time to bring it up.

Broaden your definition of sex
Sex is about two people giving each other mutual pleasure. Sometimes we get too hung up on intercourse done in certain positions. But sexual activity of all kinds enhances a relationship. Sex is about sharing what each of you enjoys and getting a little creative. Try using pillows to provide comfort and introduce toys to help with stimulation. Touching each other in affectionate and romantic ways that aren’t only foreplay goes a long way in solidifying that sexual connection.

Much of enjoying romantic relationships has to do with how your view yourself and your confidence level. Educating yourself about your illness and how to manage it from a psychological standpoint can make such a big difference. So can talking with others who have the same condition. Ask advice from women in your support system about clothes, nutrition and general tips for taking care of yourself. Being informed can give you confidence that will combat the kind of self consciousness that tends to interfere with intimacy. So get out there and enjoy some romance….you deserve it!


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