Sex and Fibromyalgia: Breaking Through Taboos and Stigma

sex and fibromyalgia

Image: Mickael Tournier on Unsplash

Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions can destroy your sex life. The exhaustion is enough by itself. But the pain and tenderness that flares up all over your body can make physical contact a nightmare. Even a simple hug or a pat on the back can feel like having someone punch a bruise. So, we’re talking about sex and fibromyalgia? Are you kidding me? Of course, it’s no secret that this creates big problems in relationships. Sometimes it’s a case of low libido. Meaning, when you’re hurting and have zero energy, you just kind of lose the drive to have sex anyway. Other times it’s a case where the mind is willing but the body just isn’t on the same page.

A while back, I wrote a related article on using masturbation as a means to alleviate fibromyalgia pain. The reactions of fibro patients on social media were almost exclusively in extremes. That is to say, some people reacted with glee and affirmation at the idea, while others reacted with rage and disdain…despite the science. The science I speak of is how having sex releases endorphins, chemicals in the brain and nervous system. They are responsible for many things. But one of their more noteworthy functions is this: they are natural pain relievers. So, if you’re already angry that I’m again suggesting sex as a means of treating chronic pain conditions, you’re probably not going to like anything I have to say.

If your sex life is suffering because of your fibromyalgia, let’s look at some ways that you and your partner can work with and around it.

Be Flexible!

Several years ago, ABC News reported on a couple who had to work around the woman’s fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and severe arthritis. A common problem of fibro patients is their extreme reaction to both painful and non-painful stimuli. The woman in the report, for example, explained that even the air can be painful. Sound familiar? She added that her and her partner committed to spending two nights alone together each week. And she would make a point of avoiding anything on those days that she knew would make her fatigued. That’s because she and her partner made intimacy a priority in their lives. However, the intimacy doesn’t have to mean the physical acts of sex. Sometimes it’s just holding each other, talking, or telling stories to keep her mind off the pain. That’s being flexible.

Her partner offered this bit of advice: “Millions of pillows. Low impact positions. And realize this is not something you can do in ten minutes — it takes hours and hours. You have to think of it as an entire evening.”

Being flexible can also apply to the actual positions too. No, I don’t mean you need to have the flexibility of a gymnast. Rather, it implies that there’s more than one way to do things. Some chronic pain patients give up sex all together because of the fear of pain. But there’s something to be said for experimenting. In other words, if one position doesn’t work, there are literally hundreds of others you can try. And several of those are bound to be pain free. The previously mentioned pillows are there for a reason. Even doctors recommend them for fibro patients to stabilize your body during intercourse. And don’t forget those other magical options for intimacy, including oral sex and mutual stimulation. These are great options for loosening the muscles and often require very little movement.

Tricks of the Trade: Sex and Fibromyalgia

One non-profit resource for chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia offers some basic adaptations for chronic pain sufferers. They gathered these by talking to patients in their program. In other words, people just like you who are suffering from chronic pain issues. You’ll notice a lot of similarities to the couple mentioned earlier. Here is a brief rundown:

  • Talking – Includes both explaining your feelings about your reduced interest in sex to your partner and openly communicating during sex so that adjustments can be made.
  • Alternative Activities – Includes in and out of bed options. This can mean anything from oral sex or cuddling to going for a walk or just watching television together.
  • Plan Ahead – Scheduling a time for intimacy includes refraining from activities that are certain to cause pain or fatigue as you lead up to your planned time.
  • Flexibility and Experimentation – Includes daily and seasonal timing, positions and locations, and accounting for unpredictable flareups.
  • Addressing Pain and Hormone Problems – Working with the timing for taking medications and taking preemptive measures to prevent issues during sex, such meditation, stretching, massage, and a warm bath to relax muscles. Also involves addressing low libido through either low testosterone in men and low estrogen in women.
  • Emphasis on Caring – Understanding that mental, emotional, and spiritual intimacy are more important than the physical act of sex itself.

Look, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions are no walk in the park. And engaging in sexual activity while dealing with these diseases can be incredibly difficult. Sometimes it’s just impossible. But these are ways to mitigate some of the pain. And remember that sex is healthy and helpful when it comes to natural pain killers. You can yell at me all you want. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay. The idea here is to provide options from people who suffer just as badly as you.