by Sarah Smith
Three years ago, I suffered a spontaneous fracture to my sacrum that resulted in permanent nerve damage. This has left me needing to use a wheelchair and with a severe chronic pain condition; which means that any movement in my pelvis is excruciating and the pain never goes away. When I first had my fracture, I was in agony and having any kind of personal contact was a million miles away from my mind. For months, I couldn’t bear to move let alone be touched and even being held or cuddled was difficult. As time passed, my ‘normal’ life changed and I started coming to terms with my now completely different life. By now, we were trying to manage my pain and I was on a huge cocktail of drugs to help. They left me feeling quite spaced out and again, being close with my husband was something that was now more than a million miles away. The doctors had advice for me regarding drug dosages, they were kind and told me to take time for myself, look after myself, take some time out, even go on holiday to rest, recuperate and come to terms with our future. At no time, did anyone give us any advice about our personal life; I felt I had become a complete ‘sexless’ person and this part of my life was pushed to one side and not addressed in any way. We are a very close couple and have always been very ‘touchy feely’ with each other, holding hands, pecks on the cheek, at home and in public but my chronic pain now presented us with a huge challenge – how the hell could we have anything resembling a sex life when I can hardly move without pain?
With seemingly no doctors to turn to, like everyone else these days I turned to Dr Google. I looked for help and advice and found so many people in the same boat. The advice I was looking for came from charities and complete strangers not the medical professionals, people who had found their own ways of coping with combining a long-standing condition with some kind of sex life.
There was advice on everything to do with ‘disabled’ sex, loads of great advice and loads of things I hadn’t thought of before. Advice such as:
- working out which time of day your pain is least so you can try and have sex then. It doesn’t always have to be at night, it may be the afternoon is best for you instead.
- trying different positions and different places, maybe somewhere other than the bed to make sure you are as comfortable as you can. The ‘man on top’ version isn’t the only way of expressing physical love with someone. Maybe bending over whilst supporting yourself with your arms or on your back propping yourself up with pillows or ‘sex wedges’ Side to side spooning is also a very comfortable position.
- if penetrating sex is difficult then using sex toys instead can really help if penetration is impossible. Dildos, vibrators and rabbits can enhance the whole experience whether penetration is possible or not. You can find longer handled ones if pain or stiffness prevents bending or reaching.
- preloading with meds beforehand to make sure that you’re as pain free as possible. That’s not to say you are zonked out of your mind but find the right combination of drugs to make the experience as comfortable as possible – remember that the endorphins released by orgasm can help with your pain too.
- talking honestly about your preconceptions of sex and what it means to you. Foreplay is a very important part of sex especially to women and this is an area you should explore. Orgasm by penetration alone can be difficult so taking time to explore each other’s bodies will help but also, foreplay and masturbation can be a wonderful way to bring each other to orgasm.
- using hands, props, music, touch and taste, all your senses can be part of a wonderful sex life, doesn’t have to be all action to count.
One of the more obvious things I tried was just talking to my partner and actually addressing the problem; we have always been able to talk but this took it to another level indeed. I started by just taking a deep breath and saying how this lack of intimacy was really affecting me. My husband then found it relatively easy to join in – in fact, he said that it had been bothering him too but he hadn’t wanted to bring it up. He didn’t want to be seen as ‘just wanting that one thing’ like most men and was struggling seeing his partner in such pain so didn’t feel he could broach the subject.
This conversation is never the easiest but is so important; you both need to be able to be honest with each other about your thoughts and worries, to acknowledge that you want to be closer physically and how to make your intimate relationship work with the restrictions you now face.
All of the tips I had discovered worked to some degree or other. Preloading my meds worked very well, experimenting with different places did not but being so close physically with my husband who in many ways, has become my carer, was wonderful. The more ‘hands on’ advice was more useful, especially the sex toys bit. Having had a very healthy sex life before, we’d played around with them but never as the ‘main bit’. So after a promise from each of us that we really wanted to try it, both as a major part of it for me and that it wasn’t a replacement for him, we gave it a go. Well, ladies and gents, I must say, from a lady who cannot bend, wriggle, squirm or hardly move her legs, this made the world of difference! Oh yes indeed it did! Plus, hubby thought it was enormously sexy seeing me having such a great time so he had a brilliant time too! So thanks to Dr Google for that tip!
So yes, Dr Google has been more than helpful. There’s a whole community of support out there that has helped enormously. Rebuilding our private life has been a difficult challenge but thankfully I have a very understanding partner and we’ve worked at it together but if it had been someone else, I think our relationship would have collapsed. It’s bad enough when your work life, your social life and your family life suffers due to chronic pain but when your private life suffers too, it feels like there is really nothing left from before and life is very hard indeed. We all need that closeness, that touch, that feeling of connection and belonging, so being disabled or dealing with a long-term condition shouldn’t mean that your sex life has to suffer. It may well need to adapt or change but it needn’t end, after all, we all need a bit of ‘ooh la la’ in our lives, don’t we!