Sex with a disability, pain or injury can be uncomfortable - or impossible. This article is sponsored by Liberator, a company dedicated to sexual wellness and, most-importantly, comfortable, pleasurable, pain-free sex.
If only life were a chick flick. We’d all have amazing sex with great looking people who were some combination of rich, dangerous, daring or darling. We’d have great post-coital hair (in all the right places), and perfectly lit pillow talk, and time for pancakes late in the morning.
Oh, and we would never, ever have pain during sex.
If only. Unfortunately, painful sex, whether as a result of a lack of lubrication, or stemming from more serious health problems, injury or surgery, is quite common. A study released by the University of Chicago in 1999 reported that 21 percent of women between the age of 20 and 29 experienced pain with intercourse. In fact, women of all ages, as well as men, may experience sexual pain at some point in their lives. But when it goes on too long, what suffers most is our relationships.
Is pain or discomfort putting the brakes on your love life? Here are some tips on how to get back in the saddle.
Think About PositionWe all have our favorites, but pain can be a great impetus to try out a new position. We’re all for going full pretzel when it’s appropriate, but pain and overly vigorous, complicated or strenuous positions don’t mix. What position will work for you? Start by thinking about what kinds of body positioning are uncomfortable. If lying on your back hurts, why not switch it up and try being on top, or on your side? (Find the positions that'll work best for you by using our Sex Position Playlist.)
"Neutral, supported positions are generally best but it depends on your specific injury," said Kelly Sanders a physical therapist and the president of Team Movement for Life in California.
There are also lots of great products on the market to help make things easier. Sex furniture such as the sex wedges and ramps produced by Liberator are popular because they help provide firm, stable support and maintain proper alignment. Because being comfortable is sexy too! (One caveat though: If your pain is serious enough that you’re seeing a medical professional, make sure you’re cleared for sex before you get started.)
Consider the First Move
After surgery or injury or a long bout with painful sex, hopping in the sack might give you butterflies - and not the good kind. According to Dr. Lauren Streicher, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and spokesperson for Wet lubricants, many women avoid sex following surgery, even when there’s no physical issue holding them back.
"There’s a big fear factor - it can be really scary to have intercourse after surgery. As a result, they may experience poor lubrication or pelvic floor tightness," Streicher said.
The key to overcoming this is to relax, speak up about what you think you can handle (and enjoy!) and take things slow to ensure your first intimate encounters leave you wanting more.
"Even in someone where I don’t anticipate problems, I make it clear that they should be in control of the situation. They should choose the position carefully and use a really good lubricant. Because once you have that bad experience, there’s no going back."
Adjust to a New Normal
Sometimes health problems are messy. You’re sick, you’re tired and you may be scarred and dealing with what feels like a whole new body. That often makes it hard to even feel sexy, never mind desire sex. According to Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, a radiation oncologist and the president of Best Friends for Life, the emotional aspects of sex after cancer and other illnesses are very real, but difficult to tease away from physical problems.
"Many female patients worry so much about issues such as feeling and looking attractive without hair or after breast surgery that they find it difficult to get in the mood ... Men have the stress of performance, even if their reproductive organs are not affected," Chabner Thompson said.
If your body’s changed, you have to change too, and that includes understanding that it might take some time to get used to a new you. The same goes for your partner.
"Remember that a 'new body' is an abrupt change," Chabner Thompson said. "People really need time to adjust to what is a new normal. Also remember that relationships need time to adjust to illness and the stressors that go along with it too."
Sometimes as adults we forget that there’s a lot more to sex than just intercourse. That means that getting back into sexual activity might mean forgetting about intercourse for a while and trying something less vigorous, like oral sex or some good old fashioned "heavy petting."
"Very rarely will a person be unable to participate in any sexual activity at all, there just may be some specific positions or activities that need to be avoided or tailored to protect from further injury or pain," Sanders said.
Oh, and one more thing. As long as your doctor OKs it, a little light physical activity (if you know what we mean!) can actually help many injuries heal.
"Pain ... can become a downward spiraling cycle; as the fear and avoidance of movement increase, people move less, which can lead to more pain," Sanders said.
Lube, Lube, Lube (Lube!)
If there’s one thing everyone seems to agree can help ensure a better sexual experience, it’s lubricant. Sex lube is cheap, simple, safe and easy to come by, and whether you need it for physical reasons or just emotional ones, it can go a long way toward making sex easier and less painful. So get lube, even if you don’t think you need it. It can’t hurt (and it almost always helps). (Learn more about the types of lube on the market in The Ins and Outs of Sexual Lubricants.)
Talk About It
If pain is putting pressure on your sex life, there’s one thing you absolutely must do: Talk to a medical professional. Your gynecologist or urologist will not be embarrassed by questions about your sex life (it’s his or her business!). Chances are, neither will a general practitioner, or a nurse or even a physical therapist. And even if they are, that’s really their problem (and possibly a sign they’re in the wrong field). Ask someone else. Keep asking until you get the answers you want and the help that you need.
Many of the professionals we spoke with said that many patients were afraid or embarrassed to bring it up. They also said they were able to help many of the people who did. Being able to enjoy sex is an important part of life and a sign of good health. That means it’s also something you - and your doctor - should be invested in.
A Happy Ending?
Life isn’t like in the movies. In the real world, sex can be messy, complicated and, yes, even painful. The good news is that even when sex hurts, there are many things you do to ensure a happy ending. Pun intended.