Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby — and Chronic Pain

The thing that nobody tells you about Cymbalta is that it takes a machine gun to your sex drive. Seriously. When I was on it, I was so repulsed by sex that I started to think maybe I was legitimately asexual. 

I mean, when the doctor hands you the prescription, it would be nice if they threw in something like, “BTW, you’re never going to want to make passionate love while you’re on this medicine.”

But of course, doctors never tell you stuff like that. And God forbid they give you a handout of some sort that maybe mentions it. No, they just leave you to Google “asexual” at 1 a.m. on a Tuesday night when you realize you’re identifying a little too much with Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory.

Don’t get me wrong, I have definitely been in such tragic levels of pain, that if someone had asked me if I wanted to give up sex so I could feel better, I wouldn’t have even thought twice about cutting off my own vagina and handing it over. 

But the thing is nobody asked me. They didn’t tell me I might have to make that sacrifice when they put me on Cymbalta. So I didn’t even know it was happening. And that’s when you get to some pretty dark places. 

Thankfully, I’ve since gone off Cymbalta, and my sex drive came back like a freight train. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other issues related to sex and chronic pain.

Like when you have stabbing rib pain on your right side, so you can only tolerate sports bras, and then he goes to unhook the back, and it kills the mood because there is no hook in the back of a sports bra. And he’s mad that you’re dressed like someone planning to run a 5K, and then you’re mad that he’s mad that you’re dressed like someone planning to run a 5K, and so you just leave.

Or when he wants to cuddle, and you have to explain that, “Sorry, I can’t lay on my right side because when I do it feels like someone is jack hammering into my bones through the mattress. Hope that’s not a deal breaker!”

Not to mention the fact that when you’re in physical pain, the last thing you feel is sexy. And you most certainly don’t feel like having anyone touch you ever. 

First, there’s just the literal pain that can come from someone passionately throwing you against the wall, or even a pillow top mattress for that matter. When you feel like you always have a broken rib, even passionate love making can make you wince. 

Then, there’s the fact that the pain probably keeps you from showering as often as most Americans believe is normal, which means you probably smell, which means you’re probably not feeling very romantic. 

And of course, there’s the side effects from the medications, which make you gain weight, sleep all day, and zone out in front of YouTube videos about makeup while you simultaneously lose the ability to actually wear makeup. 

Not to mention the fact that it’s just really hard to make love to someone, while you yell things like, “OH GOD! OH GOD! OH GOD!  IF YOU TOUCH MY RIGHT SIDE AGAIN I’M GOING TO STAB YOU TO DEATH!’ or “YES! YES! YES! I NEED YOU TO AVOID MY CHEST AREA AT ALL COSTS!”

That’s the kind of stuff that can turn an evening of “Netflix and Chill” into an evening where you actually watch Netflix and chill. 

But even with so many things working against the sex lives of those with chronic pain, that doesn’t mean people should give up. 

For one, that old saying about how, “You can have great sex without having a great relationship, but you can’t have a great relationship without great sex,” is actually pretty true in my experience. Having sex is an important part of being a healthy couple. Of course, that doesn’t mean partners shouldn’t be understanding of the situation, and our pain levels. What it does mean is that avoiding sex, regardless of how legitimate the reasons for doing so are, will likely put a strain on your love life. 

Also, sex is just a good thing to have in general. It helps your mood, it can be a great pain reliever and stress reducer. And, you know, it’s fun.

So I don’t think patients should just resign themselves to the idea that having chronic pain means giving up good sex for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, I don’t have magical solutions to offer people with chronic pain struggling to work sex back into their daily life. But there are a couple things you can at least try.

First, there’s always the obvious “talk to your doctor” advice. Yes, I know that conversation can be awkward — both for the patient and the physician. If you’re up for the conversation though, I definitely recommend it. Your doctor might be able to recommend other medications that don’t kill your sex drive, some less painful positions or other techniques to help you out.

In the end though, I honestly think the best thing you can do is be open about the issues without whomever you’re making love to. Just like with anything, talking about what’s going on usually does the most good.

And if you both decide that maybe you can try to get a wire-free bra with a hook in that back because that’s what he’s into, as long as he promises to never touch your right boob, then great! Or, if you decide that having sex just isn’t worth the pain, then that’s great too.

After all, there’s always Better-than-Sex cake in a pinch.

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