To start with I will admit I like, no, love sex. Both the physical and emotional intimacies are something I have always enjoyed. I wanted to make that clear because this is not going to be someone talking about the challenges of sex with a chronic illness that doesn't even like it much to begin with. The downhill slope is something that you can see coming, and regrettably wish you could do something to change, but can't. Just like anything in life that you love to do, the anger, sadness, self loathing and pity party comes when that thing becomes more and more difficult to do. Unlike dancing or walking this is something that generally affects your partner(s) and their intimate connection to you as well.
I guess I'll start with the challenges. There is of course the obvious, pain. When you are in pain it can be very hard to get in the mood. Many times once you get the ball rolling you can get past most of the pain, but getting that ball even picked up can be a daunting task. Not only are you in pain, but your partner is often worried about your level of pain and making it worse. It often leads to a stalling out of those activities because you can't get past the pain to start and your partner is terrified of doing anything that will make you worse.
Then of course there is energy. I know in today's world of work, kids, family schedules, and just living in general that is an issue for everyone. When you have a chronic illness that is even more compounded. Not only that, but on days when you do have energy you want to cram everything you can into the day and often wear yourself out to the point that what you sacrifice is the intimate time with your partner. Many people with busy schedules have resorted to scheduling sex times, but since you never know when your body will decide to suddenly turn into cankles and the claw it's almost impossible to schedule it. In fact when you are stressed out about making that schedule and pleasing your partner it can actually induce the arthritic flare. It feels like an endless losing cycle sometimes.
Next on the list of challenges is self esteem. Another one that many people without chronic illness struggle with I know. I can speak for myself here though. It's really hard to feel sexy when I look in the mirror and see the 30 pounds I've held onto the last 4 years and can't diet away because my exercise options are so limited. To see all the scales, that my butt, legs, trunk, under my breasts, around my groin all have psoriasis spots. Even my feet are unsexy with the swelling and scales. Getting in the mode when you feel ugly in comparison to your old unsick self, and knowing that hope for something better is not likely is hard to overcome a lot of the time.
The last challenge I'll address tonight is the fear of letting your partner down ALL the time, and of losing your partner because of it. My boyfriend tells me all the time that I am beautiful and sexy. He tells me he desires me. He also tells me he is patient and will be there when those days come when I am able to have intimate time with him. I still feel like I am cheating him because I can't give him the frequency or level of intimacy we once shared. I am lucky that to he is the most understanding and kind man I have ever met, but that doesn't stop the fear of losing him because he will eventually want something more than I can give.
I don't know that this blog will help many people except for them to understand they are not alone. I don't know the answers to how to build your self image when you know there isn't much you can do to actually improve your appearance or stamina. I don't know how to quell the fears of losing someone you love because they aren't getting what they need from you. All I do know is that these things are things I deal with every day, and I know others are going through it too.
As always all we can do is take things one moment at a time. Do what we can when we can and hope for the best.