Fatigue is quite possibly the biggest barrier facing physical intimacy. The physical toll of an illness and its treatments can be tremendous. The easiest and most effective way to overcome this barrier is to plan ahead. It may sound silly to plan a time for sexual intimacy – where’s the spontaneity in that? Planning ahead, though, can ensure you have enough energy and stamina to follow through.
On the day of your “scheduled” intimacy, be sure to get plenty of rest. Conserve your energy by eliminating unnecessary activities. Take a nap or just allow for some quiet time alone to re-energize.
Try to eat a well-balanced meal, but avoid heavy foods and don’t overeat. Avoid alcohol consumption. That glass of champagne that used to set the mood will now likely set the stage for one thing: a nap. You may also want to avoid extreme heat. A rise in body temperature can lead to more fatigue. This may mean no more hot tub romance (sorry!).
In your attempts to reduce fatigue, it is unwise to ease up on your pain medication. Pain is a huge barrier to sexual arousal and performance. Unfortunately, medications used to treat pain can also dampen sexual desire.
Try using romantic music to both set the mood and distract from pain. Experiment with several positions to find something that feels good and doesn’t aggravate your pain. Try using pillows to aid in positioning and comfort.
Taking a warm bath or shower before sexual activity can help reduce pain and, if you do it together, can be a wonderful part of foreplay. Gentle massage is another excellent way to ease discomfort and promote arousal.
If all else fails and sex is just plain painful, experiment with other means of physical intimacy that doesn’t include intercourse. Gentle caressing, cuddling, kissing and hugging are wonderful ways to feel physically and emotionally connected to your partner.
Nausea and Vomiting
If you're feeling nauseated or if you have been vomiting, sex is probably the furthest thing from your mind. Getting the nausea under control is essential. The first step is to work with your health care provider to find the source of the problem. They can then recommend the appropriate treatment.
During sexual intimacy, certain things can trigger nausea and vomiting – and trust me, this is not the time you want to vomit. Strong smells that are often found in perfumes/colognes, candles and massage lotion can turn your stomach sour. If this is the case, ask your partner to avoid scented lotions and perfumes, use nonscented candles to set the mood and invest in nonscented massage lotion.
Dyspnea, or shortness of breath, is uncomfortable and distressing at any time during an illness. If it happens during sexual activity, it’s a good bet that arousal would be negatively affected. Proper positioning can help you avoid or minimize this feeling. Try to position yourself as upright as possible. This may mean being on top for a woman or sitting in a chair for a man.
It may not seem sexy to wear your oxygen during intimate moments, but trust me, it’s a lot less sexy if you’re huffing and puffing for air. If you need to wear oxygen during or after other types of physical activity, you will likely need it during sex.
Changes in Body ImageBecause sexuality is closely related to body image, a change in your body that makes you self-conscious can negatively impact your sexual desires. Any woman who has had a baby knows this to be true. The changes that take place during an incurable illness are usually more pronounced and significant than a few extra pounds left over from pregnancy, however.
Alopecia, or loss of hair, can leave you feeling unsexy. If this is the case, the use of a wig or scarf can help you focus on intimacy with your partner rather than your appearance. Weight loss and cachexia can make you feel self-conscious. You can usually mask this with clothes and may find certain positions to be more flattering than others.
The presence of an ostomy, such as a colostomy or urostomy, can have a huge negative impact on sexual desire. This may be true for either partner. You may feel self-conscious about the bag, and your partner may be turned off by it as well. As much as we love our significant others, some things can be too much to handle.
The easiest way to overcome this barrier is to empty any drainage bag before intimacy and cover it with clothing or a body stocking. Finding positions that minimize contact with the ostomy can also help. Another option is to opt for intimacy in the shower where any concerns about leakage or odor can be minimized.
Other symptoms that create barriers to your intimacy may include erectile dysfunction (ED), anxiety, depression and bleeding disorders. Discuss any symptoms you are having with your health care provider, and they will work with you to minimize them. Be sure to include any fears or concerns you’re having so they can be addressed appropriately as well.
This is no time to be shy about your sexual needs. Your doctors and nurses want to help you achieve the best quality of life possible and will be happy to work with you to promote a healthy sex life, despite your serious illness.