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Sex and arthritis

Published on 07 January 2014
Source: Arthritis Today

Can a healthy sex life continue despite arthritis? Our sex and arthritis information provides some helpful advice.

Sex and arthritisOne of the difficulties faced by people with arthritis which is rarely discussed publicly is how to maintain a satisfactory sex life in spite of the physical discomfort caused by the condition.

We produced our sex and arthritis information with this in mind and look at how arthritis can affect relationships and sexual intimacy, suggesting ways of overcoming the most common barriers to a healthy and ongoing sex life.

Angela Jacklin, a specialist occupational therapist in rheumatology at Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport, and a member of our patient advisory group, says: “Physical intimacy is a very important area, and it’s not often addressed by statutory services and during medical assessments because it’s such a sensitive and personal issue, and perhaps people will be embarrassed and not want to talk about it.

“So it’s useful to have information that people can read in the privacy of their own home with their partner, and that’s why I think information like this is vital. People don’t have to feel that they are put on the spot.”

Rheumatoid arthritis sufferer Nic Dickman is a furniture designer who runs Silversex, a website that sells furniture for disabled people to make sex easier. He welcomes the booklet as being long overdue, describing it as ‘a useful and open-minded guide’.

“When I saw Arthritis Research UK’s information on sex and arthritis, my first thought was at last!” he says. “Disabled sexuality had finally been brought into the open, and I’m old enough to remember when this was a complete impossibility.

“It covers every aspect one can think of, as well as the angle of actually having sex. There are so many areas that related directly to my problems and I’m sure many other readers will feel the same. Fatigue…yep! Fears about the drugs we’re prescribed…yep! Exercise, drugs, glossary, helplines, everything! It even has a feedback address to enable us to be fully interactive.

“It talks about our sexuality in a nice, relaxed style with simple illustrations that gently suggest the suggestive. The section on toys I think is particularly important as the physical restrictions of movement when you have pain can in fact have a positive angle; it can open a new door to spicing up a relationship.”

Nic, aged 64, from mid Wales, had been married for 30 years and he and his wife enjoyed an active sex life. But he was suddenly struck down with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 55.

“As anyone with rheumatoid arthritis will know, the pain is absolutely relentless and it didn’t take long to realise that the only time I was oblivious to the pain was during the wonderfully intense, but sadly rare moments of loving sexual pleasure,” he says. “It was obvious something had to be done if we were to rekindle a regular love life.

An experienced furniture designer, Nic started designing and building furniture that enabled him and his wife to comfortably enjoy sex again, while standing or sitting. Friends saw his designs and suggested he market them, and the result is his website

Nic adds: “The booklet is really worth getting into. It explains what can be the positive side of disability and sex in the sense that physical problems can offer new horizons and, hence, loads and loads of potential fun. As a long-time sufferer I strongly urge others to give it a good read…cuddle up on the bed together and work your way through it. You never know, those sexual position pictures just might get you fired up for a bit of experimentation. Well done Arthritis Research UK!” 

Not all older people are as uninhibited about sex as Nic, and the British attitude to the topic has long veered from smut and double entendre to downright embarrassment. 

Angela Jacklin acknowledges this when she says: “It’s seaside postcard stuff, and yet sex is the stuff of life really. It’s what binds people together and can be affected by a person’s condition. It’s tough when you’re no longer able to engage in these sort of deeply intimate activities. But it’s OK to discuss it. We might be British but we can still talk about these things!”

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