How can you maintain sexual intimacy when you're dealing with pain?

Sexual intimacy doesn’t just serve to provide us with orgasms in our marriage. It also helps us to feel united as a couple. It builds our overall intimacy. It helps to bond us. This can especially be the case for many men as they experience the rush of the bonding hormone oxytocin that occurs at orgasm.

When our marriages are deprived of sexual intimacy, our marriages can hurt–even when that deprivation comes out of necessity due to a medical condition.

Unfortunately, sex can be painful for many women. From vaginismus to vaginal dryness to arthritis to fibromyalgia to middle age body changes and beyond, sexual activity can hurt.

Sometimes we avoid sex altogether, leaving our husbands to handle things on their own, or we experience pain out of a sense of duty.

How can we maintain sexual intimacy in our marriages when we associate sexual feelings with pain?

  • Address the problem. If you have a medical problem, seek help and pursue treatment. There are some conditions that will never go away, but perhaps the pain can reduced in some way. Your doctor may also be able to suggest some resources that help women with certain conditions maintain a good sex life.
  • Medicate. If your doctor has recommended medication to help you deal with the pain, plan for sexual activity at the time you experience the most pain relief.
  • Use props and toys. Use lots of pillows to support aching body parts. Make sure you have lots of artificial lubricant on hand if dryness is a problem. Use a sleeve or vibrator to help out if pain inhibits the use of your hands (affiliate links).  Edited to add this: The folks at Married Dance say that they’ve had women with fibromyalgia purchase sex swings (affiliate links): “The sex swings enable weightless sex with little impact during intercourse. They are expensive, but for some people, they are worth every penny.” Of course, you can always try to make your own, too. 🙂
  • Let sex be your medication. According to WebMD, not only can orgasm block pain, sexual stimulation without orgasm can help with several different kinds of pain. Consider whether pushing through the pain may result in a few hours of pain relief for you.
  • Have sex without intercourse. If intercourse itself causes the problem due to position, weight distribution, or the act of penetration, use other parts of your body. You and your husband can use your hands or mouths on each other or self-stimulate. Engaging in sexual activity with each other is sexual intimacy, regardless of how orgasm happens.
  • Bless your husband. If you are in too much pain to experience sexual pleasure for yourself, you can help your husband using your hands or mouth. If even that hurts, you might consider holding a sex toy for him, letting him hold you with one arm while he self-stimulates, or simply lying next to him in something sexy (such as lingerie or your birthday suit) while he masturbates.
  • Give him something to work with. If you are prescribed total pelvic rest and should not experience arousal, then even being in the room while your husband masturbates can be a problem. Despite the fact that sexual intimacy is not about the orgasm alone, your husband does have a physical need for release aside from his emotional need for intimacy with you. If he needs to masturbate away from you for a short season in life, let him have pictures or videos of you to help him focus on you and your love for him. Apps like Couple and Avocado offer a password-protected way to share images with each other.
  • Work on nonsexual physical intimacy. No matter how you choose to address the sexual intimacy in your marriage, be sure to work on other kinds of intimacy as well. Spend time cuddling with each other. If you can, sleep together, too.
  • Grin and bear it. I hesitate to include this here because I don’t want any woman to feel like she has to experience pain just to make her husband happy. However, depending on your medical condition and on the severity and duration of the pain, you may want to choose to have intercourse from time to time and just deal with the pain. If you want to bless your husband this way, it is an option.

If you are experiencing pain or a medical condition that makes sexual activity difficult, share these ideas with your husband. Work together to figure out some ways to approach sex that build intimacy without adding pain to your life.

If you have avoided sexual contact for a long time due to pain or illness, remember that it may take time for your husband to rebuild the habit of coming to you with his sexual desire. He may need to relearn to trust you with his desire, and it may take a while for him to adjust to your availability after having to take care of himself for so long. It may also take some time for him to get out of the habit of feeling guilt for wanting you.

Several years ago, I had uterine fibroids that caused intense pain. The least bit of arousal caused me several days of cramping. Intercourse triggered a day of pain and several more days of cramping. If I had an orgasm, I would face several days of curled-up-in-fetal-position kind of pain that was barely manageable.

My husband felt guilty asking me for any sexual activity at all, knowing that it would affect me for several days. It took me about a year after surgery (which completely removed the pain) to stop anticipating the pain; it took my husband about the same amount of time to stop feeling guilt for wanting to have sexual contact with me.

It is possible to maintain sexual intimacy even when you are dealing with pain. You might have to get creative, and you may need to expand your definition of what counts as sex (not just intercourse), but you and your husband can still enjoy a healthy and joyful sex life by learning how to work around your pain and medical situation.

If you experience pain that interferes with sex, how have you worked to maintain the sexual intimacy in your marriage?

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6 Thoughts on “When It Hurts: Maintaining Sexual Intimacy While Dealing with Pain

  1. McKenzie on April 6, 2015 at 9:03 pm said:

    This is kind of not truly related, but the topic still grabbed by attention. For the past month my husband has dealt with severe poision ivy that took over his whole body and to the point he was in so much pain he had to go to the ER. There was definitely no sex happening because of how uncomfortable he was with even the slightest touch, and I was also pregnant and couldn’t chance it. As soon as he started feeling better I was so ready, and then we learned last week that our precious little one had been called home to Heaven at 12 weeks pregnant. I delivered our precious bundle on Good Friday and have been trying to recover in all aspects. I yearn for that oneness to help through the pain but now we have to wait the few weeks for my body to heal. For now we just hold each other through the emotional pain we are enduring.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. Emotional pain can require intentionality and special care as much as physical pain does. Intimacy can grow in grief, so keep on holding each other.

      • Missionary to Mexico on July 21, 2015 at 9:47 am said:

        I, too, am very sorry for your loss.

        However, I am very glad that you-all are at least holding each other during this time. My wife does not even want to do that. She believes that physical affection is not necessary in a marriage, that love can be shown in other ways.

    • sandi on April 6, 2015 at 9:25 pm said:

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Your faith in the goodness of our Lord calls out from your post. May Jesus hold you both close during this sad time.
      I’m praying for you tonight, sister!

  2. Some of your suggestions are not biblical… masturbation, toys, pictures (pornography). Truly disappointing! My opinion.

    • Why do you say these things are not biblical? None of these suggestions is prohibited in the bible. They are activities that don’t include anyone other than the husband and wife, and nothing here is designed to degrade or hurt anyone. A man who is looking at pictures of his own wife is not viewing pornography, although a man who has struggled with pornography addiction may find it better to avoid masturbating to his wife’s pictures–not because it is sin to look at pictures of his wife or to masturbate but because the activity may bring to mind past experiences with pornography.

      I know that some women are not comfortable with all these things. Sexual intimacy is important in marriage, however, and too often, we avoid sex altogether or suffer through pain. Fortunately, these options can work in many situations–and since they are not prohibited in the bible, I think God would be okay with this list. Do you have suggestions you would like to see included instead?

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