NOTE: This post is part of a series that I wrote in secret during the months before I announced my pregnancy. The series chronicles my pregnancy journey: from weaning off my RA meds, to trying to conceive, to searching for helpful advice and information, to discovering I was pregnant, to the ups and downs of my first trimester. You can read all the posts in this series here.
TMI Warning: This post contains details about sex and trying to get pregnant that you may consider to be too much information. Don't say I didn't warn you!
No matter how long I have been off my meds to prepare my body for pregnancy, to get pregnant I still have to have sex with my husband. That part is not rocket science. However, sometimes figuring out how to have sex while dealing with untreated RA feels a lot like rocket science. My knees hurts, my hips hurt, my jaw hurts, my fingers hurt, my mobility is limited, my body is stiff, I'm fatigued, I don't feel particularly sexy, and to top it all off, I feel guilty and frustrated about all of those things!! A girl could use a little help and advice!!
But have you ever Googled "sex and RA" looking for advice?
I really don't recommend it.
I really don't recommend it.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the articles out there addressing the topic of sex and RA are seriously depressing. In order to weed out any potentially useful information or advice you have to wade through multiple paragraphs of horrendous facts and statistics about how likely your sex life is to suck after getting diagnosed with RA. In fact, it is shocking how often these depressing facts are repeated without offering much advice for how to overcome them. Facts such as:
- If you have RA, enjoying sex is "likely to be difficult" and you may need to reduce your expectations of your sex life.
- Studies show that RA substantially diminishes the sex lives of 1 in 3 patients, and 1 in 10 say sex is out of the question.
- People with RA can have poor self image - from joint deformities, weight gain, facial swelling (moon face), hair loss, depression, reduced libido, lack of endurance, medication-related vaginal dryness, etc. - which can seriously damage their sex lives.
- The healthy partner is often afraid to initiate due to a fear of hurting the person with RA or being rejected, while the partner with RA often feels guilty about "holding back" their healthy partner. This promotes feelings of insecurity and anxiety, which only worsens the problem.
I'm sorry, did you just say that 10% of people with RA don't have sex at all?!?! (Actually, I found a French study where the number was 40% and an English survey where the number was 50%!!) Also, thanks for that all-inclusive list of every single hurdle I have to overcome to feel sexy - I had actually managed to forget about a few of those and I truly appreciate being reminded!! I even found one article where a woman blamed her pending divorce solely on the impact her RA had on their sex life, and another article that said 85% of marriages faced with the challenges of chronic illnesses eventually fail.
And the advice that is most often given to fix these horrendous issues?
- Find other ways to feel satisfied and intimate besides intercourse: synchronized breathing, eye gazing, fantasizing, guided imagery, visual stimulation, holding hands, hugging, cuddling, touching, kissing, sensual massage, oral contact, stroking, fondling...
While I appreciate that there are important types of intimacy besides intercourse, a lot of the articles sound like they are telling you to give up on intercourse all together! And that's a problem for me, because I'm pretty sure I can't get pregnant from holding hands!
Reading these articles is enough to make you want to crawl under a rock and cry. Or possibly die. My point is - they are not exactly uplifting.
And, although there are quite a few useful articles (and a great book) about pregnancy and RA, surprisingly those resources don't give much advice at all on how on earth you are supposed to get pregnant in the first place! I'm have no idea why they skip that step - it seems pretty relevant to me!!
Thus, I have embarked upon a quest to read as many articles about sex and RA as I can stomach. I will then weed out all the horrifying and depressing statistics, and compile a list of actual useful and hopeful advice from experts on improving your sex life when you have RA. It will be in my next post!