Thursday, July 28, 2016

Juvenile Arthritis Conference West - Relationships & Intimacy

Those of you who follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram know that I had a crazy busy week last week - I wanted to share some highlights!

Recently I've been supporting my amazing friend Kirsten as she works to develop resources and support for an issue I have long argued needs to be discussed more - the impact of arthritis on our sex lives. Kirsten has been hosting the Chronic Sex Twitter Chat (every Thursday at 7pm ET) and she has gathered amazing resources on the Chronic Sex website. Because of this great work, Kirsten was asked to moderate a session on relationships and intimacy for the young adults at the Arthritis Foundation's Juvenile Arthritis Conference. I was lucky enough to be asked to join the panel as well - along with Jeremy Forsyth, who not only brought a male perspective but also the perspective a partner/caregiver as he and his wife both live with chronic illnesses.

Rather than being a lecture or talk, the session was more of a collaborative discussion with the young adults who attended the conference and are living with arthritis themselves. We talked about self esteem, dating, relationships, and, of course, sex. We worked hard to provide these young adults with a safe space to ask any questions they might have and to share their worries and concerns, either out loud or via written anonymous index cards. As the panel, we admitted that we don't have all the answers to these questions - and that we still struggle with many of these issues in our own marriages. But we did our best to share what we've learned from our own experiences and emphasize that it is natural to struggle with these issues - but that you don't have to struggle alone. We shared resources for information and support, as well as tips for talking to their doctors and partners. 

Though everyone in the room was over age 18, I will admit that they seemed quite young to me - thought perhaps that comes with the territory of being a mom myself! Despite their youth, I truly hope that their parents were grateful (or at least ok with) our session. My own kids are still a bit young to talk directly about sex (so far we've only discussed that private parts are private, and parents and doctors are the only ones allowed to touch besides themselves), but when my kids are older I hope they will feel comfortable asking any questions they have. But, if they aren't comfortable asking me or their dad, I truly hope that they will also have a safe resource to turn to to learn about healthy intimate relationships. 

I'm really thrilled that the Arthritis Foundation was willing to embrace this topic - which will ultimately play a huge role in quality of life these young adults living with arthritis. And I am very excited to participate in this session again in a few weeks - at the Juvenile Arthritis Conference East in Philadelphia! 

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