“Damn Right I’m good in bed… I can sleep for hours!”: The A-Z of Chronic Sex

This article has been written as a part of the Chronic Babe blog carnival number #30, Let’s talk about sex!

Sex AND chronic illness?  There are so many variables to consider.  When I told my Mum I was writing this she remarked that she had always thought I was not really into sex.  I replied that it was not about not being into it, but more about how much energy and effort it takes to have sex.  I’m certainly not afraid to go there, as the following post will probably show.  Here follows 26 points about getting jiggy when you’re a sickie, based on my own experiences, conveniently arranged as an A-to-Z guide:

A is for Anorgasmia

Diving in straight at the deep end, anorgasmia, or the inability to achieve orgasm, is an unfortunate side effect of many medications. Frequently these include the antidepressants and anticonvulsants given to chronically ill people in order to regulate their sleep. Many people I have spoken to have told me of the dilemma they face when they are in relationships or are having regular sex, whether or not to take their medication. Their choice: have pain and orgasms, or no pain and no orgasms? Each one has quite obvious pros and cons. The conflict is so great that it has led me to describe is as “Sophie’s Choice for Spoonies”.

But remember, sex is not just about the end goal – orgasm. It is about intimacy, and sex can be completely enjoyable without orgasm.

B is for Blow Jobs

Oral sex can be a great way to have sex using less energy. And yes, it is sex! As well as being easier on the energy levels, blow jobs can avoid issues with pain and uncomfortable sensations. I know that sometimes I can be in so much pain I can’t bear to be touched, but oral sex can be a great way to be intimate without much bodily contact. And when orgasms occur, they can actually reduce pain levels (See E is for Endorphins)!

C is for Contraception!

I really cannot stress this one enough – if you are chronically ill, having straight sex, and are not actively trying to get pregnant, for the love of Bob, USE CONTRACEPTION! There is a wide range out there surely one compatible for everybody, both hormonal and non-hormonal. You can use more than one too – I like to use a combination of my implant and him using a condom. But then, I am a victim of an unfortunate condom malfunction and am now a single mother to a 3 (“Almost 4, Mummy!”) year old. Honestly, if you are chronically ill and need a lot of sleep, and you don’t have a strong support network then use contraception until you feel you are ready to never sleep again. The added benefit of barrier methods is that they also protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). (See Y is for Your Health)

D is for Disruptions

When you’re having chronic sex, you will need to prepare for a lot of disruptions. A jaw may lock up, a position may cause pain, you may simply get tired and need a break for a little while. At these times you can keep things going by cuddling, kissing, stroking, massaging or even talking dirty to each other. But don’t feel bad if you (or your partner) needs to stop – see it as a way of raising the tension and delaying the moment.

E is for Endorphins

Oh how I love these little guys! Wake up with a stiff neck? A headache? A hangover? (Ok, I’m going back several years here!). Or has it been a long day and you need a boost? Ache all over? I have found a very natural cure for these things. Whether it be through penetration, oral sex or masturbation, orgasms (if you can achieve them) bring with them a rush of endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller. And with that comes some relief from pain. Some of my most productive times are after an orgasm, though unfortunately my current single status means that these days I get my endorphin rush from eating spicy foods. Any excuse for wasabi peanuts! I wonder if they could prescribe a Vindaloo followed by orgasm as pain relief?

F is for Frequency

How often to have sex? Well, how long is a piece of string? It really is dependent on how you feel and what your symptom status is at the time. Sometimes you may feel more unwell and not want to do anything, other times you may want to have sex every day, or more often!

Don’t feel pressure to keep up with your friends, especially healthy ones. Remember that sex is about you and your partner, no-one else, and is about intimacy. As I have already said, sex isn’t about orgasm, and it also isn’t about penetration. It is simply about intimacy, and if you think about it, you may find that you are already very intimate with your partner, even if you are not having ‘traditional’ sex and humping each other at every opportunity. Frequent sex doesn’t always equal intimate sex.

G is for Getting in the Mood

This is a really individual thing and it is important to take into consideration the needs of both you and your partner. Personally I have simple needs, liking lots of kissing, touching and if you hadn’t already guessed, intimacy. But the things that work for and turn on one person, can make the other unwell.

For example, once upon a time a boyfriend gave me a massage. Massage helped him a lot and he had become good at it himself. However, the massage he gave me resulted in a massive fibro flare which left me barely able to move the next day. He also used the only oil he had – lavender, assuring me it would be relaxing. That was how I found out lavender and me do not go well together – my glands went straight up and I had an instant pounding headache. Needless to say, sex did not happen that night!

Getting in the mood may involve kissing, cuddling, touching, and massage, but also planning, role play, dirty talking (maybe even a dirty text or phone call at work can build anticipation). The world is your oyster! You know what turns you on, so communicate it with your partner and put it into practice!

H is for Humour

If you’re having chronic sex, you really must have a sense of humour. Most people I know who are chronically ill are ok with bodily functions in general (well, we have to be), and sex, when you think about it, is hilarious. An ex always used to say, “Sex is so… biological.” And he was right. It’s messy, sticky, sweaty, and FUN! Laugh about it! I have been through the utter hilarity that is two sick people trying to have sex against a wall, fanny farts, and even being farted in the face whilst giving head. Sex is a scream, laughter should be a part of it.

I is for Impotence

So we’ve done anorgasmia, but what about when a guy can’t get it up? I can’t speak for a man’s feelings, as I don’t actually own a penis, but as a woman I have learned it is really, really, really important not to make a fuss about it either way. Sexual dysfunction such as this is a sad side effect of many of the drugs that are given to the chronically ill, and it does happen. It’s not personal.

Sex doesn’t have to be about penetration though. I have been with guys who have appreciated understanding, hand jobs and blow jobs at these times. Sometimes I have found the simple intimacy of a cuddle and understanding can make the world of difference and change a bad experience into something wonderful, no penetration necessary!

J is for Joints

If you’re a bendy like me, then at some point during sex you are going to find yourself saying, “Let me just put X joint back in!” It happens. Sometimes it’s painful and requires stopping, other times it will just necessitate a small shift in position. Positioning is everything, so do go easy if you are hypermobile. Spooning can be a good one, and missionary, as long as you don’t open your legs too wide, or you will be using my post-sex catchphrase, “Ow! My hips! Help me put them back!” Try to avoid positions that put strain on your wrists, elbows and shoulders – I have dislocated wrist bones from supporting my weight whilst being on top!

K is for Know Your Limits

A mantra for all areas of life, really. Don’t try swinging from the light fittings if you’re really not up to it. Always try to be aware of what you would be able to cope with at the time, but also the effect that it will have on you afterwards, and don’t push it!

L is for Lube!

I cannot stress this one enough. Lube is key. I will talk more about the physical reasons for this later (see V is for Vaginal Dryness), but for now let me warn you about lubes… Many water-based lubes contain a substance called glycerine. This is not anything sinister, it is simply a form of sugar. However, for many who are chronically ill, especially those with ME and Fibromyalgia, Candida (otherwise known as thrush) is a big problem.

Candida albicans, a yeast overgrowth in moist areas such as skin folds, the gut, vagina and beneath the foreskin, thrives on sugar. Adding sugar to an area which may already be prone to microbial overgrowth due to immune system abnormalities is a recipe for disaster. I only need to use KY jelly and I feel itchy and sore afterwards. Sugar?! In MY vag?! No thanks!

So I did my research, and discovered the joy of silicone based lubricants. Safe to use with condoms, these lubricants contain no sugar, claim to be hypoallergenic (I’ve not had a problem, nor have heard of anyone having had one), and last a lot longer than water-based lubricants. They are so slippery that a little goes a long way, so they last longer too. I really can’t extol the virtues of silicone based lubricants enough. Do look into it yourselves!

M is for Masturbation

I’m pretty sure we’ve all done it at some point or another. Usually in private. But masturbation can be an enjoyable part of chronic sex. It can start out awkward and embarrassing, but I have found masturbation with a partner can be extremely hot. It can be used in place of penetration, or to complement it. You could use it to show your partner exactly what you like. You and your partner could pleasure yourselves together, or equally, could manually stimulate each other.

There are many different applications which can enhance things, and most importantly, even if you suffer with anorgasmia with others but not on your own, it could be a way of making sure both of you achieve orgasm.

N is for Not Tonight, Dear!

Sometimes there are just times when sex is really not on the cards. It is important to firmly establish boundaries and make sure that your partner knows that no means no, not guilt trips and begging. (See U is for Understanding)

O is for Organisation

I know, I know! Organising sex sounds as sexy as making a shopping list. But making sure you are prepared for sex can save a lot of energy. Things to consider when organising a ‘sex survival kit’ – condoms, lube, any toys or aids you might want to use, a bottle of water, painkillers, wet wipes… the list goes on. Also, planning your sexual encounters can be sexy in itself, creating anticipation by planning sex in advance, heightening the mood throughout the day with flirty/dirty messages and calls can result in mindblowing sex later on.

P is for Positions

One time when discussing my favourite positions, a friend remarked, “Only other chronically ill people can understand why chronically ill people have 2 favourite positions.” They were of course, referring to our need to have positions for ‘low energy’ and ‘slightly more energy’ days. I have mentioned above, spooning and missionary can be great for girls who are low on energy. Her on top can be great for if he is low on energy. If you are both unwell, then periodically changing positions will also help matters, by giving the other person a bit of a rest.

Q is for Quickies

Never underestimate the power of a quickie. Sometimes a quick one can be less draining on the energy levels than longer, slower paced sessions. Quick sex in an unusual setting can be enjoyable and can add a bit of variety if you feel that you health keeps your sex life in a bit of a rut.

R is for Relationships

Relationships can be hard to maintain when you have chronic health conditions. For that reason, some people find it easier to have sex without being in a relationship. Whether you choose to have sex within a relationship or not it is essential that you have a partner that understands your needs, and that it is safe and consentual. (See U is for Understanding)

S is for STOP!

I have found in my experience that when chronic sickies have sex, they are often eager to please, but at the same time afraid of ‘breaking’ the other person. This can lead to stopping what could be really good sex out of fear of getting too tired. I know I have a tendency to stop guys in case they get too tired, and have had the same done to me.

What I have found helpful, is talking honestly and establishing that when someone says that THEY feel too tired, then is the time to stop. You could try using a code or safe word, or you could just simply ask, “Could we have a break for now?” However you do it, it is important to remember that consideration for others feelings is all well and good, but if you have the understanding that you can call a halt to things when you need to, then it is far more likely that you can get lost in the moment and have a really good time.

T is for Toys

When I talk about toys in bed, I’m not talking about the cars and Lego my son leaves in mine! Sex toys can be great for when you or your partner is low on energy but wants to keep the intimacy going, for when you need to ‘take a break’ during sex, or just for whenever you want to use them. There are a number of toys available these days that can accommodate almost every need, and are usually delivered very discreetly. So have a search on the web and see what takes your fancy!

U is for Understanding

I’ve been banging (excuse the pun!) on about this throughout this piece, haven’t I? I really do want to stress the importance of understanding. For the most part, I have been lucky to have understanding partners, who have accommodated my needs so that I have been able to have sex, or at least intimacy, even during my bedbound times. Talking honestly is key. If you feel your needs are not being met then you need to talk about it to change things. It’s also important to be understanding of your partner’s needs too, whether they are sick as well or not. They may feel frustrated by the limitations, or even that you are not meeting all their needs. In order to establish true understanding, don’t grit your teeth and get on with it (perhaps not the best phrase to use), let them know exactly what you can and can’t do. If you are in a relationship that is loving and supportive, then understanding should be easily achieved through honest communication.

V is for Vaginal Dryness

I think this must be the female equivalent of impotence. You can be as willing as the day is long, but if your Va-jay-jay is drier than the Gobi then it’s not going to work, and forcing it will cause pain. This is where women are much luckier than men – usually cracking open the lube will result in an improvement in matters and make things more pleasurable (See L is for Lube), but if that isn’t enough, you can visit your doctor for prescription treatments which may help to ease things.

W is for Weakness

Sex can be incredibly tiring, and I know that I can often feel incredibly weak afterwards (and I like to think I leave my partners weak at the knees too!). This is why I prefer to have sex at night, as I can go to sleep straight after, but really, as long as you have time to rest afterwards then go forth and go at it!

X is for X-periment!

Oh, that was tenuous, wasn’t it?! As I have said previously, good sex, whether it’s chronic or not, is all about experimenting and finding out what works for you. In many ways, despite the lack of energy, I think that having a chronic condition has meant that I have had to actively seek out work-arounds to make sure I have the best possible sex. Experimenting is all part of the fun, don’t be shy, give it a go and try something new!

Y is for Your Health

No article about sex would be complete without a note about sexual health. As I mentioned before, using condoms can reduce the transmission of STIs. I feel it is important that the chronically ill have a duty of care to themselves to maintain their sexual health, simply because we do not need any more infections on top of what we already deal with! If you can get out and about to have a sexual health check every now and then, then do.

Z is for Zzz!

Sex can be a great sleep aid. I said earlier I like sex at night because I usually get a restful night’s sleep afterwards. But whatever time you like to have sex, if you need a snooze afterwards, go for it if you can. There’s nothing nicer than curling up with your partner and dozing off.

And on another note, if you got through all of this, then you may need a “Zzzz!” yourself!


5 Responses

  1. Fabulous A – B -C guide for us Chronics! I must admit you had me cracking up at some of your descriptions, and I read some to my Hubby, and had him chuckling too. Thanks for your candor!

    One of the best thngs about blog carnivals is finding new bloggers! Glad I found your blog.


  2. Wow – something for every letter – I like how your mind works – LOL

  3. That was one of the best posts Ive ever read…on ANYTHING!

    Sharing it with all!

  4. wow…this post was amazing and so funny…am a chronic babe and i could so relate to so many of the things u were talking about! thanks for the aha moments and the laughter..

  5. This is a wonderful article. I agree with everything here, with a special emphasis on T is for Toys. They’re just another type of mobility aid, that help to make sex easier.

    The only thing I’d add is Female Orgasm Boosters, both to help with anorgasmia, and to help things in general happen faster before the energy runs out. They have ingredients that make your tingly bits tingle more, such as arginine which actually increases blood flow to the area. I’ve had excellent results with Durex Play-O, but there are various brands and types available.

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