Sexual Intimacy Can be Affected by Chronic Disease
Sexual intimacy is portrayed in the media as an event happening between two young, beautiful and healthy people. But not everyone remains healthy, especially as we age into our 50’s, 60’s and beyond. Sexual enjoyment can dissipate when our body feels uncomfortable, when we gain weight or develop aches and pains. The chemicals released during sexual contact can actually act as a buffer to alleviate some painful symptoms.
However, having a chronic disease may lead to anxiety, depression, mood swings, lowered interest in previously enjoyed life experiences, and also impaired sexual desire, arousal and functioning. As we age, there are some inevitable body changes that we need to learn how to adjust to and deal with. We can incorporate into our lives some form of regular exercise, improved dietary considerations, rest, relaxation, massage and other treatments as well as counseling to overcome emotional issues. And the best we can do is to maintain our immune system to help us prevent those diseases that can be prevented. Here is a partial list of some common chronic conditions that can seriously impact and interfere with sexual desire, arousal and pleasure. But even here, with counseling and education, sexual intimacy can be maintained.
Problems may arise due to diabetic neuropathy. There are three types: sensory, autonomic and motor. The most common is sensory neuropathy which affects the sense of temperature, touch and pain. Vascular, blood flow, problems can certainly interfere with the engorgement of blood vessels in the sexual organs of both men and women, leading to low arousal. Diabetic men are often prone to boutrs of impotence while diabetic women often suffer from chronic vaginal infections. Then there are effects from the various medications that may be taken for other medical problems occurring at the same time.
There are many types of cancer, some that are easily treatable and others that may involve extensive surgery, many periods of chemotherapy and radiation, loss and disfigurement of body parts, and unappealing scars. Pain and discomfort and focus upon receiving the best treatment can interfere with most previously enjoyable activities, including intimate sexual activity. An intimate partner may be understanding, affectionate and loving or may become uncomfortable, distant and emotionally unavailable.
Allopecia Areata, hair loss or baldness, may sometimes be an inherited condition but is more often a side effect that occurs between two to three weeks after the first treatment of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Hair can also fall out on the face, including the eyelashes and eyebrows, as well as genitals and underarms. Although this hair loss may be a harmless condition, it often has an extremely detrimental effect upon body image, self esteem and as a result, sexual function. Some of the drugs used to treat the condition of alopecia, i.e., to stimulate the growth of hair, have also been associated with lowered sexual desire.
Coronary artery disease, hypertension, heart failure, strokes and other heart related physical problems can sometimes be predicted by an early sign of sexual dysfunction, in men. Since erections require the vascular system to function properly, difficulty getting or maintaining an erection can be a warning sign of heart problems. Once a man or woman has suffered from a heart condition or stroke, sexual activity may become limited. Often, psychological issues such as fear of a heart attack, anxiety and even depression can interfere with the enjoyment of sexual activity, even with a beloved partner. And many of the medications used to prevent an incident may suppress sexual desire or interfere with arousal.
Seizures can result from some type of malformation somewhere in the brain. It can occur through a genetic defect, an injury or accident, or as an aftermath of another disease or disorder. Partial seizures occur in just one part of the brain, usually described by the area of brain, e.g., partial temporal lobe seizures or partial frontal lobe seizures. About 60% of people with epilepsy have partial seizures. Generalized seizures involve abnormal activity in several parts of the brain. These can result in sudden loss of consciousness, uncontrollable muscle spasms, and dangerous falls. People who have seizures may develop a distorted body image or anxiety and depression that interferes with their enjoyment of sexual intimacy.
If you, or your loved one, suffers from a chronic condition and your sexual intimacy has come to a halt, don’t despair. Keep your heart open. Share your feelings and your love openly. Remember your unique value as a loving human being. Remember you, too, deserve to love and be loved. And most of all, remember to love yourself.