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Friday, December 30, 2016

Does Fibromyalgia Mean the Death of Sex? – Tips for LDS Married Couples

Our bodies are a gift from Heavenly Father[i]. Unfortunately, many couples find that, when bodies don’t work as they should, they can feel more like a curse, especially when physical problems cause pain during sex. Generally, no one wants to associate sex with chronic pain all the time.

In this article, we focus on couples who struggle with fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a condition marked by pain in the soft tissues of the body, such as muscles, tendons and ligaments. Touching can be painful, and this can extend to even the muscles and the tissues in and surrounding the vagina.[ii] Other symptoms include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, chemical sensitivities, migraine headaches, or irritable bowel syndrome.[iii]

Any one of these symptoms can make intercourse difficult, and hardly enjoyable for the sufferer. Many of these symptoms together can make sex seem impossible. An additional danger is when every attempt at sex causes the sufferer to subconsciously associate sex with unpleasant pain. When this happens, the subconscious will influence the individual to do everything possible to avoid the pain.

There is hope, however. I would like to offer you some suggestion of what some couples (who suffer from fibromyalgia) have done that have helped their sex life, as well as some recommendations from health professionals and ecclesiastical leaders.

If you as a couple have found yourself in such a situation, the following inside-out suggestions may help if you’re both willing to try:

*Mentally change your focus
There is no pain or discomfort that the Savior cannot help us with. He may not remove it, but he will help us carry it if we ask. If you haven’t already heard it, President Nelson’s Conference talk in October 2016, “Joy and Spirital Survival” has some useful information in this regard – about the number one way to find joy through difficulty:

“My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”[iv]

*Commit to teamwork.
Have honest, open discussions about your intimacy needs in the relationship, and figure out how both spouses’ needs can be met while facing physical limitations.

If you’re experiencing stress or tension around this, a counselor or coach may be able to help guide your discussions and help you put together a success plan.

“Nevertheless, says Dr. Cynthia Lawrence-Elliott …when it comes to this disorder, it is important to follow what she calls the ABCs of a healthy sensual life.
"A is acceptance and adaptation," says Lawrence-Elliott… "B is for learning the basics and for doing what it takes to boost one's self-esteem. Ignorance coupled with fear are common enemies of sexuality. C is connect and challenge."
By connect, Lawrence-Elliott means that one must shed any shyness when discussing one's body with a physician or spouse. By challenge she means that it's necessary to challenge oneself to do so, even when the issue is embarrassing.”[v]

*Throw out every cultural expectation
It’s okay if your sex life looks different from other people’s sex lives on television, movies, romance stories or otherwise.

Adaptation doesn’t make you less of a person – rather, the opposite is true. It’s heroic to never give up hope in the face of difficulties.

“A number of people distinguished between intimacy and sex, and said they and their spouses focused on closeness and mutual caring. One wrote, "Sex is important in a relationship, but I don't feel that it is the most important. I think all of the little everyday things that we do for each other and being supportive of each other is what really makes a marriage."[vi]

*Regular dates to reinforce relationship
If dating has gone away, continuing the courtship goes a long way toward building intimacy, even if sexual intercourse is not involved at first.

“For starters, if you haven’t had sex in a long time, it’s important to find ways to re-establish your feelings for each other, as well as a sense of trust and closeness between you.

One way to do this is to touch each other intimately without the goal of having sex or experiencing orgasm. For example, perhaps your wife would enjoy a whole body massage from you with warm massage oil. Incorporate gentle manual stimulation to her breasts, nipples, labia and clitoris. Focus on making her feel good, not bringing her to orgasm.”[vii] ~ Dr. Mitchell Tepper, 2011

*Get Some Rest
Lack of sleep is a major libido-killer, and medication or hormonal disturbances are a big factor in sleeplessness. It’s definitely something to consider.

Gentle forms of exercise such as yoga, swimming, walking, stationary bikes or elliptical trainers go a long way towards alleviating fibromyalgia. It may hurt more initially, but the endorphins released during exercise help ease pain long-term, and reduce symptoms.

“Another great tip is improving your self-care regimen. Grooming and physical activity can help you look and feel your best, and as a result help enhance your libido. Involving your spouse in exercise furthermore enhances sexual intimacy, so go for a walk with your spouse.”[viii]

It may seem ironic but, sex itself also releases endorphins that reduce pain – sometimes couples neglect the very thing that could help; usually out of fear or miscommunication. Keep that in mind as you work towards modifying your physical intimacy.

“Think of sex as therapy. Remind yourself that sex is nurturing for you and your spouse. And it boosts endorphins, your body’s own natural painkillers. The more you have, the better.”[ix] ~ Gina Robert-Grey,2015

*Relax! It’s a Game.
Anything you can do to take the emotional edge off and help with stress levels is a good thing. Try making a game out of your intimacy.

“Luckily we discovered early on the power of intimacy. And being who we are, set out to make it a game. It was called "20 Minute Time", and when one of us hollered those words we had to high tail it to the bedroom…”[x] ~ Leah Tyler,2012

*Try on a different kind of moist heat first
A warm bath or shower can ease sore muscles, and can be a great preliminary to sex.

“Heat increases blood flow… and decreases stiffness, a key symptom of fibromyalgia. Regular moist heat applications or warm baths may help temporarily to alleviate muscle pain or tender point pain, reduce muscle spasms, and decrease inflammation.”[xi] ~ Dr. Melinda Ratini, 2016

*Truly, madly, deeply experiment
You never know what might work for you until you try new things, so keep an open mind, and look around for what techniques or sexual positions or ideas might help. A good marriage relationship – one that supports both spouses – is worth working for.

*Appreciate the efforts your spouse is making
Holding back so as not to hurt someone while filled with desire is hard. Likewise, choosing to share a body that hurts is a deliberate choice that really shows love. Try to appreciate every effort the spouse is making, no matter how small, and accept it for the sacrifice of love that it is.

“When you are in love with someone and she is in pain all the time, when she wants to have sex with you in spite of it, it means she really wants to have it. You feel chosen and special."[xii] ~ Aina Hunter, 2008

The frustration of living with a chronic condition is a heavy burden to bear, but not an impossible task. We can find ways to not lose that special bonding tool in our marriage, with help from the Lord and trust in each other. Don’t give up.

All of these suggestions came from the experiences of people who suffer from fibromyalgia and what they’ve done to help their sex lives. Feel free to click on the links in the references to read their full stories.

[ii] “Fibromyalgia leads to pain in the muscles; this creates pressure and squeezing in the pelvic area and in the lower back.
During intercourse, these muscles cramp, creating a lot of discomfort for the individual. As a result, sexual intercourse becomes associated with negative physical sensations and is avoided.” – Lloyd, Stacy. “Fibromyalgia and Sex”. EmpowHer – Improving Heath, Changing Lives.
[iv] Nelson, Russell M. “Joy and Spiritual Survival”. 2016 Oct.

[v] Hunter, Aina. Ibid.
[vi] Campbell, Bruce. “Illness and Sex: Six Strategies for Improving Intimacy”. CFIDS and Fibromyalgia Self-Help.

[vii] Tepper, Mitchell, Ph.D, MPH. “Sexual Health Questions and Answers”. 2011 Sep 12.

[viii] “Fibromyalgia and Sexuality”.

[ix] Robert-Grey, Gina. “Don’t Let Fibromyalgia Ruin Your Sex Life”. LifeScript. 2015 Nov 13.

[x] Tyler, Leah. “Sex and the Fibro Girl”. Chronicles of Fibromyalgia. 2012 Jan 10.

[xi] Ratini, Melinda, DO, MS. (reviewer) “Fibromyalgia and Sex”. WebMD. 2016 Jul 30.

[xii] Hunter, Aina. “Chronic Pain and Sex: A Couple’s Gentle Battle with Fibromyalgia”. ABC News. 2008 May 14.

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