Dating, having a relationship that is functional and having a healthy sex life are hard. They are hard enough without the added stresses of contending with a chronic illness, such as rheumatoid arthritis. I see many individuals and couples trying to navigate the tricky road of intimacy, including the road created by an autoimmune disease that strikes young vibrant adults making them feel tired, have inflamed and painful joints and worry about what the future will bring.
Relationships are the number one source of happiness for most people and having Rheumatoid arthritis is not an insurmountable obstacle by any means. But many wonder, when do you tell someone you have RA that you have begun dating? How do you negotiate feeling tired with your partner whether it’s about doing stuff at home, fun things out, or having sex? How do you content with anxieties about your body, how it looks and feels to allow sex to be fun and a source of closeness for you and your partner?
I recently participated in an online talk show with Deborah Norville (whose mother had RA) for a website called newway RA (www.newwayra.com) to discuss just this topic. In addition I spoke with 2 women with RA who describe just the kinds of struggles women often face when balancing their romantic relationships with dealing with this chronic medical issue. Of course your personal mindset, wealth of information about your illness and ability to communicate are probably the biggest factors affecting your ability to develop and maintain a long term relationship.
We touch on the importance of being flexible as a couple, about everything from when and how you have sex, to getting other needs met such as feeling supported, avoiding caregiver burn out and negotiating childcare.
Because RA affects the way your body feels and looks, it may particularly impact both partners feeling about sex. Sex is a hugely important and valued part of any marriage and many long term romantic relationships. It is not something you should or need to give up, in fact with a chronic illness I could argue you need that kind of loving intimate contact even more. But what defines sex is really that there is intimate pleasure shared between the two of you. This can be through touching, oral contact or genital contact. Too often couples feel the need to adhere to a very rigid definition of “sex life” and both partners loose out. Talking about what works and how to optimize it is not only important, it’s a form of foreplay, of warming up and feeling understood which is very sexy on its own.
To see more information about dating, relationships and sex with RA as well as other episodes covering nutrition, fashion and medical care go to www.newwayra.com.