Sex and arthritis – how to make it work

10 February 2020
A gentleman sat on the edge of the bed whhile his wife sits on the floor with her hair against his knees looking out of the window.

Arthritis can affect many different aspects of your life, including your relationships and sex life. The pain and unpredictability of arthritis can make simple movements such as standing, holding hands or even hugging difficult. It can cause physical discomfort and make sex less enjoyable.

But you shouldn’t let this put you off. Most of the time you only need to make small changes to continue having a happy sex life.

Here are our top tips for sex and arthritis:

Keep active

Your sex drive and enjoyment is generally greater if you feel fit and active. Doing some form of exercise will help you keep up your muscle strength and the range of movement in your joints.

Talk about it

Be prepared to talk openly with your partner about your concerns. You may experience periods of low self-esteem and feel less attractive because of your arthritis. Fear of pain may make you nervous about sex, but your partner may also be scared of hurting you. Sometimes worries like this can lead couples to withdraw from physical contact. Let your partner know if something is uncomfortable, but also make it clear what feels good too.

Plan ahead

When pain is a problem, take painkillers about an hour before having sex. This may not seem very spontaneous but it’s worthwhile if it makes sex more comfortable. Your joints may also feel more comfortable after a hot bath or shower – why not share one with your partner?

Try a different position

There are many positions you can try with one or both partners standing, kneeling or sitting. If one position puts a strain on your joints, it’s worth experimenting with others. Or try using cushions, pillows or different pieces of furniture to support you.

Shake it up

Penetrative sex isn’t the only way to achieve sexual satisfaction. Many couples find kissing, caressing and mutual masturbation just as enjoyable. Oral sex is also pleasurable, although a painful jaw joint can cause discomfort. Sex aids such as vibrators are readily available from pharmacies and specialist shops, or you can order them over the internet.

You can find out more in our sex, relationships and arthritis section.

Trying for a baby

There’s no reason why arthritis should prevent you from having children, but you should discuss it with your doctor before trying for a baby. They can give you advice on what drugs you should or shouldn’t be taking because some of the drugs you’re likely to be taking for your arthritis may need to be changed.

You can find more information and advice about trying for a baby when you have arthritis in our pregnancy and arthritis section.

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