Sex and arthritis – how to make it work

14 September 2021

Arthritis can affect many different aspects of your life, including your self-esteem, relationships and sex life.

Pain, fatigue, how you feel if your joints are swollen, and the unpredictability of arthritis can make movements such as standing, holding hands or even hugging difficult. It can reduce sex drive and cause physical discomfort and make having sex less enjoyable. But you shouldn’t let this put you off finding what works for you. Most of the time you only need to make small changes to continue having a healthy sex life.

Here are our top tips for sex and arthritis:

Let’s talk about sex

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.

It can be helpful to explain to your partner if you feel self-conscious about swollen joints or other signs of arthritis. This can feel a difficult conversation to have as emotions can be hard to put into words, so do it in a way you feel comfortable with.

Fatigue and fear of pain may make you nervous about sex and your partner may also be anxious about what might hurt you. .

For example, women with Sjögren’s syndrome can sometimes have a dry vagina, which can make sex painful. Lubricants and creams made from the female sex hormone, oestrogen, can help with this

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 with painkillers

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?

Consider your contraception

Some STIs can trigger a type of arthritis known as reactive arthritis, but also that some drugs can make people more at risk of infection, so it's a good idea to avoid this by using contraception, for example, a condom.

Also, specific drugs can affect how contraception works, such as the contraceptive pill. It’s a good idea to tell your doctor if you're on contraception when you start a new medication, as they may able to suggest other forms of contraception you could use.

Try different positions

Be curious and creative. 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.

Find other ways to be intimate

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.

Recommended reading

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