Often, my body feels jittery, twitchy, and achey before sex, but after it feels much calmer.
Before I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, sex wasn’t all that high on my agenda. But coming to terms with a life changing chronic illness like MS forces you to reassess your priorities, and post-diagnosis, sex was on my brain. When an MS relapse affected my orgasms in a major way, making them all but disappear, I wondered if I’d ever get the chance to enjoy sex again. The idea that I might not was devastating, because I felt as though I hadn’t had nearly enough of it.
Of course, sex is a personal choice, and it’s not for everybody. But for me, having more sex has allowed me to reclaim a part of myself that I thought was lost for good. Learning to enjoy sex again, post-diagnosis, was a long, and sometimes tortuous, journey. But two things spurred me on: a determination to rediscover my ability to orgasm, and the way sex made my body feel.
Much of the time, my body feels awful, and I’m sure most people with chronic illnesses can relate. From nerve pain throughout my limbs, to strange tremors, to random stabs, to the dragging ache of fatigue, there isn’t much that can alleviate the disturbances that MS causes. I’ve tried several prescribed pain management options, but they each had terrible side effects: one gave me an out of body experience that convinced me my hand wasn’t my own. So I’ve searched for alternatives, like chocolate, gin, reality TV, spin classes, and orgasms. And while I’ve never had a doctor recommend having an orgasm to me to improve my nerve pain, I should have, because it works.
Here are just some of the ways that sex makes chronic illnesses better:
Exercise Improves Disability
As Judy Beveridge writes for the MS Trust, “You either use it or lose it with MS… You feel so much better during and after exercise, getting your heart-rate going and endorphins flowing.” While Beveridge is talking about cardio rather than sex, the same principle applies. As with any condition, an exercise plan needs to be approved by your healthcare professional, but in the majority of cases, exercise actually improves multiple sclerosis symptoms such as anxiety and muscle weakness, and sex is a form of exercise, so…
Sex Is a Natural Form of Pain Relief
As Natasha Turner writes for Chatelaine, “Before orgasm, oxytocin, released from the brain, surges and is accompanied by the release of endorphins, our natural pain-killing hormones… endorphins soothe nerve impulses that cause menstrual cramps, migraines and joint pain.” Basically, sex is a natural painkiller, and as someone who’s often in pain, that’s exactly what I need. Often, my body feels jittery, twitchy, and achey before sex, but after it’s so much calmer.
The Desire to Feel “Normal” (Whatever Normal Is…)
There’s an ableist assumption that disabled people, and those living with chronic illnesses, don’t need or like sex. While this might be true for some, it’s certainly not true for everyone. One healthcare practitioner suggested to me that I shouldn’t worry about my sex life post-diagnosis, as companionship was more important. Eventually, she said, that’s all that’s left anyway, the insinuation being that MS made sex even more difficult, so why cause a fuss?
But having sex, and being in the type of physical relationship that’s right for you, is an essential part of the human experience. Ignoring a person’s sexual needs, or suggesting that sex is the lowest priority when you’re disabled is ableism.
Health Central writes that being diagnosed with a lifelong illness “is a great opportunity for you to build true intimacy with your partner and to focus on other things that bring you closer together outside of sex.” While that’s all well and good, a person with a chronic illness shouldn’t be made to feel as though they have to settle for a sex-less existence. And enjoying the physical side of a relationship can help you feel connected to another person, and forget your problems, for even a short time.
Sure, sex with a chronic illness might be different from sex pre-diagnosis, but deprivation isn’t necessarily the answer. Being able to experience all that life has to offer, including sex, can improve a person’s life, especially if they’re already living with conditions that affect their day-to-day.