Women's Sexual Health Clinic

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Sexuality after Chronic Illness

Diagnosis of a chronic illness can turn your world upside-down. Feelings of grief, fear, loss, anger and frustration are common. And, although sexuality may not be a top priority during the time of diagnosis and the initial management of a chronic health issue, it will eventually become important once again.

Sexuality After Chronic Illness: What to Expect

For patients with a chronic illness, sex may feel painful, difficult, overwhelming and, for some, even out of reach. Patients with chronic illnesses often experience sexual difficulties for various reasons — disease-related symptoms, treatment side effects and psychological responses to having a chronic illness and all that goes with it. Cancer and its treatment, especially when associated with the breasts or sexual organs leading to a hysterectomy or breast removal, can be particularly troublesome when it comes to sexuality.

Chronic illness may cause you to have:

  • Anxiety about your partner’s feelings about you
  • A lowered libido
  • Feelings of being less attractive, desirable and/or confident
  • Concern that sex may cause pain
  • Concern about how your body works or moves

Feelings of depression and anxiety are common.

Chronic illnesses cause various symptoms and scenarios that influence or hinder sexuality. Just a few examples (many others exist) include:

  • Shortness of breath with lung cancer or emphysema
  • Incontinence with irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease
  • Rigidity due to Parkinson’s disease
  • Presence of colostomy bags
  • Removal of a breast

Medications and other treatments may also impact sexual function, resulting in decreased orgasmic intensity, vaginal dryness, ulcers and sores, nausea and many, many other symptoms.

After the diagnosis of a chronic illness, you will need to find your “new normal.” You must also understand that what’s “normal” can change on a daily basis. It’s important you discuss these issues and any concerns you may have you’re your healthcare professional.

Chronic illness may make it necessary to find different methods and techniques to connect with your partner. You should be willing to experiment and get creative as you explore new ways to share intimacy and sexuality with your partner.

Although it can be challenging, you should communicate with your partner, openly and honestly, about what’s working, what’s not working, what feels good and what doesn’t. Discuss your feelings and your expectations. Then, work together to find a solution that meets both of your needs. In fact, discussing your fears and concerns with your partner may help make physical intimacy easier.

When to Speak to a Doctor

Following the diagnosis of a chronic illness, it’s normal to have questions and concerns. Our female healthcare team at the Henry Ford Health System Women’s Sexual Health Clinic can help you deal with your chronic illness and the repercussions associated with it. Not only is sex possible when you have a chronic illness, but it’s also an important part of life, providing comfort, pleasure and intimacy

For a confidential appointment at the Henry Ford Health System Women’s Sexual Health Clinic located near Detroit, we offer two convenient ways to contact us:

Schedule Appointment Online

If you are having an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. Please do not utilize this scheduling feature for urgent medical situations.

For your safety please select a MyChart Video Visit on Demand or call our MyCare Advice Line at 844-262-1949 before scheduling if: You currently have a temperature greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, you are experiencing a new loss of taste and/or sense of smell, in the past 21 days, you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, in the past 14 days, you have had contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19. Or, you have experienced two or more of the following symptoms in the last 3 days: fever, chills, drenching sweats, new cough, shortness of breath, body aches, headache, sore throat, runny nose or nasal congestion, or nausea/vomiting/diarrhea.

Henry Ford Health System is committed to ensuring our Deaf or hard-of-hearing patients and visitors have equal access to all services. We provide the appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters, TTYs and other assistive listening devices, at no cost. To request assistance, call 313-916-1896 or email CommunicationAccess@hfhs.org.

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