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

Please call 911 if you have an emergency or urgent medical question.

If you are having symptoms of COVID-19, for your safety, please select a MyChart video visit on demand or call your primary care provider. For symptoms of COVID-19, please visit our website www.henryford.com/coronavirus.

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