Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(2):357

Illness and Sex

A chronic illness is a health problem that you have for a long time, such as heart disease, lung disease, arthritis, or cancer.

People with chronic illnesses can feel tired and depressed a lot of the time. They may have pain, stiffness, or trouble sleeping. They may need medicines or other treatments that affect their sex life. They may have a surgery that changes how their body looks. As a result, they may feel less interested in sex, or they may not enjoy sex like they used to.

Suggestions for Keeping Your Sex Life Healthy if You Have a Chronic Illness

Read about your illness. There are many self-help books that discuss sex and specific illnesses.

If you have a chronic health problem, here are some things you can do to get ready for sexual activity:

  • Plan sexual activity for the time of day when you have the most energy and your health problem bothers you the least.

  • Be sure that you are rested and relaxed.

  • Wait at least 2 hours after you eat.

  • If you need pain medicine to feel better, take the medicine 30 minutes before sexual activity.

  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink, and avoid using tobacco in any form. Alcohol and tobacco can affect sexual function.

Here are some suggestions about what you can do to maintain your sex life:

  • Hold hands, hug, and touch your partner, even when you do not plan to have sex.

  • Use your senses to make sexual activity richer. For example, have satin sheets on the bed, light scented candles, and play music.

  • Tell your partner what you like and do not like—and listen to your partner's likes and dislikes.

  • Try different sexual positions or use pillows for comfort.

  • Try personal lubricants (one brand name is K-Y Jelly) to help reduce discomfort with sexual intercourse.

Talking to Your Partner

Even with the best of intentions and preparation, there may be times during your illness when you decide that you do not want to be sexually active. Talk to your partner about how you feel and why you feel that way. Talk about how you can help your partner deal with his or her feelings and interest in sexual activity.

Talking to Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about your sex life. Your doctor may have some ideas that can help.

Let your doctor know if you are feeling depressed or if you think that you are having side effects from a medicine.

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