How Do You Care About Sex When You’re in Pain?

Gertrude Highland

I’ve been in pain for almost half my life.

(I’m 32, for those playing the home game.)

Two car accidents decimated my spine, and the first happened before I met my then-boyfriend, now-husband. He’s never known me at my best and has only ever seen me at my worst. He’s taken me to the emergency room after intense pain and vomiting caused by spinal surgery. He’s shoved a wallet into my mouth so I wouldn’t bite my tongue during a pseudo-seizure. He’s caught me as I’ve passed out in a sauna.

Truth be told, he saves me every day from my useless, broken body.

I want to celebrate my husband and my marriage, and I want that celebration to take the form of constant, vigorous sex. We are also becoming sexually curious as we grow older, and I want to be an equal participant on that journey with him.

We have a third entity overshadowing our marriage, though, and that is my intractable pain.

How (and also why) should I care about sex when I feel like absolute garbage?

Visual representation.

When my back is in spasm, I just want to crawl into my bed, not get plowed on top of it.

My husband doesn’t deserve that, and frankly, I don’t, either. My sexual relationship is just as important as my job or my hobbies. Plus, sex is pleasurable. It’s a fun, enjoyable experience, but there are times I can’t help but view it as a chore. Just something else to be gotten through so I can rest.

Funnily enough, it was masturbation that made me care about sex more. Masturbation as a direct result of reading erotic literature. I read my porn, gosh darn it!

For chronic pain and illness patients, simply getting started in the bedroom is a monumental task. The mental effort required is daunting, not to mention the physical toll. You’re already exhausted, and sex always hurts until it doesn’t anymore.

(Does that make sense? As in, it hurts when we start — we’re sore, we’re stiff, and nothing feels good. We’re doped up on pain meds that muffle our senses. But then, once you get into the rhythm, once you’re over the initial hump of inertia, once you’re enjoying yourself and the endorphins start flowing, it doesn’t hurt anymore. That is the point when sex becomes pleasurable.)

I decided it’s best to start small.

Jumping into bed with my husband for sexual acrobatics sounds exhausting. The idea of peeling my clothes off, removing various pain control devices, struggling to find a comfortable position — thoroughly unsexy.

Using a vibrator on myself to get in the mood, though? That requires little to no effort. I can fall into that magical pain-free place where endorphins make me glow. Then I’m ready to have fun.

Playing with myself while my husband watches? Little to no effort. Sure, my arms and hands ache because of nerve damage in my neck, but a solo performance is as low-impact as it gets. I could even use a single finger.

What about having him go down on me while I lay swanlike on a gargantuan pile of pillows? Little to no effort.

Goddamn majestic. Photo by Carl Revell on Unsplash

By starting small, by working with my body instead of fighting against it, I rediscovered my own pleasure. Now I can forget the pain for a short time and enjoy myself instead.

Start small. Rediscover what you know turned you on before. Then it’s easier to get back in the game.

Remember, sex should never be a chore. No matter what your pain or illness is, there are ways to accommodate it.

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