Intimacy, Sexual Dysfunction, Fibromyalgia and Women

When considering the sexuality of a woman, it is necessary to look beyond the physical aspects. Sexuality is composed of a variety of factors that include more than just sexual activity. When a woman has fibromyalgia, the condition may interfere with her normal sexual functions. This can end her intimate relationship with her partner or spouse and lead to low self-esteem which only adds to the stress of managing fibromyalgia.

What is Normal Sexual Function?

For women, sex is a complex issue because it involves both physical and emotional reactions. Normal sexual functioning, however, may be divided into specific stages that include:

  • Desire
  • Arousal
  • Orgasm
  • Relaxation

They are all tied together with feelings of fulfillment, satisfaction and pleasure. For a woman, this is achieved not simply through physical touching. It involves psychological and emotional engagement. It may be difficult at times to remain sexually engaged when your body is in pain or fatigued or you are experiencing low self-esteem due to having fibromyalgia.

Types of Sexual Dysfunction in Women with Fibromyalgia Syndrome

Sexual dysfunction refers to the inability to either engage in or enjoy the sexual act. It occurs for a number of different reasons that include illness, the impact of medications on the body, or emotional distress.

Women with fibromyalgia may suffer from one or more types of sexual dysfunction. The more common types include:

  • Decreased sexual desire or drive
  • Less arousal but maybe adequate sex drive
  • Difficulty in achieving orgasm
  • Increased pain with sexual intercourse or vaginal contact[1]
  • Failure of the body to co-operate with the desired position or movement

Whatever the reason, sexual dysfunction can have a profound impact on a person because it affects their self-esteem as much as their ability to experience physical satisfaction.

What causes Sexual Dysfunction in Women with Fibromyalgia?

The causal factors of sexual dysfunction for women with fibromyalgia can vary. The most common are based on the physical effects the syndrome has upon the body. Some cases originate in the medications taken for fibromyalgia. Still others cases are based in emotional or psychological reasons caused by dealing with a long term medical condition and feelings of inadequacy. Generally, the basic causes of sexual dysfunction among females with this syndrome are[2]:

  • Fatigue – the individual feels too tired to respond to sexual advances
  • Pain – a decreased sensory threshold of pain may result in over sensitivity of the sex organs and genital area. Pain may also affect your ability to move your body as required or moving your body into a specific position may result in pain. It, therefore, becomes a cause and effect situation
  • Depression – this has been linked to decreasing the feelings of desire and thus arousal
  • Medications – some of the medications taken may have the affect of dampening sexual desires
  • Lower self-esteem – Having fibromyalgia may lead you to dislike your body and feel, in turn, that no one will find it attractive, even your partner of many years

These are the basic reasons for sexual dysfunction. You can address these issues by seeking professional treatment.

Treatments to Counteract or Reduce Sexual Dysfunction

Treatments for sexual dysfunction differ. Before turning to one or another, you should talk to your doctor about the problem and the treatment options. Your medical professional should be able to help you identify what is at the root of your sexual dysfunction. The cause of the sexual dysfunction will naturally influence the treatment.

One typical treatment is physical therapy. Doing Kegel exercises to strengthen the vaginal muscles, and other forms of aerobic exercise, will make sex more enjoyable and less painful. Psychotherapy may be useful if the dysfunction stems from a sense of lower self-esteem stemming from having fibromyalgia. You can also consider medications in 2 separate ways. You can take certain drugs to decrease depression and, therefore increase your interest in sexual activity. You may also ask your doctor for a change in medication if one you are taking now adversely affects your sexual drive.

There are also various natural or herbal medications that may address the issue.[3] Among the most common herbs associated with helping to eliminate sexual dysfunction are Sweet Marjoram, Oregano, Chaste Tree and Pasque Flowers.[4] Yet, perhaps one of the best means of treating your sexual dysfunction naturally is to plan or even orchestrate the event carefully. Consider adopting the following plan:

  1. Plan ahead to make this the night for sexual relations. This means ensuring you do not wear yourself out earlier during the day. You need to be well-rested so pace yourself
  2. If you have stiffness of your muscles or joints, consider ways to reduce the stiffness. Do some stretching to relax the muscles and make them limber.
  3. Practice reducing stress. You can do breathing exercises. You can also combine exercise with stress reduction by playing soothing music while you do yoga. For some, a guided meditation or visualization will produce the desired result.
  4. Take a warm bath or shower. A bath is excellent because it means you can pamper yourself. Play soft, romantic or sensual music and indulge in an sumptuous bubble bath
  5. Prepare the room so it is relaxing, comfortable and reignites your passion. Clean, fresh, fragrant sheets can help. Pillows you can place to make positions easier are good tools to have handy. Soft lights and even softer music can also be effective in setting the right mood.
  6. When it comes to the actual sex act, talk to your partner. Consider some positions that do not cause any discomfort but result in pleasure for both of you. Talk it through. Look up on the internet or research books to find various positions that may work for you, and then try them.[5]
  7. If sex does not seem possible, consider the next best thing – be intimate without actually having intercourse. Maintain a physical and emotional closeness.

The important thing is to learn what has produced your sexual dysfunction and to make an effort to maintain interest in sex. You can discuss any concerns you have with your doctor and your partner or spouse. Being honest with your intimate partner will help you maintain an active sex life.

Conclusion

Sexual dysfunction is a common problem among women with fibromyalgia. It occurs as the result of various physical and psychological factors. Reducing the effect it may have on your closest relationships is important. Restoring your sex life will help you enjoy life and reestablish an ongoing sense of normality. Taking back control of your sex life is one more way you can empower yourself and defeat another aspect of fibromyalgia.

References

[1] Yilmaz, H; Yilmaz, SD; and Erkin, G (2009). “The Effects of Fibromyalgia Syndrome on Female Sexual Function.” Clinical Rheumatology, 28(1): 365-369.

[2] Arthritis Foundation (2006). Good Living With Fibromyalgia. Atlanta, GA: Arthritis Foundation.

[3] Duke Centre for Integrative Medicine (2006). The Duke Encyclopedia of New Medicine. London: Rodale.

[4] Heber, D (2005). PDR For Herbal Medicines 3rd Edition. Montvale, NJ: Thomson PDR.

[5] Mitchell, D (2011). The Complete Guide to Healing Fibromyalgia. New York: St. Martin Press.

This article was originally published on July 11, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/7/2015