Nearly 50% of people with joint pain struggle with intimacy

Findings from our Joint Pain Matters 2021 report show that nearly half (49.29%) of respondents with joint pain struggle with intimate relationships. We explore how joint pain affects self-esteem, sexuality and relationships, as well as the steps you can take to keep the spark alive between you and your partner.   

Joint pain can deter intimacy

Our analysis shows that some respondents with joint pain struggle with intimate relationships, admitting that they don't want to burden their prospective partner with the hardship associated with chronic musculoskeletal pain. The most common reasons why respondents say they do not desire intimate relationships include:

Feeling like a burden: Some people with joint pain don't want to burden the people they love with their health issues, preventing them from entering or staying in relationships.
Lack of self-confidence: Some people with joint pain feel less confident as a result of their pain, which interferes with how they perceive their appearance and "desirability". In turn, this impacts how a person enters relationships and feels when meeting new people.
Sexual intercourse is painful: Some people with joint pain find sexual intercourse painful and therefore not enjoyable.
Role switch: Sometimes, joint pain impacts a relationship dynamic, resulting in one half of a partnership acting as a primary carer. This can, in turn, lead to struggles with intimacy.

Consultant rheumatologist at North Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Arthritis Action's Medical Advisor, Dr Wendy Holden says: “People experiencing pain often don't want to share their difficulties with their partners. They don’t wish to appear vulnerable to them or in some way different to them. This can strain relationships.”   

"Being in pain makes it difficult to respond in a loving way to my spouse and being intimate is sometimes impossible". Anonymous respondent

Joint Pain Matters: A couple struggle with sex and intimacy due to joint pain.   

Some respondents admitted that they’ve stopped having sex with their current partner, now sleep in separate beds from their partner, or find sex uncomfortable and painful due to joint pain. Other respondents said that they feel too tired for romance because they suffer from poor sleep as a result of their pain. Our Joint Pain Matters campaign shows more than a third (37.38%) of our respondents experience disrupted sleep every single night due to joint pain. 

"I don’t have the energy to be intimate and I also don’t feel my partner is attracted to me anymore." Anonymous respondent

Joint pain impacts intimacy across all age groups

Joint pain can affect romantic relationships shared by people of all ages. Our findings show that young people with joint pain are more likely to feel a strain on their romantic relationship as a result of battling chronic pain. An overwhelming 67.86% of 35 to 44-year-olds reported that romantic relationships with their partner or spouse have been affected by joint pain. In respondents aged 65 to 74 suffering from joint pain, this outcome was less likely to be the case. Only 41.01% of 65 to 74-year-olds say that their romantic relationships have been affected by joint pain.   

"If I move too much, I am in agony. I have to be very careful or leave the loving part out." Anonymous respondent

This disparity across age groups could be for a multitude of reasons. 
Joint Pain Matters: A couple discuss their relationship and intimacy problems due to joint pain.                                                   

Reconnecting with intimacy when in pain              

Sometimes, joint pain can have an impact your self-esteem and cause you to withdraw from physical contact. But, it is important to let your partner(s) know how your joint pain symptoms are affecting you. Dr Wendy Holden says: “Having painful joints can make a physical relationship unappealing. Good communication between partners or spouses is therefore essential.” 

Some respondents said that they keep the intimacy alive in their relationship by being careful and gentle during sex.  
Arthritis Research UK reports that fear around causing pain during sex can lead to withdrawal from a physical relationship. The organisation notes that having a warm shower before sex can help relax your muscles, alleviate pain and allow you to feel more comfortable.  

If you feel uncomfortable or experience pain during sex, it’s essential that you discuss this with your partner. However, if you are struggling to speak to your partner about this, a counsellor or therapist might be able to help you reconnect with intimacy together.

Joint Pain Matters: A couple affected by joint pain discuss their problems with intimacy.

If you are interested in seeking pyschosexual sexual therapy as a couple, or counselling, please contact our team at Circle Health Group by calling us on 0808 101 0337 or through our online enquiry form.  

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