Sex & Arthritis


Fast Facts

  • Sex and arthritis can coexist. Open and honest communication between partners about feelings, desires and sexual needs is critical.
  • Incorporate sexual activity into the times of day or evening when you are feeling your best.
  • Rather than setting intercourse as the goal, strive for emotional and physical closeness.

Impact of Arthritis on Sexual Expression

Sexuality is an integral part of being human. It is linked to our quality of life and self-identity. Yet, living with the pain, stiffness, fatigue, limited movement, decreased strength, and depression associated with arthritis can reduce our ability for sexual expression and enjoyment.

Aspects of arthritis which can interfere with sexual expression include interfere with:

  • Disease Severity
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Physical limitations
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Medication Side Effects

Studies have shown that the higher the levels of pain, physical disability, and depression, the greater the effect on sexuality, regardless of gender.

Do Medications Have an Impact?

Medications used in the treatment of arthritis do not appear to affect sexual functioning. However, some cases of erectile impotence have been reported in persons treated with methotrexate, sulfasalazine, or hydroxychloroquine. Other drugs may interfere with libido. Loss of desire and difficulty with orgasm also are common side effects of antidepressant medications.

Tips for Maintaining Sexual Well-Being with Arthritis

Plan Ahead for Sex: Keep fatigue or stiffness from getting in the way of pleasurable sexual activity by thinking about the times of day you are likely to be more rested. For instance, if you experience morning stiffness, the afternoon or evening are probably better times for sexual intimacy. Consider:

  • Napping or resting before sexual activity.
  • Taking a warm shower to ease stiffness or soreness.
  • Timing pain medication so its maximum effect is during sex.
  • Pillows or rolled sheets to support joints.
  • Pacing yourself to save energy.

Women with arthritis may experience vaginal dryness, making manual stimulation uncomfortable or penetrative sex painful. This can be relieved by water-based lubricating gels.

Be Creative and Communicative: Discussing the issue of sex and arthritis may be uncomfortable for you and/or your partner. Don’t let this discomfort stand in the way of your enjoying a fulfilling sex life despite arthritis.

Talk openly with your partner to find the positions and techniques that give both of you the most amount of pleasure with the least amount of discomfort. With a little creativity, patience, and planning, individuals affected by arthritis can discover and rediscover the pleasures of sexual intimacy.

Updated April 2023 by Cheryl Crow, MOT, OTR/L, and reviewed by the American College of Rheumatology Communications and Marketing Committee.

This information is provided for general education only. Individuals should consult a qualified health care provider for professional medical advice, diagnosis and treatment of a medical or health condition.

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