Do you know the different ways that chronic pain can affect sexual intimacy? How would you address individual and couples client concerns surrounding chronic pain and intimacy without being a medical doctor yourself?
As sex coaches, we are not qualified to make medical diagnoses. This doesn’t mean we can’t help our clients navigate the uncertain waters of overlapping pain conditions that either directly interfere with intimacy due to the pain itself, or other factors associated with chronic pain. This article will discuss these various factors and explore the ways in which a sex coach can be of service to those experiencing chronic pain.
Understanding Chronic Pain’s Effects on Sex
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 20.4% of adults in the United States experienced chronic pain in 2016.” (source) Chronic pain is so prevalent that it has become one of the top reasons that adults seek medical care, accounting for 10% to 16% of hospital visits (source). If you are experiencing pain that has lasted or recurred for more than three to six months, then you have chronic pain.
Whether the onset of the chronic pain is sudden or has gradually increased over time as in the case of many degenerative diseases, it’s important to recognize the feelings of guilt, shame, and grief that one is likely to experience as they come to terms with their health issues causing them chronic pain.
It has been found that, “In surveys of patients with low back pain, for example, nearly 50% of patients reported that pain affects their sexual enjoyment, 72% reported having sex less frequently following the onset of back pain, 70% found their sex life less satisfying after the onset of back pain, and 61% said that their back pain made their relationship with their partner more difficult.” (source) Despite this, more than 50% of patients never discussed the impact of their back pain on sexual function with their spine specialist. Of those who did broach the topic, over 50% of patients said that the conversation with their physician was not helpful—this is where we can come in!
Using MEBES™ to Address Chronic Pain & Sexual Intimacy
Using a holistic view of human sexuality, such as the MEBES™ model, developed by our founder, Dr. Patti Britton, allows us to work with the chronic pain sufferer as a whole person. By doing so, we may be able to provide life changing support to these clients who are dealing with a lifelong condition that few other providers understand. Let’s take a closer look at this model and some of the potential solutions we may offer at every aspect of the MEBES™ model.
- (M)ind: Associated factors that affect sexual intimacy and originate from chronic pain include mood disorders, decreased libido, stress, and side-effects of medications. It can be difficult to wrap one’s head around this array of factors that affects sexuality. As sex coaches, we can encourage our clients to discuss with their physicians how the timing of their medication could affect sexual intimacy, suggest ways they might creatively schedule sex, discuss how the touch continuum might shift in times of pain, and how to discuss boundaries with partners and ask for what they want and need without feeling guilt.
- (E)motions: With severe chronic pain, individuals may find themselves unable to work or contribute to the home as they previously would. This can be a massive hit to their self-esteem and how they value themselves within a partnership or as an individual. In addition, physical and emotional distancing can start to occur, which could lead to feelings of resentment and further fuel anxiety and fear. As sex coaches, we can help individuals reframe these emotions and also provide a safe space for couples to hold conversations when previous attempts at home have not been productive.
- (B)ody: In order for satisfying sex to be possible, the need to feel good about yourself is vital. Depending on the chronic pain condition, your client may be physically scarred and/or experiencing a loss or interruption of function. As sex coaches, we can help our clients reframe their situation and come to a state of acceptance for their body and current limitations. We can also be great personal shoppers to help navigate the pleasure product market to search for toys, implements, and products that can aid in the physical side of intimacy.
- (E)nergy: At different stages of treatment and acceptance of chronic pain conditions, clients may find themselves looking for ways to rekindle the “spark” without having enough energy to be creative. As sex coaches, we can be great guides to explore different ways sexual energy can be experienced whether that be through alternative positions, cultivating sexual energy through breathwork and meditation, finding new ways to self-pleasure, or through role play scenarios that fit the client’s unique situation.
- (S)pirit: By expanding a client’s understanding of sexual activity and sexual intimacy, we can deepen their sexual experience. Whether through connecting with a divine sense of sexuality, exploring tantric practices, or reconsidering the meaning of sex, as sex coaches we can be the professional that helps them reach their highest sexual potential.
Your Work with Chronic Pain Sufferers Starts at Intake
Clients with chronic pain conditions will likely arrive at your office feeling frustrated, hopeless, and misunderstood. They will be relieved to know they have found a sex coach who saw the importance of including a body map and pain scale on their intake form and who took the time to review and understand their chronic pain condition.
No, we aren’t medical professionals who can directly address their experience of pain/ But we ARE healing professionals who can holistically address the myriad of unique ways chronic pain affects sexual intimacy. Through our unique approach, we can bring clients toward a reclaiming of their sexual pleasure!
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