Updated 18 January 2017

Rheumatoid arthritis and your sex life

Constant pain and discomfort can be a complete turn off if you have rheumatoid arthritis but with these simple tips your sex life really won't need to suffer at all!


Being diagnosed with RA is a blow to most people, but should you let it put an end to your sex life as well?

Who gets RA and how does it affect your sex life?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an auto-immune disease that can strike anyone at any time in their lives. This disease stimulates inflammation in the lining of the joints and can eventually cause deterioration of the bone and cartilage. RA can cause pain, stiffness, fatigue and restricted movement – all of which can put a serious dampener on your sex life.

Despite medication to control this disease, there may be days when sexual or physical activity will be difficult. A study also showed that 50% of women experienced less desire for sex after the onset of RA, largely because their disease made it difficult for them to assume familiar intercourse positions and because they feared increased joint pain the following day.

Mary Ann Baker-Holmes, a certified sex therapist, encourages people who suffer from RA to look at new possibilities for becoming intimate with your partner, even if it means changing sexual habits – never an easy task. But the alternative of having no sex, is even more difficult.

Trying new positions

Baker-Holmes suggests a few alternative positions for couples where one or both struggle with arthritis. Firstly, the woman leans her entire upper body over a chair, and kneels on a pillow on the floor. Her partner enters her from behind. Secondly, it is a lot less painful if both partners stand, with the woman leaning against a wall or on a piece of furniture.

Sex therapist Dennis Sugrue suggests that couples make love after the RA sufferer has taken their pain medication, during that time when pain is minimised. This might not sound very romantic and would require a fair amount of planning, but it is preferable to the alternative of no sex life at all.

He stresses the fact that RA sufferers need to remember that their bodies are also vehicles for pleasure and not just for pain. Furthermore, orgasm releases feel-good endorphins that may temporarily relieve arthritis pain. All the more reason not to let RA put an end to your sex life.


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Arthritis expert

Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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