Just like any other problem, arthritis can affect a relationship. Arthritis can make you feel unattractive, particularly when modern media says that everyone else is having whiz-bang, fireworks sex.
It’s good to remember that people’s attitudes to sex change and that couples’ sexuality evolves. So resist the urge to blame everything on your arthritis.
Remember that arthritis can bring other pressures to bear on your life. Your partner may have to support you financially or do the bulk of the housework. Under these circumstances, venting sexual frustrations on your partner will only complicate things.
So be adult about it. Talk openly about your feelings and fears regarding your sexual relationship. Be prepared to accept suggestions or experiment, but never feel obliged to try anything you find uncomfortable or unacceptable.
If you’re not in a relationship you might not feel comfortable on the dating circuit with swollen joints or other visible symptoms of arthritis. But sexual attraction often develops once there’s a meeting of the minds, rather than the other way around.
You also shouldn’t try to hide your arthritis from your partner. If you have painkillers that help your arthritis, take them before hitting the sack.
Sex can be joyous and fulfilling, without involving the wild thrusting and acrobatics that Hollywood portrays as being vital to sexual fulfillment. Applying the right gentle pressure can be more arousing than bucking like a stallion.
Be willing to explore the many exciting alternatives to penetrative sex, especially if your back or hips are affected by arthritis.
Some arthritis sufferers worry that a hip or knee replacement operation will impede their sex lives. The reality is that within about six weeks you may be able to enjoy intimacy without the pain and discomfort you had before the operation.
Speak to you doctor about this: he or she may advise you about the risks of dislocating a new joint. Your GP, nurses, physiotherapists or occupational therapists are likely to tell you which movements to avoid.
Reiter's disease can be triggered by sexually transmitted infections such as Chlamydia, so if you’ve had Reiter’s, you should take precautions to avoid causing it again. Obviously you should be practicing safe sex anyway.
Talk about it
In a loving relationship, some partners worry about causing their arthritic partners pain. If you do feel discomfort you should tell your partner, but you should also tell him or her what’s pleasurable. Make it clear that you don’t want to avoid or withdraw from intimacy.
Rheumatoid arthritis can be associated with vaginal dryness (part of Sjögren’s syndrome), so use lubricating jelly available at any health shop. The usual precautions with a water-based lubricant and condoms apply. Avoid the use of petroleum-based jelly, e.g. Vaseline.
You may find that the missionary position, that old staple of libidinous behaviour is uncomfortable or painful, so try sitting, lying on your side or standing. Experimenting can bring new spice to a long-standing relationship. Oral sex can be an intensely pleasurable alternative, although some arthritis sufferers experience pain in the jaw.