Ann MacDonald

What to do when health problems or medical treatments thwart your love life

This is the time of year when stores are filled with red hearts and other reminders that Valentine’s Day is approaching. It’s a mood booster, not to mention a nice break from all that winter grey (at least up here in Boston). After all, what would life be like without romance, love—and sex?

Unfortunately, a variety of health problems—as well as some of the treatments for them—can get in the way of sexual desire and functioning. Here’s a quick look at some of the main sources of trouble and suggestions about what to try first. If these initial strategies don’t work, have a heart to heart with your doctor about what to do next. There may not be a quick fix for health-related sexual problems, but there are steps you can take to help ensure that you can still enjoy a love life while taking care of the rest of your health.

Arthritis

Arthritis comes in many guises, but most forms of this disease cause joints to become stiff and painful. The limitations on movement can interfere with sexual intimacy—especially in people with arthritis of the knees, hips, or spine.

One common solution is to try different positions to find a way to make sex physically more comfortable. Another option is to take a painkiller or a warm shower before sex to ease muscle pain and joint stiffness. Or try a waterbed—which will move with you.

You can read more online by viewing this helpful article posted by the American College of Rheumatology.

Cancer

Cancer treatment may have long-term impact on sexual desire and functioning. Surgery or radiation in the pelvic region, for example, can damage nerves, leading to loss of sensation and inability to have an orgasm in women and erectile dysfunction in men. Chemotherapy can lower sex drive in both men and women.

When you talk with your doctor about your cancer treatment, bring up any concerns about sexual functioning. There may be ways to modify your treatment to limit its effect on sexual function or to address problems that develop after treatment.

The American Cancer Society has an excellent article on the topic of sexuality after treatment that is worth reading.

Depression

About one-third to one-half of people with major depression (where mood impairs ability to function) experience sexual problems. Depression can be both the cause and the result of sexual problems. For example, depression may cause a loss of desire. Or sexual problems may develop first—perhaps as a consequence of some other health issue—leading to depression.

Someone who takes an antidepressant for depression may face a double whammy, because some of these drugs further impair sexuality. For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—among the most commonly prescribed antidepressants—prevent or delay orgasm in 30% to 40% of people, and cause erection problems in 10% of men.

If depression is a cause of sexual problems, then treating the depression should alleviate them. But if sexual problems develop after you start taking an antidepressant, the problem is more likely to be the drug. A first step is to wait it out, because sometimes these sexual side effects diminish with time. If they persist, talk with your doctor about whether lowering the dose might help. It’s also possible that you can switch to a different antidepressant with fewer sexual side effects.

For more information, read an article on depression and sexuality from the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

Diabetes

One-third to one half of men with diabetes experience problems having or maintaining an erection—what doctors refer to as erectile dysfunction. The disease contributes to erection problems in at least two ways: by harming nerves and by damaging blood vessels in the penis. Women with diabetes also may develop nerve and blood vessel problems that affect sexual desire, arousal, and the ability to have an orgasm.

Carefully controlling blood sugar through a combination of diet, exercise, and medication (if necessary) is a first step to avoid nerve and blood vessel damage.

The American Diabetes Association also offers advice for men and for women about how to deal with sexual problems that may develop as a consequence of diabetes.

Heart disease

Cholesterol-clogged deposits inside coronary arteries are often at the root of heart disease. These deposits aren’t limited to the heart, but extend to arteries throughout the body. They are a leading cause of erection problems in men (one reason why heart disease and erectile dysfunction often occur together), and can also contribute to arousal difficulties in women.

High blood pressure creates other problems, by damaging the inner lining of arteries and impeding blood flow to the penis and the vagina. Making matters worse, some blood pressure medications can cause erection problems.

Engaging in regular physical activity—which helps lower blood pressure and improves blood flow throughout the body—may not only help improve your heart health but may also improve sexual functioning. (Think of it as one more motivation to get off the couch.) If a blood pressure medication is contributing to your sexual problems, switching to a different drug may help.

The American Heart Association has published brochures and other advice for people who want to remain sexually active following a heart attack or stroke.

And by all means discuss your concerns with your doctor the next time you go for a heart checkup. After all, one of the reasons for keeping your heart healthy is so you can share it with someone!

For more information

Much more information about how to maintain healthy sexual functioning as you age and face health problems is available through our Special Health Report, Sexuality in Midlife and Beyond.

Or you can contact any of the advocacy organizations listed below for additional information about how to cope with specific health problems:

The Arthritis Foundation

The American Cancer Society

The American Diabetes Association

The American Heart Association

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

The National Alliance on Mental Illness

Comments:

  1. Signs Of Depression in Women

    Thank you for writing this article. Very nice and detailed. I think, women are more prone to depression than men, and of course, it affects her sex life.

  2. Bobby

    Very good information here!

    Would have never even thought of this and will let my step dad know as he has some of these issues.

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  3. appelarthur

    I have quite a few friends who’ve dealt with such struggles and had it affect their lives as well.

  4. sledge200

    GreatArticle ! There are many diseases that effects love life and such kind of diseases are effect on sex life.

  5. stevenreynolds20

    thanks

  6. garethharmen

    nice article provides alot of information.

  7. Charlie

    There is likely to not be a “quick fix” for health-related sexual problems, but there are steps you can take to help ensure that you can still enjoy a love life while taking care of the rest of your health.
    [URL removed by moderator]

  8. Huntsville Chiropractors

    In the case of Back Pain, we often see it interfering with many ADL’s (activities of daily living). One of the most common talked about by our patients is the interference of back pain with relationships and lovemaking. The most common thought being that with back pain “you don’t even feel like touching your partner let alone have any sexual relations.” Chronic back pain of long duration can be difficult on any relationship. As Huntsville Chiropractors, we often counsel our patients to remember your loved ones feelings and to look for those tender moments and nurture each other. A loving touch, a simple caress, and kind words can go far in keeping a relationship healthy during times of back pain.
    Dr. Greg Millar, DC CCEP

  9. Rene Voisin

    Remarkable web site! There definitely is exceptional information here. Solving untimely ejaculation is in fact hard to do so any sort of facts and strategies to help is a really good idea.

  10. Maya - Frases Para Enamorar

    I think it’s terrific you put this post up. I have quite a few friends who’ve dealt with such struggles and had it affect their lives as well.

    It’s fairly drastic and mentally draining to say the least. Stay strong, stay positive. Keep yourself around people that can take away from your struggles.

    God Bless

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  11. Anonymous

    There may not be a quick fix for health-related sexual problems, but there are steps you can take to help ensure that you can still enjoy a love life while taking care of the rest of your health [URL removed by moderator]

  12. knee walker

    Causes of Heart Diseases
    There are many causes of heart diseases. Most of heart diseases are caused by high blood pressure contributes to hardening of the arteries. High levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) build up in the arteries as a result of uncontrolled diet with high levels of saturated fat and trans fat. All these add to the formation of atherosclerosis lesions and eventually arterial blockage or anything that serves to damage the inner lining of blood vessels and impedes the transportation of oxygen and nutrition to the heart can be defined as a risk of heart disease.

    [URL removed by moderator]

  13. walker

    I find it interesting that the rate of heart disease is so extremely high, it makes you wonder if people realize what food they are putting in their body which causes this. It seems to make sense that we should add an educational program which teaches about what is in the food we eat and how to avoid heart disease. Sure we have physical education but that obviously isn’t cutting it. In any case, something has to be done or the rate will continue to increase.

  14. Rena Graham

    When we’re young, as men, we are supposed to be ashamed and dismissive of weakness, we don’t want to accept it. I’ve been guilty of this same thing at times, I carry this reoccurring dread. [URL removed by moderator]

  15. Michele

    Recently all Hospital have to applied patient safety Goal, medical staff bylaws, and hospital bylaws. To make perfect in patient service obey joint commission international for hospital rule.

  16. Paul Zand

    Nice Article dude!!! There are many diseases that effects love life and such kind of diseases are effect on sex life.

  17. Varun

    Respected,
    I am 21 years old. I am feeling some kind of heat in my testis from the past 3-4 days as I am having a seating work at my office for the late nights. What I must do? How can I heal this problem? Should I consult with the doctor?

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  20. Anonymous

    Great publishing. I think he is very afraid of the sexual dysfunction it will cause him. I am not sure if his taste for beer had anything to do with him getting cancer.

  21. dsm iv depression

    Depression is pretty much what happend to me. Not a very good reason to split but I had no choice.

  22. J. Daniels

    I find it very interesting that diabetes can actually be linked to erectile dysfunction. But though it does make sense reference the damaged blood vessels. I am thinking if consuming pills for erection will help out? Thanks for the article.

    Name: J. Daniels
    [URL removed by moderator]

  23. Entrenamiento de Musculacion

    Great website, the best thing to remember when undergoing these kinds of difficulties is to remain mentally and spiritually strong. find your inner strength and battle on! http://eliminarlagrasa.com/

  24. Anonymous

    battling an illness can be challenging especially on the love and relationship department. seeking treatment can drain financial resources too.

    the best thing to remember when undergoing these kinds of difficulties is to remain mentally and spiritually strong. find your inner strength and battle on!

  25. ed

    any input on penile implants? Success rates/ testimonials etc.

  26. Don

    Thanks a lot for the article Ann. Nowadays there are many reasons to decrease love life health such as economy, politic, environment and so on..

  27. Kristelle

    I just found out my father has prostate cancer. I think he is very afraid of the sexual dysfunction it will cause him. I am not sure if his taste for beer had anything to do with him getting cancer. From what I have heard lately, alcohol is now considered a carcinogen.

    Kristelle Campbell

  28. joses

    thanks for the article Ann. Very interesting

  29. DONALD

    Love the content of this site as well as the Harvard Men’s Health Watch. Great information!

  30. Robert

    As regards depression, there is far too much emphasis on SSRIs and various other prescription drugs. Lifestyle changes such as more green time and more exercise are proven and valid ways of fighting depression. Even a walk on a tree lined avenue can help! These changes can enhance mood without lessening any libido.

    [URL removed by a moderator.]

    • Ann MacDonald
      Ann MacDonald

      Dear Robert,

      You raise a good point. Regular physical activity and time outdoors — which can boost mood partly through exposure to sunlight — may be enough to help people with mild or even moderate depression. People with more severe symptoms often need medication as well, however – and if they do, they may be able to find medications that have less effect on sexuality.

      Thanks for writing!

    • Ron Douglas

      Drugs commonly used to treat depression, blood pressure, heart disease, etc can cause erectile dysfunction and failure of ejaculation.
      Not only certain medical conditions can affect lovemaking but also drugs used to treat these conditions.
      Talk to your doctor, who may change the drugs and see if that helps.
      If not there are drugs like cialis, viagra, levitra etc which may help.
      [URL removed by moderator]