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Let's Talk About Sex...and Chronic Illness

I decided to broach a hot topic in today’s culture…sex. It’s a topic that some people love to talk about flippantly with their friends, but when they are at their doctor’s office, it just doesn't come up. And when you have a chronic illness like an Inflammatory Bowel Disease, you are already having to talk about your embarrassing digestive symptoms, so the odds of you voluntarily bringing up another socially awkward conversation are slim to none. 

I'm writing about this topic as I have recently read two blog entries from our friends over at the Great Bowel Movement.  They boldly asked a sex therapist to write about the issues that come up with IBD and sexuality. I also did some reading on sexuality on the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America website and wanted to share what I took away from all of this talk about sex. I also wanted to generalize it to other chronic illnesses, as much of the advice was applicable to other diagnoses.

1) People with chronic illnesses struggle with body image. When your body fails in some way, it affects your self-confidence, self-efficacy, and overall feelings of well-being. There is grief involved when a patient has to accept his/her diagnosis, and therapists are there to help. Whether the illness is invisible or visible, there is a unique journey for each patient to find a way to incorporate his/her new diagnosis into his/her identity in a positive way. 

2) People with chronic illness can have very real sexual side effects from their treatment. Examples of this could be medication that lowers your sperm count, a surgery that lowers your fertility, or symptoms like cramping and fatigue that lower your libido. Read your medication labels, ask your doctors and surgeons about these things! 

3) What are some basic principles that can help? Well, first of all remembering that sex is just one part of life and relationships. Remembering all the other things you love about your partner and developing those areas can be freeing. Also, within sexuality, intercourse is just one of the things that is involved, so couples need to be creative and experiment when dealing with various medical limitations. Communication is vitally important with your partner, as is trust, patience, and a sense of humor. Lastly, if you are struggling, seek help from a therapist. 

To end, I wanted to put in a shameless plug for a friend of ours, who is working on her thesis on Inflammatory Bowel Disease and fertility. If you are between 18 and 45 and are a woman with IBD we'd love if you'd take a few minutes to fill out this survey which will be available until Sunday, February 17th. I'd like to wish everyone a very self-confident and sexy Valentine's day as well. 

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