The Truth About Sex and Chronic Illness
July 20, 2015 | Posted in: Chronic illness and relationships
There are some topics that are a lot of fun to write about. And then there is this one: sex and chronic illness. I should warn you: This could probably get a little awkward. If you know Ryan and I personally and you really don’t want to be having dinner with us one night only to remember that one time that you read a blog where I talked about how chronic illness changed our sex life you should probably stop reading right about …now. But if you are one of the many who have wondered, “Is it just me?” or “How do other couples deal with this?” then keep reading because it’s for you that I am taking this public shaming writing this blog.
For our talk today to be meaningful, I’m going to have to be pretty candid, starting with the fact that because Ryan and I weren’t having sex before marriage we were planning on having A LOT of sex after marriage. Ryan (if you haven’t figured it out by now, let me help you out- Ryan is my husband) was single for several years before we met and not just run of the mill, I haven’t found anyone cool enough for me single. We’re talking, I want to honor God with my single days, not sleeping with everything that walks single. We’d both been married before and both taken time to heal and seek God prior to pursuing a relationship again. I had taken the year I turned thirty to focus solely on Jesus and healing. No gentlemen callers for me. We both felt strongly that our relationship was something special from the onset and as such, guarding its purity was a huge priority for us. That being said, we were very much looking forward to making up for lost time.
But life doesn’t always happen the way we think it will, every once in a while it throws you a curve ball. Sometimes you end up in the neurology unit of your local hospital getting a spinal tap and MRI on your four-month wedding anniversary when you thought you’d be getting your freak on.
By the time I got pregnant with my daughter, Avery, in spring of 2011 we had to ask one another, “Do you even remember having sex that month?” The answer was no.
Before you decide that maybe I’m just not trying hard enough, that sex isn’t a priority or that I’m just being a frigid wife, let me give you a glimpse into my current situation. I want you to think about the times in your life that you have been in intense pain, perhaps so much so that your body even trembled from the pain. Were you feeling pretty frisky? Now, what if your last hormone testing showed that you had hormone levels less than that of the average healthy hundred-year-old woman? Or what if you had an immunodeficiency disorder and you knew that intimacy with your husband would almost certainly lead to prolonged infection and possibly even a trip to the ER for treatment? How about pressing fatigue that feels like it’s eating you alive? Now combine them all. Add forty pounds and thinning hair to your least flattering picture. Are you feeling ready for romantic getaway yet?
We know that intimacy within marriage matters and we can’t just give up on it. But like many things we also know that it’s not going to look like it did before. And there’s a very real grief that comes with that. Not too long ago when I was already on an antibiotic so the risk of an infection was minimized, our kids were gone, I had already napped that day, the moon was at the right angle, etc., I busted my move. And in the darkness, I began to cry. Ryan being the tender, caring man that he is asked, “Are you crying?” I told him that he didn’t want to know the answer. That it was a long dark trail, he’d never find his way out of. The truth was, I needed to grieve all the sex we hadn’t been having. I needed to grieve the loss of sexuality. Sometimes I miss feeling sexy, wanted, and alive. We talked about what intimacy looked like for us now, about how to have the love behind the act when you can’t always have the act. But then we did have the act, and it was beautiful. While I might not have felt “sexy” I did feel seen and known and loved at the very core of my being. And isn’t this what sex and intimacy are all about? Weren’t they created to bring us closer? To communicate love to one another in a way that no one else can?
So here’s what it all comes down to: Making all the moments count. Using them all to cultivate closeness, to celebrate these beautiful unions that God has created. Marriages where chronic illness exists take a pounding, but they also create a comradery, a unity like none other. We might be having less sex than other couples, but we don’t have to have less meaningful sex than other couples and neither do you. And we don’t have to let our intimacy be limited to sex. What ways can we find to celebrate one another? Honor one another?
It’s true when the time comes to do naked married dance your make out skills may be reminiscent of an over eager seventh grader, simply because you’re a bit out of practice. Sex and chronic illness may not always go together. But life is all about seasons and you never know when the season of making up for lost time might appear. In the meantime, embrace the present. Let your spouse know how much you appreciate them.
Oh, and the next time we’re at dinner, feel free to avoid eye contact at all cost.