Exploring the Connection Between Chronic Pain and Libido
For those who experience chronic pain, accompanying issues often include a diminished interest in sex and low libido, which can ultimately lead to relationship problems. However, the good news is there are steps you can take to rejuvenate both your relationship and your low libido.
Chronic pain differs from acute pain in that it can last weeks, months, or even years. The causes of chronic pain vary widely. Some of the most common causes include back problems, injury, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, shingles, nerve damage and fibromyalgia. Chronic pain is a significant burden on public health with more than $500 billion being spent every year on treatment. This condition affects up to 100 million Americans, which is more people than are affected by heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined.
Not only is it an epidemic on a national scale, but it also intimately affects the personal lives of those who suffer from it. According to a survey taken in 2006, 59 percent of people suffering from chronic pain felt that it kept them from enjoying life. Additionally, 77 percent experienced depression because of their condition, and 86 percent reported that they were unable to sleep normally. Chronic pain also takes a toll on people's careers, family obligations and libido.
Pain and Libido
One study published online in the Journal of Neuroscience examined the relationship between pain and libido by observing the behavior of mice. First, the researchers determined which pairs of male and female mice were compatible with each other by setting up "dates." Pairs that got along well advanced to the next stage of the experiment.
Researchers then applied small doses of an inflammatory compound to the mice's bodies, giving them about the same amount of pain as a sunburn. They then found that the female mice who were in pain spent 50 percent less time interacting with their male partners, and when they did interact, they didn't allow the male partner to mount them as frequently, implying a decreased sex drive. In contrast, male mice who were in pain displayed no difference in their libido. This gender difference may also apply to humans as well.
This difference in libido between males and females experiencing pain may not come as a surprise to those of us who are already aware of the biological differences in the ways men and women react to pain. Women have more nerve receptors than men, making them more prone to experiencing pain. Brain imaging has shown that male and female brains react to the same painful stimuli in different ways. Wide-scale examination of medical records has also shown that women report higher subjective pain ratings than men.
Although women are evidently more prone to experiencing pain than men are, and may also be more likely to have a decreased libido as a result, this does not mean that men don't also bear the burden of chronic pain. Anyone can experience it, and anyone can have the misfortune of experiencing first-hand the connection between pain and libido. In fact, nearly 80 percent of people living with chronic pain say that there is a noticeable decline in their sexual function.
How to Prevent Pain From Affecting Your Love Life
If you are suffering a decrease in libido at the hands of chronic pain, there are multiple ways you can alleviate the problem. The first step is to manage the pain itself. The second is to mend your relationship.
Pain medication, or any other type of medication, can diminish your libido. If you think you might by experiencing a reduced libido as a side effect of a medication, tell your doctor. You may be able to switch to a different medication that won't affect your libido. Additionally, try to plan out the time you take your medication so that it's at its height of effectiveness while you're being intimate with your partner. This can help to keep the pain from interfering with sex.
Chronic pain can cause stress and tension within a relationship. Establishing open and effective communication with your partner is a great first step towards making sure your pain condition doesn't hurt your happiness. When pain reduces your enjoyment of sex, you can explore other forms of intimacy such as massage, prolonged foreplay, and sex toys. These forms of intimacy may be easier and more relaxing on your stressed body.