Can Medical Disorders Cause Sexual Trauma?
August 24, 2022
Life looks a bit different for those suffering from chronic illness. You often experience significant health challenges that range from mild to severe. What’s more, medical treatment for chronic conditions can cause additional problems, like adverse side effects including physical, emotional, mental, and even sexual difficulties.
If you are battling a chronic illness, have you ever considered how it may be affecting your sexual health? It may even be a source of sexual trauma in your life.
Can Chronic Illness Impact Sexual Function?
The short answer is yes. Many medical disorders cause physical limitations or discomfort, which can negatively impact sexual function, according to the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT).
For example, in the case of Parkinson’s disease, movement can become rigid, making it difficult to enjoy certain positions during sex. Likewise, someone with lung cancer might find periodic shortness of breath hinders their sexual experience. For those with epilepsy, changes in the brain frequently diminish sexual function, including libido and arousal.
Similarly, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) has been linked to sexual dysfunction in women. A study published by the National Library of Medicine examining PCOS and sex drive reported that desire and arousal were affected by nearly every person surveyed (99.2% and 98.5% of cases, respectively).
Medical treatment for many illnesses can also put a damper on sexual function. Cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy frequently endure reactions like extreme fatigue, nausea and vomiting, chronic pain, bruising, bleeding, and even fertility issues. The AASECT says diabetics or individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are prescribed medications that can bring about erectile dysfunction, decrease in orgasmic intensity, vaginal dryness, or even ulcers.
Chronic Illness and Sexual Trauma
Medical disorders take an emotional and mental toll on your sex life as well. Any of the aforementioned health scenarios can trigger increased anxiety, emotional distress, or other mental stressors. And for some with a chronic medical condition, the idea or act of sexual intimacy may trigger a trauma response.
Imagine a person with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease. Not only is IBS and low libido a consideration (as is Crohn’s disease and libido), but there is also the possibility of a sudden flare-up during intimacy. The incident could prove detrimental to future romantic encounters. For a woman with breast cancer, sex may elicit intense feelings of grief or sexual inadequacy.
Above are just a few prompts to help gauge whether or not you may be suffering from sexual trauma as a result of your ongoing health problems. The good news is you can take action to help address and even overcome the trauma.
How to Navigate Sex with a Chronic Illness
Whether your experience with the onset of a chronic illness is sudden or you’ve been coping with one for years, it’s important to acknowledge and identify how it will impact your life. Here are some suggestions to help navigate the journey:
- Have the Conversation
Talking about your sex life can be uncomfortable — even more so when medical challenges are present — but it’s important. Initiate a conversation with your healthcare provider, as well as your partner, about current sexual limitations, hurdles, expectations, and disappointments. Recognizing and verbalizing those concerns goes a long way toward finding solutions.
- Determine the Source of Your Symptoms
In many instances, there is a fine line between symptoms triggered by a specific treatment and those resulting from the illness itself. Consult your doctor when attempting to differentiate between the two, as there are often ways to manage unwanted side effects.
Establish a New Normal
Just because things have always been done a certain way doesn’t mean they need to continue to be. Create a new normal given your current restrictions and be proactive about finding inventive ways to connect in the bedroom.
If you are a woman dealing with sexual trauma due to chronic illness, we at Willow House would love to talk with you. We specialize in love, sex, and intimacy issues with an inpatient program designed to help you heal physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Reach out today to learn more.