Sex

Are You Healthy Enough For Sex?

Not everyone is robustly healthy. But everyone is sufficiently healthy for sex.

Posted Mar 01, 2019

You may not be as healthy as you used to be or as you’d like to be. You may have a chronic condition—arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, etc. You may have disabilities. But when it comes to lovemaking, where there’s a will, there’s always a way. Quadriplegics can enjoy sex. You can, too.

The sex you have now may not involve the moves you grew up thinking were necessary for “sex.” Many older couples are no longer able to accomplish vaginal intercourse. That’s disconcerting, but it’s okay. With age, intercourse often drops out of the erotic picture because of iffy or absent erections and vaginal dryness and soreness. But intercourse is just one dish at the erotic banquet. There are plenty of other tasty treats—if you can make the transition from sex based on intercourse to lovemaking based on whole-body massage that eventually brings hands, mouths, and toys into contact with the genitals.

I’m not suggesting that sex is available to everyone all the time. Some health conditions preclude it. If you have a cold, the flu, or a herpes outbreak, or if you’re recovering from surgery or a significant injury, you probably won’t feel very sexual, and even if you do, you should probably abstain until you’re at least almost recovered. 

If you’re in pain—a sprain, a bad back, or a bum knee or hip—you may not feel particularly erotic. But if you’re among the one-third of older Americans who suffer the nation’s most prevalent pain condition, osteoarthritis, sex is actually helpful. It gently moves the major joints through their full range of motion, which is exactly what rheumatologists recommend to minimize osteoarthritis pain. Sex is good for chronic pain for another reason. It releases endorphins, the body’s own pain-relieving, mood-elevating compounds. The Arthritis Foundation recommends regular sex.

If you have any potentially serious medical condition, chances are you can enjoy a rich sex life, but just in case, consult your doctor. After most heart attacks, physicians generally recommend abstaining for a couple of months. But sex is no more strenuous than walking up two flights of stairs. If you can manage that without developing chest pain or feeling winded or exhausted, you can probably make love enjoyably and safely.

Even those with serious disabilities can enjoy sex. Perhaps you recall the 1978 movie, Coming Home. John Voight plays a paraplegic Vietnam veteran who reconnects with a high school acquaintance (Jane Fonda), first as friends, then as lovers. As they begin to get it on, she’s unsure what to do. While fondling his penis, she asks, “Can you feel this?” He replies, “I can see it, and I love what I see.” Meanwhile, he delights in her touch and kisses and caresses her enthusiastically with his hands and tongue which brings her a happy ending. When there's a will, there's always a way. 

Earlier I suggested consulting a doctor just to make sure it’s okay to be sexual. During that consultation, ask if any of the medications you take—or the combination of your drugs—might cause sexual side effects. Ask your pharmacist as well. And check the internet. If you take medication with possible sexual side effects, ask if there are alternatives you might try. The SSRI antidepressants—among them, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft—are notorious for causing sexual side effects. But an equally effective antidepressant, Wellbutrin, is much less likely to limit erotic fun. 

Unfortunately, even if doctors are well informed about drugs’ sexual effects, they may be unfamiliar with all the sexual adjustments your particular situation requires. Fortunately, the organizations focused on the major chronic conditions—the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Diabetes Association, etc.—can be great sources of information.  They can connect you with experts in the sexual implications of your condition. You might also consider joining a support group. The members know exactly what you face sexually, and can probably offer good suggestions.

Sex toys can be a great boon to lovers with erotic limitations. Vibrators, in particular, often come in handy for those with sexual limitations.

Finally, if you think you might benefit from individualized coaching, the nation’s sexuality organizations can refer you to sex therapists who specialize in sex and chronic conditions and disabilities. Visit the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, the Society for Sex Therapy and Research, or the American Board of Sexology. Sex therapists practice in every major metropolitan area and many rural locales. Some are happy to use Skype or FaceTime. Most couples see sex therapists weekly for a few months. 

Of course, physical limitations are a drag and they may limit the range of erotic play you're able to enjoy. But when there’s a will, there’s always a way.