Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Sex Lessons Learned from Pain and Disability

Orgasm lowered my pain

In my last blog, Life Lessons Learned from Being Temporarily Disabled, I promised to disclose what I learned about sex from being temporarily disabled. It is with some trepidation that I now fulfill this pledge. Yet, I do so because I believe in the power of speaking the unspeakable as a way of decreasing shame and isolation. My goal is to for my experience to help others. The lessons I learned about sex from being temporarily disabled were not new revelations. They were things I knew cognitively before, but that my pain and disability allowed me to experience at a deeper level.

Orgasm Diminishes Pain. In my book, A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex, an entire chapter is dedicated to the psychological, relational and physical benefits of sex. One physical benefit of sex that I tout is pain relief. Quoting from my book:

Sex can lower levels of pain associated with arthritis, whiplash and headaches. Sex may relieve the tension that restricts the blood vessels that cause some headaches. Having an orgasm may be especially useful for pain relief; in one laboratory study conducted on real women, orgasm was found to increase a woman's pain threshold, as well as lessen her ability to detect pain.

One day post-surgery and in agony, I decided to put this research to the test. It worked. Orgasm lowered my pain, and kept it at bay for at least an hour post-orgasm.

Perhaps you are wondering how I could get in the mood for sex when in pain? What helped was the anticipation that it would lower my pain, as well as the use of mindfulness techniques. As I describe a article, mindfulness is a total immersion in what is happening in the moment, and Mindful Sex entails a complete absorption in the physical sensations of your body. In my post-surgery sexual encounter, as I focused on my pleasant sexual sensations, my pain sensations became more distant.

I could now vouch, first-hand, for the study I cited in my book. And so, in the interest of good science and pain relief, I replicated my experiment a few times during my recovery. It worked each time. Orgasms really do diminish pain!

• Affectionate Touch is an Aphrodisiac. In my book, I also have an entire chapter dedicated to touch. I tell readers that touch needs to be fully integrated into your life and your relationship, and not just reserved for the bedroom. I go so far as to say, "You NEED affectionate and sexual touch on a daily basis" to keep your sex drive alive. I cite research on the benefits of affectionate touch, including lowered blood pressure and increased marital satisfaction. Still, as is common, when my husband and I are immersed into our often too-hectic lives, our affectionate touch diminishes. Sometimes we are lucky to squeeze in a peck on the lips and a brief hug in the morning and before bed. But, post-surgery, I couldn't shower myself. So, every day (or every other day if I didn't smell too bad and didn't have to leave the house), my husband showered me. While he joked that he was going to "Lather me up and have his way with me," he was actually very gentle, loving, caring, and affectionate. These daily sessions of loving, non-sexual contact turned up my sex drive. I was reminded of the words of Nadine, an astute 75-year old woman I quote in my book: "You need to be defrosted. If you haven't been touched all day and go to bed at night, you're an ice cube. It's hard to go from an ice cube to boiling water. Being touched during the day warms you up."

Trust Enhances Sex. Before my surgery, I would have told you that, of course, I trust my husband of over 25 years. However, post-surgery, this trust deepened. I was in pain and unable to care for myself. At one point, I felt myself completely surrendering to my husband's care (truth be told, it was in the shower). Scientists might attribute this trust-surge to the hormone oxytocin, secreted in response to affectionate touch. In A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex, one of the benefits of sex that I discuss is trust. I tell readers that "sex creates trust." What I learned by allowing myself to be cared for when totally vulnerable is that this is a two-way street: sex enhances trust AND trust enhances sex.

Communication Is Essential. In my book, I also have a chapter on Communication. I tell readers that "Communication is the bedrock to make your bed rock!" and teach useful general and sexual communication skills. These skills were even more essential than usual post-surgery. My husband and I had to talk during sex--about if my arm was in a safe place and also about what positions and techniques would work, given that my physical condition rendered our usual routines impossible. Once again, what I already knew was reinforced: communication is critical to good sex.

Being temporarily disabled and in pain taught me much about life and sex. I hope I can hold on to these lessons now that my recovery is near complete. I also hope that those of you reading this-whether disabled or "temporarily able-bodied"-will glean something of use for your own lives.

Post-Script: Two useful resources on sex and disability are the book, "The Ultimate Guide to Sex & Disability" and the Sex Smart Film,"(Sex)abled: Disability Uncensored".