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Chronic Illness & Sexuality After The Diagnosis

Updated: Jan 29, 2019

A chronic illness diagnosis can probably be characterized as a “biopsychosocial disaster” in a partnership. While this is probably true for all patients, some couples report that the diagnosis leads to an intensification of their partner relationship. In that intensification, they get closer to each other, they are able to ignore “redundant” frustrations, and succeed to focus on priorities in what they still have. In my work, I have seen couples become closer after a diagnosis of a chronic illness. In many couples, however, partners differ in how they #cope with #emotions (e.g., anxiety, feelings of disappointment, grief) imposed by a diagnosis. Such a different coping may burden the relationship and lead to an emotional distance between partners and this also provokes sexual concerns. It is known to various types of illnesses and various types of treatment may have different impacts on the aspects of sexuality including: sexual functioning (erectile dysfunction, genitopelvic pain/ penetration disorder, problems with lubrication, sexual experience, sexuality provoking feelings of grief or sadness instead of pleasure, sexual activity stopping as a consequence of patients feeling themselves undesired or unattractive).


Sex may just become less important due the diagnosis. If sex is important in your relationship, it is essential for you and your partner to reclaim a sex life that works for the both of you. First, coming to terms with the loss of sexual function and with the loss of certain sexual interactions that are no longer achievable. In other words, what is the “new normal” of your partnership? I recommend that you look and know what is expected and how to cope with the opportunities that are left. You can search for sexual renewal, and you can do this by joining and aligning with one another to discuss the mandate in opening up a dialogue about your perspective on your sexual future. What is your coping style? Sexual style? Are you able to cope with those changes or not? Are you happy with your ability to cope with these changes? Does this burden the relationship? Would you like to change? Most importantly, what was your sexual intimacy before and after the diagnosis? Was it satisfying for the both of you? Are you able to communicate about sexuality- your likes, dislikes, and eventual problems or concerns? What has changed in terms of sexual functioning and sexual experience?


Sex therapists and other mental health providers can invest in learning to know the couple's relationship, their sexual history, and expectations of the future. The treatment provider can provide clear, understandable, and clarifying information about the association between chronic illness and the relationship (e.g., psychological adjustment from both perspectives, communication, problem- solving skills, social skills, role changes).





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Dr. Lee

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