With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, many couples are looking for ways to celebrate or reignite their romance. But for couples struggling with chronic pain in one way or another, intimacy is a serious issue. It seems like a loss of libido and sexual activity is just another problem. Add it to the long list of costs that take their toll on someone when chronic pain introduces itself.
However, it need not be that way. While it can be harder to rekindle intimacy and enjoy the simple carnal pleasures of life when diagnosed with a chronic pain disorder, it’s still possible to do so in many cases – and there’s a powerful healing benefit attached to the effort.
The Healing Power of a Love (and More)
Couples engage in when they want to be passionate. Like a fleeting kiss, or long hours of snuggling, to any number of copulatory methods. These can link to a long-term release of a hormone with a strong analgesic (painkilling) effect. Sex and cuddling can also ‘distract’ from pain through the release of endorphins.
It has an increase in adrenaline, reduction in stress and emotional tension. Also is a cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters that are responsible for the complex emotions of love. The benefits of these neurochemicals become apparent long before couples take things to the bedroom, through petting, kissing, hugging, touching, holding hands.
Even something as physically removed as being within each other’s vicinity and reflecting together on loving, or sensual thoughts. Intimacy is more than sex, and it can help alleviate pain in its many forms. It gives couples a way to further strengthen and reinforce their bond. As well as, working together on improving sexual function even in the face of a strong deterrent like chronic pain.
That is not to say that snogging a loved one is a great long-term prescription. A kiss, a touch, or anything of the like can accentuate your bond with your loved one while providing certain benefits. But it’s no replacement for actual pain medication.
Neither is it a good idea to resolve all issues of pain through a quick and frequent bedroom escapade. Some couples also experience problems with physical intimacy due to the addition of pain during the act (dyspareunia), which can and should be addressed separately.
Nevertheless, the mechanisms behind physical and emotional bonding give us insight into what could potentially be a chemical which links to effective non-opioid painkilling in cases of nociceptive pain (deep tissue and non-nerve pain).
Oxytocin as Treatment for Pain
Oxytocin is a critical element of human bonding, whether between lovers, siblings, or parents and children. While the dynamics of these relationships are wildly different, they each involve oxytocin, which has long been named the ‘cuddle’ or ‘love’ hormone. It is releases during many different activities. For instance, from holding hands to breastfeeding, and strengthens the nature of any existing bond between two persons.
Oxytocin plays a role in lactation, improving mate retention, reducing infidelity, promoting child rearing, and many other functions. Its release can also affect mood and stress levels. Experimental oxytocin-based treatments have been tested for the treatment of autism, migraines, addiction, and sexual dysfunction, with varying degrees of success.
A Promising Treatment
Oxytocin’s viability as a painkiller stems from the role it naturally plays, as it reduces pain sensitivity (either by regulating the stress response in the body, by improving mood and reducing anxiety, or by activating the body’s own opioid system). A review of several studies has found that external administration of oxytocin has led to lower pain sensitivity in patients with chronic pain, and that oxytocin levels are generally lowered when chronic pain is present.
In non-human studies, administration of oxytocin led to higher resistance against a number of different forms of pain (including different types of burns and mechanical pain), and lowered stress and inflammation following pain. Little is known about its long-term viability, or potential toxicity.
However, the studies paint a very promising picture of oxytocin as a potential analgesic and opioid alternative for non-neuropathic chronic pain, from various forms of back pain, to the treatment of acute pain (potentially). In the meantime, it’s also a great argument to try and reintroduce more physical and emotional intimacy this Valentine’s Day.
Chronic Pain and Intimacy
Intimacy issues are common in patients with chronic pain. Because of pain during intercourse, lack of interest, lack of orgasm, or secondary issues due to certain conditions or medication. In other cases, intimacy issues may also be related to the psychological impact of pain, or a history of abuse and trauma. An estimated 50 percent of patients with low back pain say their pain affected their sexual enjoyment, and 70 percent found their sex life less satisfying as a result.
It’s overwhelmingly common. A majority of patients (67 percent) suffering from intimacy issues. And because of their pain, they do not try to address these issues with a professional. 56 percent of those who did discuss it with a specialist found their advice unhelpful. All this results in a deeply frustrating situation.
More than just a little fun, sexual health plays a major role in quality of life. And sexual dysfunction carries with it a series of emotional consequences. It links to both causes and effects that links to greater pain intensity, greater risk of psychological pain, and greater risk of addiction. In cases where sexual dysfunction is linked to abuse, not addressing the problem can further exacerbate pain symptoms.
Addressing Intimacy Issues
When it comes to addressing this issues, specialists have a number of different suggestions. Research indicates that orgasms can help raise the pain threshold of a person and offer advice in helping patients begin masturbating as a way to relieve pain. Advice on alleviating pain in the bedroom is important.
For example, playing around with different positions, and using pillows for additional support. Couples educate themselves on a variety of different options for romantic play, many of which do not involve penetration. In couples where many techniques are out of question for the moment, suggestions include the use of toys and massage techniques, mutual stimulation, or role playing.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been found to be especially effective in helping patients with chronic pain regain sexual function and improve sexual activity, and many sex therapists have begun incorporating interdisciplinary techniques to help patients overcome both physical pain and anxiety when approaching intimacy on all levels.
These issues become more complex in cases where sexual activity links to the use or overuse of certain medication. Particularly opioids, which can have a long-term androgen-inhibiting effect on men and women. Some physicians recommend and prescribe hormone replacement therapy in cases where opioid use has led to endocrine problems.
Kiss Chronic Pain Goodbye!
Improved sexual activity and intimacy can lead to overall increased happiness, better mood, and a painkilling effect. But a kiss won’t always make your chronic pain go away. It will, however, help. By fostering a stronger bond with your partner, you can continue to reaffirm your love and commitment to one another.