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Sex After Illness: 5 Things You Must Know

How to overcome your physical and emotional fears — and resume lovemaking.

Illness has a psychological as well as a physical impact. Once you have faced a life-threatending illness, or one that required a major lifestyle changes, you may feel different about everything. That's natural and normal, but at some point you have to re-embrace life — and that includes being able to relate to yourself, and your partner, sexually.

See also: 8 reasons sex improves your health.

sex after illness senior couple hugging

After a major illness or surgery, take small steps to re-establish intimacy with your partner. — Nordic Photos/Getty Images

That's often hard to do. Sometimes there are consequences of treatment — for example a lot of cancer patients need radiation, chemo and other medications that depress sexual arousal and interest. This is also true for medications for depression, diabetes and heart problems.

Even after the medications are no longer necessary or calibrated so that the effects are much less potent, the disruption of sexual life can become a habit, which creates an emotional chasm that is hard to cross. Still, hard as it is to recapture your sexual feelings and sexual connection, the fact is that sex is an important part of a relationship and letting it disappear for too long can undermine the intimacy and happiness of a marriage or cohabitation. A partner will be understanding for a long time, but not forever. And think about this: something that gave you extreme pleasure once is not something to be given up unless there is no other option. So here are some suggestions about how to get back in the game.

Face your fears. What is stopping you from getting physical? Whatever it is, you need to attend to it. If there are fears of physical danger after a heart attack, ask your physician about what your real risks are (usually having sex is just fine). If you are upset about body image because of scars or drastic changes in the way you look, don't assume your partner feels differently about you or desires you less. You need to face your fears and work diligently to resolve them.

Communicate the full range of your feelings to whomever you need to talk to. Talk to a counselor if you hit a wall and can't resolve your fears. Talk to your partner about how you are feeling and why you are stymied. Discuss with your partner about how your illness has affected him or her and find out how he or she feels about resuming your sexual life together. Ask for support and validation so that you feel sexy and wanted. Talk to your doctor about your medications, etc.

Next: Take it slow, but don't put off sex indefinetly. »

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