More than one in every four women and one in five men will develop arthritis before they turn 65. A vast majority of people with chronic lower back pain will develop arthritis before the age of 50. And, with more than 100 kinds of arthritis, it can affect every joint in the body of people of any age. Here's how to have sex with arthritis.
Most people with arthritis will experience hand and joint pain and more than half will have to limit their mobility or range of motion because of the disease.
This means that for most people, as you age, adapting your sex life to accommodate your arthritis or your partner’s arthritis will be a reality.
The good news is that with some simple adjustments you can continue to have a very satisfying sex life late into your senior years.
Understanding Arthritis and Sex
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints. It most commonly presents as swelling, stiffness, and pain in one or more joints.
Osteoarthritis (OA) develops as you age and use your body. It is most common in the hands, knees, hips, and feet.
Osteoarthritis can also develop after a major injury to a joint or the back.
Other forms of arthritis are part of autoimmune conditions. An autoimmune condition is a disease where the body cannot distinguish between itself and something that should not be there.
As a result, the body activates its immune system to attack the unrecognized body part. This is what happens with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
The primary treatment for most forms of arthritis are anti-inflammatory medications and pain killers. Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) and ibuprofen (e.g., Aleve) are common over-the-counter medications used to treat the pain and swelling of arthritis.
Topical creams such as Valtoren and Aspercreme are also used to help joints where they are near the surface, such as in the hands and feet.
For people with more severe arthritis pain, prescription medications may be used as well.
Some arthritis pain can be alleviated with gentle movement and stretching. Acupuncture also has demonstrated benefits for arthritis sufferers, especially for those with lower back pain and arthritis.
As arthritis gets more severe, it can limit mobility for people.
This can include things like making jars difficult to open, making walking or standing painful, and making sitting for long periods of time painful.
How Does Arthritis Impact Sex?
Arthritis can impact your sex life in several important ways.
First, if arthritis is present in your hands and fingers, it can make digital stimulation (fingering) painful and difficult.
It can also make giving a hand job painful or impossible.
Arthritis can limit the types of sex toys you can comfortably hold and use. It can make specific sex positions difficult or impossible.
In addition to the direct impacts of arthritis on sex, the medications used to treat arthritis can impact your sex life as well.
Many anti-inflammatory drugs can cause stomach upset. Experiencing nausea, abdominal cramping, or acid reflux can put a damper on any sexy mood.
The creams used to treat arthritis can smell medicinal or very minty (menthol is a common ingredient in topical creams). These scents may be off-putting to some people.
Finally, living with chronic pain and inflammation can be tiring. When you are in pain, it takes more energy to do things than it does for someone not in pain.
This means you can feel more tired, feel tired earlier in the day, and the effort to do something may seem overwhelming.
When chronic pain is appropriately treated, it can help with the tiredness and fatigue some people experience.
Small Changes That Make a BIG Difference
If you or your partner have arthritis, there are a few small changes you can make which will make a big difference in how comfortable you are during sex.
Changing the time of day you have sex can make a big difference as you age. Most people with arthritis experience the greatest amount of pain in the mornings before they get up and get moving.
If you find your arthritis pain goes away as the day goes on, have sex later in the day.
Rather than having morning sex when the pain and swelling may still be the highest, an afternoon romp or evening session can be much more pleasurable.
Take Your Medication
Many people can manage most of their pain with pain killers. Take your pain medication and give it time to work before having sex. It is much easier to get into the mood and enjoy yourself if you are not constantly reminded of swollen and achy joints.
Most oral medications take 30 to 45 minutes to fully begin to work. Time your sexual play to begin at least a half an hour after you take your medication and an hour prior to the next dose.
This will mean you are having sexy fun with the peak amount of pain killers in your system and in the least amount of pain.
Topical pain creams are very helpful for arthritis in the hands and feet. If you use these creams, make sure you put it on at least 30 minutes prior to starting to have sex.
Also, make sure you wash your hands before you have sex. Many of these creams are not meant to be applied to the genital areas. You want to make sure you don’t accidentally apply them to your partner.
This is especially true for any creams with menthol. Menthol can make genitals feel tingly and burn if it touches genital areas or the anus.
Wash your hands with warm soap and water to make sure you don’t cause your partner unwanted pain and tingling.
Sex Positions Worth Trying if You Have Arthritis
For this position, the receiving partner lies face down on the bed with their legs parted in a ‘V’ shape. The penetrating partner positions themselves between their partner’s legs and enters them from behind.
This position is great if the partner with arthritis is the receiving partner. There is very little joint pressure on any body part. Having sex on a bed also allows the front of the receiving person to be supported as well.
There may be some pressure on the neck, as the person on the bottom may have to turn to the side to breathe. If you have arthritis in your neck or it is painful to turn for other reasons, this position should be avoided.
In this position, spoon on the side most comfortable for both partners. The little spoon can be penetrated from behind either vaginally or anally. This position is good if one or both partner’s have arthritis. If the penetrating partner has lower back, hip, or knee arthritis, this position can be very supportive and reduce pain during thrusting.
This position allows the “little spoon” to have their front, including chest and clitoris or penis, stimulated with their hands (or their partner’s) during intercourse. This additional stimulation can help you reach climax.
For this position, the receiving partner stands facing the wall and uses their arms to brace themselves. The other partner can enter them from behind. This takes the pressure off all the joints except the ankles for the receiving partner. The penetrating partner has some pressure on the ankles and feet, and possibly hands and wrists if they use these to brace against the wall. For people with hip and lower back arthritis, this is a great choice for both partners.
If there is a large height difference between you and a partner, use a sturdy box or exercise step to raise up the shorter partner. Avoid using step stools or step ladders to give the shorter partner more height because this can make the shorter partner unstable and more likely to fall during sex.
For this position, the receptive partner kneels on the bed with their hips in the air and leans forward. The other partner either kneels behind them or stands behind them and penetrates them. If the partner on the bottom has arthritis of the knees, elbows, or wrists, using a sex wedge can help alleviate pressure.
This position is great if the penetrating partner if they have arthritis and find thrusting in most positions to be uncomfortable. Standing behind your partner can take most of the pressure off your knees and hips. Additionally, you can use your legs to help with the movement.
In this position, the penetrating partner lies on their back. The other partner kneels and straddles their partner. This position is great if the penetrating partner is the one with arthritis. This position will require the riding partner be comfortable on their knees and have decent range of motion in their hips.
If the riding partner has issues with endurance or with the riding motion, holding onto a headboard or bracing on the wall behind the bed can be a great assist. This will allow the riding partner to support their upper body weight and make riding less strenuous.
Invest in Sex Furniture
Buying a few key pieces of sex furniture can go a very long way to making sex with arthritis comfortable and enjoyable.
A sex sling is composed of a neck pillow (similar to the ones people use on planes) and connected straps with cuffs which allows the wearer to support their legs and take pressure off their hips and back.
If the penetrating partner has arthritis, using a sex sling will relieve the pressure on the neck and back.
The support will also help alleviate the pressure on the hips and knees.
Here are the favorite sex slings in our store.
A sex wedge is a very firm wedge-shaped pillow with an easy-to-clean cover.
The wedge provides support when you lie on it. It can be used to support someone when they are bent over on their knees, taking pressure off the lower back, spine, neck, and shoulders.
If you lie on your back and position the wedge with the narrow end toward your head, this will raise your hips and take pressure off of your knees, ankles, lower back, and shoulders.
If you enjoy being penetrated while lying face down, using a sex wedge can elevate your head and help you breathe without putting additional stress on the neck.
Lie on the sex wedge with your head on the larger end and the narrow end toward your hips.
Allow your head to hang over the pillow either totally or mostly (chin can rest on the wedge).
This will make it easy to breathe and take pressure off your neck and shoulders.
Check out the wedges at The Sex Shed.
Invest in a Few Good Sex Toys
Sex toys are happy little helpers in bed and not your competitor. If you have arthritis (or your partner does) investing in the right sex toys can make sex more comfortable, help both of you climax more regularly, and increase the amount of time you enjoy sex in one session.
Wand-style vibrators are great toys! These versatile toys can be used by people of all genders on many body parts.
Additionally, they make great massage tools for any achy body part.
Wand vibrators come in many sizes from small travel-sized to upward of 15 inches long. You want to choose a wand which will be comfortable for you to hold for up to 10 minutes at a time. Your personal hand size and strength will help determine which wand you will want to buy.
For a guide on selecting the right wand for you, check out this post on Love Letters To A Unicorn.
Wand vibrators are great for using on a clitoris. They provide various levels and patterns of vibrations which help many people reach climax.
The head of the wand also feels good when used underneath the testicles and on the shaft of a penis.
Most people with penises find they prefer a very light vibration in these areas, so start of the lowest setting when trying a wand in these areas.
Some people enjoy using the wand on the area between the genitals and anus. W
ands with a deeper vibration or strong vibration pattern can be used here to stimulate the G-spot or prostate from outside the body.
If you do use the vibrator in this area, make sure you clean it with warm, soapy water before using it on a clitoris to prevent a urinary tract infection.
If your partner enjoys intense nipple stimulation, using the wand on their nipples directly or on nipple clips attached to their nipples will provide a new and interesting sensation.
Many wand models also have various attachments which can be used for a variety of types of stimulation. If you or a partner enjoys penetration and G-spot stimulation, insertable attachments like the Doxy G-Spot attachment.
If you or your partner have a difficult time providing a hand job for a person with a penis, a masturbation sleeve attachment can be very helpful.
Make sure to add lubricant to the sleeve to improve the sensation and prevent the sleeve from tugging on skin while being used.
Remote-Controlled and App-Based Toys
There is an enormous selection of remote-controlled and app-based toys for all genders. These toys can be controlled with a small, handheld remote or through an app on a cell phone. For people with severe pain in their hands, wrists, or shoulders these types of toys can offer an enormous boon to your sex life.
Toys for Penises
Vibrating Cock Rings & Butt Plugs
Cock rings fit over the shaft of the penis and rest at its base.
They can help people keep erections by assisting to keep the blood in an erection longer than it would stay without one.
Additionally, vibrating options can help increase stimulation and assist with orgasm.
Models like the We-Vibe Bond can be controlled by a phone app.
This allows someone to control their own toy with their phone, a partner can control the toy during play, and people can log in remotely and stimulate a partner from anywhere in the world.
This is especially useful for people who are in long-distance relationships or may not currently be with a partner.
Some cock rings come with an additional butt plug.
These toys fit around the shaft of the penis at the base and then the plug is inserted into the anus.
Remote controlled options like the B-Vibe Snug and Tug provide the benefits of a cock ring with the additional benefit of prostate stimulation.
Because people with arthritis often have co-occurring conditions like heart disease or diabetes which can impact sexual function, a cock ring and prostate stimulator can be very helpful in assisting in getting an erection and reaching climax without adding other medications.
Toys for Vaginas
For people with vaginas, stimulating the clitoris or G-spot is often necessary in order to reach orgasm.
If you have difficulty stimulating your own clitoris or a partner’s remote controlled and app based toys are a great option.
There are many remote and app-controlled toys designed to assist in stimulating the G-Spot.
Toys like the We-Vibe Rave G-spot Stimulator is an app-controlled toy. The vibrator is inserted into the vagina and positioned to touch the G-spot.
The app is then used to control the intensity and pattern of the vibrations.
Like many app-controlled items, this toy can be controlled by the wearer, a partner, or someone in a distant location.
Other toys offer a wearable option. These toys fit in the vagina and wrap around to reach the clitoris.
These toys can be worn while doing other things, like having a romantic dinner.
The We-Vibe Chorus is a great example of this type of wearable toy. The app allows separate control over the G-spot and clitoral vibrations. This allows you to customize the type of stimulation you enjoy the most.
Arthritis can be very painful and limit your movement and enjoyment of specific activities. However, technology and medication can help alleviate the impact of this on your sex life.
When you start to experience arthritis, it can be disheartening and stressful as you find yourself discovering new limitations in bed.
If you have not previously made it a habit to discuss sex, desire, and adaptation with your partner(s), this can be an additional stressor.
However, even a bit of communication and changing behaviors can allow you to continue a happy and healthy sex life.
If you have not had much practice talking to a partner about sex and sex toys, start slowly.
Don’t show up with a dozen new toys and expect them to be on-board with it. Rather, discuss what you want, or think might help before buying a toy if you plan to use it together.
Explain why the toy is helpful and that you still want to have great sex, but you need a bit of help.
If you try changing positions to help with arthritis pain, give it time to find the right position.
Some positions might not work for you. Do not get frustrated. Keep trying and making small adjustments to new positions to see if you can find a way to make sex enjoyable for both you and a partner.
Sex is a fundamental part of humanity. We all crave physical connection and sexual contact.
Arthritis is not a reason to end this important part of your life!
Take a pain killer, do a bit of stretching, and have a go at something fun.
About the author
Rebecca Blanton, aka Auntie Vice, is a writer and kink educator. She holds a Ph.D. (abd) in Political Psychology and a BA in Psychology.
Their work focuses on gender, power, and kink//BDSM. She runs the award-winning blog LoveLettersToAUnicorn.com and has published several books, including The Big Workbook for Submissives, a finalist for the 2018 Golden Flogger Award. She has taught about kink and submission for the past seven years.
She regularly performs stand-up and storytelling. Prior to turning her attention to kink education and writing, she served as the Executive Director for the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls and worked as a Senior Policy Analyst for the California Research Bureau.