I apologize in advance if this column offends anyone but we do, on occasion, need to talk about intimacy and how IC can impact that. For those of you who know me, you know that I’m very direct about the issues that we struggle with. I believe that IC can strengthen rather than weaken our relationships if we face issues head on. We can’t hide from the fact that there are times when we might be feeling unwell nor should we hide from how IC can influence how we live. But on special days, like Valentines Day, there can be preconceived notions and expectations that could rob us of the love that we so richly deserve. Please remember that IC cannot change your heart nor the love that you can give you to others. Love is much more than just sex, it is a daily expression of kindness and caring as well. – Jill O.
If there’s one day that’s expected to generate performance anxiety, it’s going to be Valentines Day. Some people think that Valentines Day is supposed to be a big, emotional and physical expression of love and adoration. Others resent the over commercialization of the holiday or expectations that their lovers may have of them. Still others have what I call Valentine’s Day PTSD where, in the past, we may have been so hurt and disappointed by a previous Valentine’s Day they simply can’t enjoy the day fully. Yet, regardless of where you stand on the holiday, it is important to remember that the spirit of the holiday is to express your love with your partner and friends and to say “I’m glad that you’re in my life.”
The monkey in the room is clearly sex. It’s no secret that intimacy can be uncomfortable for some patients, particularly if you’re in a flare. How a couple handles those moments when one person wants to have sex and the other doesn’t or can’t is a true sign of their maturity and strength. After all, we’re really not going to expect someone to have wild, passionate athletic sex when they have a broken hip and neither should we expect the same from someone having serious pelvic pain.
Dr. Heather Howard of the Center for Sexual Health & Rehabilitation has two free guides on her website that provide some helpful tips: (1) Reduce Sexual Pain: A New Way To Look At Sex and (2) Reduce Sexual Pain: A Guide For Couples.
To Do It or Not To Do It
If you’re IC is in remission and you’re feeling good, then by all means enjoy intimacy. You can find several tips and suggestions to make sex more comfortable and enjoyable in the ICN Romance and Intimacy Center at: https://www.ic-network.com/patient-resources/romance-intimacy/
If you’re feeling uncomfortable and not prepared to have intercourse, that doesn’t mean that you can’t express your love with your partner in different ways. You might consider pleasuring your partner and trying some tantric sex (i.e outercourse) instead. Some couples use toys, like the TENGA, for those moments when penetration isn’t possible. A woman can simple hold the toy between her legs or in her hands. Sound weird?? It really isn’t. IC couples love this sex toy because it’s playful, fun and very satisfying.
If you’re in a serious flare and feel quite poorly, then, of course, intimacy is out but don’t you both still deserve the warmth of a hug, a warm shoulder and the just the presence of someone you care for? How about finding a favorite movie on TV, some IC friendly snacks and just cuddling on the sofa or in front of a roaring fire for a few hours.
Turn “No” to Sex into “Yes” for Love!
If you’re the IC patient and saying “No” to sex, you have to understand that your partner could be hurt by your rejection. And, of course, that’s the entire point. This is not a rejection of their love or of your relationship. You have to work hard to make sure that you communicate that clearly with your partner.
It’s all about how you talk to each other and communicate during these quite vulnerable moments. You might consider saying “Tonight, my love, my bladder is very tender. I’d like to wait until I’m feeling better so that we can both enjoy this moment. So I’m not saying No to you as a man or as a husband. I love you deeply and passionately. I’m just saying that right now my body is just too fragile.” Follow that up with hugs and kisses. Express yourself clearly and look deeply in their eyes and say “IC can’t change my love for you. I love you very much.”
If you’re the partner of someone with IC, try to remember that they feel very insecure and vulnerable. Don’t push them when they aren’t feeling well but, of course, that’s often the hardest part because you might not know how they are feel. When in doubt, ask them “Honey, how are you feeling today? Is there anything that I can do to help?Perhaps a shoulder massage, a heating pad, a foot rub or making dinner??”
Of course, there are times when the person who is ill just might need quiet time and sleep. And, if that happens on Valentines Day, then let it be. It’s okay. Like Christmas, Valentines Day is still just one day in our lives and there will be many others where you can express your love.
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