When illness gets in the way of intimacy – how do you make it work?

Who we are and how we feel about ourselves is based on so many different things and can alter, move and change depending on what we’re dealing with at any one time. Right now I feel that I’m a bit lost, I feel vulnerable and raw and in particular I feel I have lost my femininity and sex appeal. And by that I don’t meant how others view me but how I view myself. Feeling sexy feels like a thing of the past.

Sam Cleasby Sheffield blogger chronic illness hospital surgery

I’m generally very much changeable, equally comfortable in make up and sequins as in joggers and a jumper but more and more I find myself in those joggers and less and less making an effort due to illness, pain and fatigue.

Body positive?

In a world of body positivity, we know we’re all meant to love our bodies. But when our bodies are broken, causing pain, are fatigued and disfigured, sometimes I don’t love my body and actually the body positivity movement make it harder to voice that.

Currently my stomach is swollen, it has one large protrusion on one side and a smaller one on the other. I’ve gained a lot of weight because I can barely walk. Im in pain every single day. I hate how my body looks naked and none of my clothes fit me properly.

Its hard to say that though, especially as a blogger without feeling that you’re setting a bad example, not a good feminist, being negative about disability or perpetuating body stereotypes! Dude, sometimes I just want to say I don’t like how I look without it being about society! Sometimes I just want to be able to say I feel shit!

I end up in joggers most of the time because it’s the one thing that fits me and is comfortable. But it doesn’t make me happy, I know I look like a scruffy, fat mess most of the time. I’m so tired and so often I just wear a beany hat to cover how bad my hair looks and naps win over make up any day.

Feeling sexy

I used to feel sexy. And by this I don’t mean a pouty, booby show for others. I used to feel powerfully strong and beautiful and sexual and in control.

Right now I feel a million miles from that and honestly? It’s only going to get worse for a while with surgery and recovery. My body feels like it’s all about illness and treatment right now with no time or energy for looking good, for sex, for intimacy. But because I feel so different it’s like losing a part of yourself. Like feeling like someone completely different. Like you’re a stranger to yourself. And it can be hard to feel sexy, to give yourself to another person when you are not entirely sure who you are yourself!

It’s hard to feel ‘in the mood’ when you’re either in pain or stoned on painkillers, exhausted or asleep, when your body looks and feels weird to you or you’re wearing three different hernia belts! As they say in Hamilton, “It’s hard to have intercourse over four sets of corsets!”

ostomy photoshoot sexy ileostomy 50s pin up photo shoot so bad ass sam cleasby

Feeling lost

Joking aside, I just feel so lost. So sad. So empty today. I have a really physical reaction to upset, my stomach turns and flips and it’s doing cartwheels right now.

I wonder how I can be a partner to anyone in this state? How do you cope as the partner? Can relationships survive when illness gets in the way of intimacy? Is feeling sexy a possibility when you feel bad about your body?

I get lots of emails and messages about this subject and I know it’s sensitive and personal but I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts.

Chronic illness changes many parts of our lives in so many different ways and sometimes it’s embarrassing and difficult to discuss those changes.

Ive had a message this week asking about this subject and I realised what a taboo it is to talk about how chronic illness can and does effect relationships, yet it must be something that so many are dealing with.

I hope this can spark a discussion that could help so many.

✌? & ❤️

Sam xx

3 replies
  1. Terri
    Terri says:

    Sam, I am silently crying after reading your post. I spent two years in the hospital after my colon was removed. I contracted
    MRSA and it was pretty bad. I had fistulas and a gaping hole in my belly that was putting out stool. Right or wrong, my
    husband became so proficient at caring for me that many nurses would defer to him when I needed dressings and pouches to
    try and contain the stool. When I was ill, before surgery, I was in incredible pain. and it was common for me to have to run
    to the bathroom 20 to 30 times a day.Not conducive to feeling sexy or wanting to seduce my S.O. I slowly over some years
    lost my desire for sex. I tried doctors, therapists, hormone therapy, medications and on and on. We both have been through
    sadness, anger, denial, and have finally reached some peace with the situation. I am so,so,so, lucky to have the partner
    that I have. He has given up a lot and continues to. We did see a therapist who dealt with chronic, life threatening illnesses
    For me, what helped was when the therapist told us there were many kinds of intimacy. I try to be the best partner that I
    can to him and when ever I can I try to do nice, special things for him I have given myself permission to stop fighting what
    I have not been able to change. And everyday, I thank my lucky stars that this is the man I am married to this man. We try
    to find physical intimacy however we can. By the way, I too have a hernia around my stoma but I am so lucky that it doesn’t
    cause me pain. Like you said, I just look like I an carrying an ‘alien’ on the left side of my belly.lol I have read your posts
    about your Tim and your children and it sounds like they are in it for the long term. I am so sorry that you are feeling so sad,
    lost and scared. And I am hoping that your upcoming surgery will finally give you some peace and relief. Take care Sam and
    know that a lot of people are cheering you on. One more thing – try to just feel those feelings and don’t fight them. That is the
    hardest lesson I have had to learn, because who wants to feel sad and depressed?

  2. Laura
    Laura says:

    A few misc. thoughts.
    Amazon Prime (or a similar service) to the rescue! Fractionated coconut oil for mutual foot massages are lovely. Non-itchy cotton and spandex tunics and T-shirt dresses (knee or maxi) look good. Lots of color choices, V-necks and different arm lengths–like 3/4–are practical. Plus-size leggings feel good. I switched to cotton bras that close in the front with tiny hooks. Cheap and comfortable. Sensitive skin? Baby yourself: Baby shampoo, body wash, and powder. Waning libido? A friend of mine has tried romance novels–free with Prime reading online kindle apps–to aid fantasy thoughts.
    I’m frugal and hate to waste things but brown stains that wouldn’t come out of clothes bothered me. I’ve made rags from the stained casual shirts and found nice replacements for stained underwear as needed. I threw out washclothes that wouldn’t bleach white.
    For exercises to do when I was in pain and in bed, physical therapists gave me colorful latex bands for resistance work–arms and legs–while in bed, or sitting. It felt good to stretch but I didn’t feel like doing it so I set an alarm for 5-10 minutes every so often. Also I didn’t want blood clots in my legs so that motivated me to move more. Anything that smells nice, like lavender diffusers, can be a lift. The right anti-depressants are an important piece of the physical puzzle and help avoid panic attacks and HBP.
    Not hungry but need vitamins? I have added Boost to coffee to avoid mal-nurishment. Avoid toxins in your food. Taking care of yourself is taking care of your family so no guilt! No one asks to be ill or have severe pain….I kept a daily health/mood notes journal for a while when I was healing and that really helped me understand my gut better. It helped me to listen to my body with respect.
    I’m reading a kindle ebook now called Sick Girl. The author’s personality is not very “likable” but she is honest about what it’s like to have heart failure and a transplant due to a virus in her early twenties. She is emotionally rough on her doctors and family. But it is informative; I’m hoping the memoir ends on a more positive frame of mind. But as I say, she is brutally honest about her scary experiences. No Pollyanna-author here.
    Healing takes a long time so you’ve got to be very good and patient with yourself so you can enjoy the things you like again.

  3. bluegreen
    bluegreen says:

    thank you for sharing. After 19 years with no exercise, I find it hard to feel attractive in my watery muscles body, and I know that SHOULDN’T be the crux of things and maybe this is a lesson in vanity but blah blah, I feel wobbly and unconfident and fed up about it, like the standard crisis of ageing as a woman also comes with a wallop of helplessness in my body- and I think that is a big part of the challenge of chronic illness and disablement, isn’t it?

    I would love to have conversation with women who have gone through post menopausal ageing for some time and come to a bodily stage which is not cast in the mainstream as being sexy, but who feel sexy/enjoy their bodies and intimacy anyway. To hear from them for tips.

    No answers, but openness and admission definitely help me find another bit of the path to acceptance, or at least connection, so thank you so much for leaving your post here for me and others to find!

    One little Baba Yaga note: you look stunning, enjoy it, ageing can be a bit of a bitch for making you realise that you were gorgeous in spite of all your doubts!

    As for other resources having noticed one from the commenter above, have you read Samantha Irby, erstwhile author of blog Bitches Gotta Eat, and also two (last I counted) collections of essays? Her voice is a clear and funny note ringing out for health justice in unobvious ways, and also she is sexy, in all of her natural, nasty body business realness.

    May we all feel NO pressure to be anything but attendant to the messages being vulnerable humans on a mutating planet forces/allows us to hear, I suppose.

    And can someone tell me about a magic cream that fixes my butt?


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