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Sex and Fatigue

How Do You Stay Sexual When You Have No Energy for Sex?

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Updated September 12, 2011

For those of us who live with fatigue, all the "not tonight honey, I'm too tired" jokes about aren't that funny. Our sex lives can be one of the first casualties of living with fatigue. Social expectations that tell us sex is a luxury -- and then meanwhile also somehow convey that we should always be having sex -- make it even harder to know how to find ways to be sexual when you feel like you're barely making it through your day.

But there are things you can do to create a happy and hot sex life if you or your partner experience fatigue. No list of tips will work for everyone, but the suggestions below may be a good place to start your own process. If you currently aren't talking with your partner about these issues, you can use this article as a way to start that conversation.

Know the Cause
If you are feeling tired a lot of the time and there isn't some obvious temporary thing causing it, you should start by figuring out what's going on. Fatigue can be caused by chronic illness or disease, by pain, by medications and other treatments. If you are feeling tired all the time it's probably your bodies way of saying something is up. The cause of fatigue won't necessarily tell you how to deal with sex, but it's a key first step.

Talk to a Health Care Professional
There may be some obvious things you can do to reduce the impact of fatigue on your sex life, and the first place to turn may be your doctor or health care professional. Talking with doctors about sex may seem scary at first, but they probably are not considering the sexual impact of treatments or medications they have suggested for you. And there may be options that would give you more energy.

Try to Take the Pressure Off
If you are in a relationship and don't want to have sex, you may be feeling guilty about that. Or you may be in a position where your partner is (inappropriately) pressuring you to have sex when you don't feel like it. If you are feeling pressure or the weight of expectations (from you, your partner, and society) try to give yourself a break. I know it's easier said than done, but living with fatigue is, well, exhausting. And feeling bad can tire you out even more. Remind yourself that you're doing the best you can, and that things can change, even if they may take time to change.

Don't Ignore It, Acknowledge It
Sometimes it can feel like talking about something makes it worse. But if you're in a relationship, acknowledging that you aren't having sex as much, or at all, and that you aren't able to enjoy sex is important because it's happening. It may not seem like much, but saying it out loud, and acknowledging that you wish it wasn't happening, can make a difference. It can give your partner permission to not feel guilty for wanting sex, and it can be a reality check for both of you about the importance that sex has in your lives, even if you are going through a time where you get to express and explore it less.

Find Your Focus and Desire
For some people the problem isn't just that they physically don't have the energy to do sexy things, it's that they are so exhausted that they can't even care about sex. This is actually the bigger obstacle. If you don't believe that sex is a joyous, healthy, and fun thing to do it can be hard to prioritize it. But if you really do want to have sex again and connect sexually with your partner, you can start by making a list about why sex matters to you. Use that list to spend time every week just thinking a bit about what you love about sex. Don't use this as a reason to push yourself beyond what you can do physically, but do it to cultivate your desire and motivation.

Enjoy What You Can, When You Can
If you want to start having sex again, or having more sex, you're probably going to need to expand your definition of what sex is. Sex is much more than intercourse, and there are plenty of things you can do that are sexual that require less physical exertion. Whether that means enjoying a look from across the room or a touch or a moment of holding hands, try to tune into the desire you have (even if its buried) and connect it to what is happening in the moment.

Don't Call it Low Impact Sex!
Sex is about energy that's emotional, spiritual, and physical. Just because you can't swing from the ceiling, or have intercourse the way you want to, doesn't mean sex can't have meaning and can't be hot and powerful. It's not easy, but if you can remind yourself why you like sex, and in particular why you like sex with the partner you have (assuming you do) that's a place to start. One of the lies we're told about sex is that sex is only for young people who can do somersaults while standing on their heads. Not true. Sex that doesn't involve a lot of movement does not have to be less powerful or impactful. But you do need to fight some of the social expectations you have and be open to trying new things. There are sexual activities that require less physical exertion and sex positions for fatigue.

It's All About Timing
Another lie we're told about sex is that it has to be spontaneous. Sex is never really spontaneous in that we're always planning at least a little in our heads. If you know there are times in the day when you feel less fatigued, try to make time then for sex. If you take medication and that has a predictable impact on your energy levels, talk with your doctor about timing your medication. Speaking of timing, even if you don't feel like having sex, making time to be together when you don't have to do other things and when you can momentarily escape some of the pressures of life, can be healing too.

Don't Do It Alone
Fatigue is one of those things that people don't really understand until they experience it, and because there is no colored ribbon or telethon for it, society tends to be less aware of the impact of living with fatigue. This can leave you feeling isolated and alone. You can have a sex life when you live with fatigue, but it takes some work and creativity and all of that is easier when we have someone to talk to. Whether it's a friend, family member, or counselor, consider finding someone who isn't your partner who you can turn to, just to talk or brainstorm or complain or cry or scream.

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