My medication controls my chronic pain... and my sex life

Jul 20, 2016 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Image: Priscilla Westra/StockSnap

I have an autoimmune connective tissue disorder and fibromyalgia, so I'm no stranger to chronic pain, and as someone who has my pharmacy on speed dial, I have been on many a medication with sexual side effects. Exhibit A: One of the medications I take every day for my fibromyalgia makes my orgasm take a lot longer. I can still get there, but it’s a lot more work and my partner, and I often give up when my wrist starts to hurt too much. At the same time, that medication results in significantly less pain every day. As you can already see, chronic pain and sex are a frustrating combination.

Just to complicate things more, I recently began seeking treatment for the terrible mood swings around my period, though “mood swings” sounds so benign for what it feels like. Three weeks of the month, I am a relatively psychologically stable and happy person. However, for one week of the month I consider checking myself into psychiatric treatment because my anxiety and depression get so bad.

More: Depression doesn't play fair, especially when it comes to your sex drive

I went to my gynecologist’s office. We talked about my symptoms and she seemed to take me seriously when I explained that these hormone fluctuations were seriously messing with my life. She prescribed me birth control pills to take continuously so I don’t have my period, ergo I don’t have the hormone fluctuations that cause me to cry uncontrollably and want to die every month. Great! So I started taking the pills and… I lost my sex drive entirely.

As a chronically ill mom of four kids including a toddler, it’s not as though I have the time, energy or the physical comfort to have actual sex as much as I would like to. But I still love flirting and sexy banter and even the small thrill of seeing a hot person walk by. Thanks to my new birth control, all of this was gone too. It’s wasn't that I didn’t want to have sex; it’s that I couldn't even relate to sexual thoughts anymore.

It begs the question: What do those of us with illnesses — physical and mental — have to sacrifice to get the symptom relief we need? Since I got sick several years ago, I still grieve long walks, full-time employment and not being in constant pain. But it wasn’t until I was faced with the “choice” of either having a sex life or avoiding a mental health week of hell that I started to think about what I have given up and what I am still willing to give up in the name of "health."

More: We don't talk enough about how anxiety disorders change our sex lives

I had to decide: keep taking the birth control pills to control my anxiety, or try a completely different course of action and get my sex life back. Call me crazy, but I chose my sex life.

And since I went off the birth control, I’ve been able to manage my freak-out week with anti-anxiety medications… for now. I still take my fibromyalgia medication, which still makes my orgasms harder to reach. But, for now, I'm back to enjoying sex despite the extra work it takes to finish. That counts for something.