Fair warning: this piece is about sex. Specifically, it’s about the fact that people with chronic illnesses are people first, and are often sexually active, just like the rest of humanity.
Now that you’ve been warned, let’s talk about the popular conception of someone with a chronic illness. In a lot of people’s minds, a person with a chronic illness is always sick – in bed or on the couch, unable to do much. In reality, a lot of illnesses vary in severity over time, and people have good days or bad days. For example, I have days when my rheumatoid arthritis is flaring, but also many days when it’s fairly inactive. My migraines vary in severity as well. On bad days, I’m stuck in bed. On good days, I’m fairly productive and active.
That leads us to sex, which is a normal part of human experience. Like everyone else, people with chronic illnesses are sexual beings. The natural ebb and flow of sexual interest is complicated by illness, however, and medications used to treat it. Many medications affect libido and sexual function. Some illnesses make sex uncomfortable for any number of reasons; others limit sexual interest.
People with chronic illness experience sexuality in a variety of ways. They experience a variety of orientations and desires, and self-identify in many different ways. Some want sex a lot, some want it a little and some don’t want sex at all. In other words, people with chronic illnesses are people, and experience the same variety of sexuality we find in humanity in general.
So what’s the point? I suppose it’s that we shouldn’t assume someone with a chronic illnesses isn’t sexually active. And as patients, we should talk to our doctors about the impacts of medications and illnesses on our sex lives.
More broadly, it’s important to remember that people with chronic illnesses are people first. We are not defined by our illnesses, and experience life in all its variety. That includes sex – and a million other things.