But experts say that many are suffering needlessly: "There is a lot of help available," he says. "They just have to have the courage to ask."
Finding the root cause of sexual dysfunction
Chronic pain affects sexuality on several levels. At the most basic level, pain itself can inhibit sexual activity. Kerrie Smyres, a 31-year-old writer in Seattle who blogs about her daily headaches, says that the pain in her head often hurts too much for sex. Despite the cliche, it's true that headaches can be a major obstacle to intimacy. In a small 2007 survey by the National Headache Foundation, 69% of respondents said they had avoided sex because of a headache.
How emotions play a role
The alchemy of pain, sex, and relationships is complex. "Typically what I see is a combination of factors," says Geralyn Datz, PhD, a pain psychologist and behavioral medicine specialist in Hattiesburg, Miss. "The person has chronic pain, and intercourse may be physically uncomfortable." But she says often a person can feel emotionally unwilling or just feel bad about themselves.
Self-esteem can also plummet, says Datz: "You can imagine how someone who used to be the head of the household and is now relegated to the couch isn't feeling interested in intercourse or intimacytheir self esteem is dramatically affected."
Anticipation or fear of pain is another common problem: For Smyres, orgasms can sometimes trigger migraines, which "doesn't give me a whole lot of incentive," she says.