You don't have to accept the sexual side effects of pain meds.

You don't have to accept the sexual side effects of pain meds.(ROYALTY-FREE/CORBIS/VEER)Chronic pain, on its own, can interfere with a healthy sex life, but sometimes the drugs that patients rely on to relieve their pain are the problem. Many painkilling medications can cause physiological changes that affect sexual functioning.

Opioids—a common class of drugs for chronic pain whose brand names include Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin—are among the worst offenders, says Todd Sitzman, MD, a past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. According to studies, opioids can lower testosterone levels, suppress sexual function in men, and cause erectile dysfunction. They can also contribute to low libido and difficulty with orgasm in both sexes.

How People in Pain Can Revive Their Sex Lives


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In addition, many pain patients take medications to treat the depression that often accompanies chronic pain. Those medications bring their own set of problems. Common depression medications known as SSRIs (selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors), which include brand names like Prozac and Zoloft, may cause decreased sex drive and difficulty reaching an orgasm for men and women.

What you can do to get back on track

Dr. Sitzman says that men taking opioids for long periods can supplement with testosterone injections. If a drug causes erectile dysfunction, they can experiment with another medication, such as Viagra, to counter that effect. Women who experience decreased vaginal lubrication can try over-the-counter creams or lubricants; women who suffer from low libido or difficulty with orgasms may want to consider having their medication dosage adjusted or trying another kind.

Once you are able to tackle the physical impediments to a healthy sex life, there may still be lingering emotional issues getting in the way. For tips on rebuilding your self esteem and recapturing intimacy with your spouse, go to "How People in Pain Can Revive Their Sex Lives."