How to Stay Intimate with Arthritis

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Updated June 11, 2024
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Key Takeaways

Maintaining a good sex life while living with arthritis is possible through timing pain medication around sexual activity, having clear communication with your partner, and using toys and pillows to ease pressure on joints.

Sex and arthritis: how they can coexist

Sex is an essential part of the human experience. It’s natural, it’s healthy, it’s fun.

Arthritis, however, can throw a wrench in things. If you live with arthritis, you don’t need us to tell you that it can be a real pain in the you-know-what — metaphorically and physically — which can make enjoying intimate moments a lot more difficult.  

But rest assured: it is very much possible to enjoy the sexual or intimate pleasure you had before arthritis. It just takes a little preparation.    

As a part of our series of articles on intimacy, where we explore all things related to later-in-life intimacy, let’s break down the best ways to stay intimate — and pleasurable — while living with arthritis.   

Note: Arthritis can affect anyone at any age. While most of our content in this series is written for older adults, this article can be used as a resource for anyone living with arthritis, regardless of age.  

How arthritis impacts intimacy

Before we dive in, we need to acknowledge that arthritis is not a one-size-fits-all condition. In fact, the word “arthritis” is used to describe a group of more than 100 diseases characterized by an inflammation in the joints. Everyone living with it will have different experiences — including those with intimacy. 

Understanding that those nuances exist, we can still zero in on the most common ways, from a top-level perspective, that arthritis can impact your sex life. Those include: 

  • Painful joints that can make certain positions difficult or impossible 

  • Fatigue that can reduce sexual drive 

  • Swollen joints that can impact self-confidence  

“Whichever impacts you’re facing, whether it’s one or several, mild or severe, I’ve found that small adaptations can make a huge difference,” says Jane Fleishman, PhD, a sex educator and author. “A little change can go a long way.”

Time it out

If your joints are aching and making it difficult to hold a certain position, says Dr. Fleishman, a good solution is to time your pain medications around sexual activity. If, say, it typically takes 20 minutes for your pain medication to kick in, you can plan ahead with your partner: pop your meds, wait until you feel great, then let the fun begin.  

Granted, this can take the spontaneity out of an intimate moment, but it will make up for it by ensuring the sexual experience is more comfortable. 

For some, a hot shower or bath can ease joint pain, which could be a good way to kill time before your painkillers kick in.    

Talk it out

Talking about sex, even with your partner, can be awkward. We get it.

But if you’re living with arthritis, it’s important to talk openly with your partner about your sexual concerns. You may feel apprehensive about sexual activity because you’re afraid of pain, but your partner may also be scared about hurting you. Additionally, symptoms like fatigue or low confidence might make you hesitant to even pursue anything. These can all lead to couples avoiding intimacy altogether.  

The easiest way to avoid this is to be open with each other. Create a safe space where both of you can feel comfortable chiming in about how you’re feeling or what questions you have for the other. If a joint is bothering you one day more than it has been in previous days, tell your partner; if you want to plan a sexual moment for later in the day around your medication, ask your partner if that sounds good to them. 

“Sometimes the best sexual lives start with open conversations,” says Dr. Fleishman. “Vertical, not horizontal, conversations over coffee. Just making it clear that you support each other and can talk about anything.” 

Take a look here for tips on how to jumpstart these conversations. If you’re still having trouble talking with your partner, a couples or sex therapist could help.

Try some tools

Even with the help of painkillers, some positions can be uncomfortable. It’s tough to recommend specific positions for those living with arthritis, says Dr. Fleishman, since each condition is different. 

However, wedge pillows can be a helpful solution for everyone. Their durable shape allows them to be tailored into a variety of positions to help prop you up and make pleasure easier to find. Using them is a great way to put less pressure on your body and find the position that works best for you and your pleasure zones.  

A good rule of thumb: always keep a wedge pillow in your bed. That way, you won’t feel stressed about finding it or setting it up if a sexual moment starts. 

Another good option is a hands-free vibrator, which — in addition to providing stimulation — can be used as a massager or muscle relaxant. Additionally, there are wearable, vibrating gloves that can be used for erotic massaging. With both of these options, you don’t need to worry about holding anything, which is helpful if you’re experiencing pain in your hands. 

Remember: intimacy can take many forms

There are many ways to enjoy a wonderful sexual experience. Massaging, cuddling, or kissing are all enjoyable — and more joint-friendly — ways to be intimate.

Take it one step at a time

Much like arthritis itself, the best steps for enjoying intimacy with the disease aren’t one-size-fits-all — they vary by person and, in most cases, by day or night.  

The best thing you can do is experiment with your partner. Keep the dialogue open and safe, time your sexual experiences around your pain medication, and don’t be afraid to try tools and other environmental adjustments.

Looking for more age-related guidance?

Check out our Resource Library for more on topics ranging from how to talk about sex after 70 to how to find quality home care.

Expert reviewed by


Jane Fleishman, PhD, MEd, MS

Jane Fleishman, PhD, MEd, MS, is an educator, writer, researcher, podcaster, and author. She is on a mission to promote the sexual wellness in older adults. Feel free to contact her at:

Written by


Eric Larson

Eric Larson is a writer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s worked on commercial campaigns for brands like Google, Amazon Fashion, and Casper, and his independent films have screened at renowned festivals in New York City, Los Angeles, London, and Paris.

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