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Airing Pain 97: Sex and Chronic Pain

How chronic pain can affect both sexual and emotional intimacy, and remembering that communication is key

This programme is supported by an educational grant from the Tillyloss Trust.

Along with food, shelter and clothing, sexual expression is one of the basic human needs. It allows us to express love and fulfils our need for human connection, but for the 14.3% of people in the UK living with moderately or severely disabling chronic pain, sex can be met with trepidation and anxiety.[1] This is understandable, as it is estimated that 75% of those that live with chronic pain experience sexual dysfunction.[2]

There can also be a certain amount of embarrassment in discussing chronic pain and its effect on sexual activity with healthcare professionals, especially if they don’t have the skills to address these issues. This is why Pain Concern has updated its sex and chronic pain leaflet with authors Katrine Petersen, senior physiotherapist, and Dr Sarah Edwards, clinical psychologist, who specialise in abdominal pelvic pain at the Pain Management Centre, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. You can find the leaflet on our website here.

In this edition of Airing Pain, Paul speaks to Dr Edwards and Petersen about the major difficulties patients experience when it comes to living with chronic pain and managing sexual intimacy and techniques that can be used to combat them (you can find these techniques in our leaflet).

Denise Knowles, family counsellor and psychosexual therapist working with relationship support charity Relate, speaks about her experiences of how relationships can be affected not only by physical pain, but by mental pain as well. She also stresses the importance of the distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘intimacy’.

Issues covered in this programme include: Anxiety, dating, gender, intimacy, men’s pain, misconceptions, myths about sex, pelvic pain, urogenital pain, relationships, safe sex and women’s pain.


  • Denise Knowle, Family Counsellor and Psychosexual Therapist with charity Relate
  • Dr Sara Edwards, Psychologist, Specialist in Abdominal Pelvic Pain at Pain Management Centre, UCL Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Katrine Petersen, Specialist Physiotherapist in Pain Management, Chronic Abdomino-Pelvic Pain at Pain Management Centre, UCL Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Meda Minard, Gynecologist from Denmark.

More information:

[1] The British Pain Society

[2] Robert Rothrock

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