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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