Fibromyalgia is commonly understood to be a painful condition; it causes widespread pain throughout the body, in the joints and muscles, as well as in the head and abdomen.
Although it is often compared to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia doesn’t destroy joints as arthritis does.
Typical symptoms of fibromyalgia are the aforementioned pain, as well as chronic fatigue that can be so severe that the sufferer may be unable to get out of bed or complete necessary tasks.
Fibromyalgia patients often experience headaches, as well as cognitive problems (known as “fibro fog).
Irritable bowel syndrome goes hand-in-hand with fibromyalgia, and patients often deal with anxiety and depression that can be exacerbated by the other symptoms of this disease.
Fibromyalgia can cause a host of unusual symptoms that sufferers may not—at first—even realize are caused by their fibromyalgia.
Uncontrollable muscle contractions and odd sensations of burning or prickling of the skin are possible physical symptoms.
Some people with fibromyalgia find that they are overly sensitive to alcohol or have trouble with severe side effects to any medications they take.
Dizziness, hearing loss, sensitivity to lights, scents and sound may also occur. Others report experiencing trouble speaking or noticing personality changes.
Fibromyalgia and Low Sex Drive
One of the symptoms of fibromyalgia that many people are hesitant or embarrassed to talk about is loss of libido. Decreased sex drive can be caused by multiple factors related to fibromyalgia.
The most obvious connection is that fibromyalgia causes widespread pain, often making movement (including sexual activity) painful. This is related to more than simply pain in the joints, however.
Fibromyalgia can cause irritable bowel syndrome and gastrointestinal pain, and the symptoms of IBS (pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and abdominal discomfort) simply aren’t conducive to sexual desire.
Researchers have also found that people with fibromyalgia have an overly sensitive central nervous system.
This causes sufferer’s brains to process information in a way that creates sensitization throughout the body—both sensory sensitization (to bright lights and loud sounds, for instance) and physical sensitization.
The latter might mean that in affected areas of the body, something as seemingly pleasant as a touch or caress can be uncomfortable or downright painful.
Chronic fatigue can also be a cause of low libido in those with fibromyalgia; if someone is too tired to go about daily activities, sexual activity is certainly going to be out of the question.
Since anxiety and depression are common symptoms, these can drive the libido down, as well. Often, the partner of a person with fibromyalgia may be hesitant to initiate sexual activity, as they will be concerned that their spouse is in pain or overly tired.
They may be also worried that sexual activity—even on a good day—might cause a flare up and create additional pain. This can create a cycle of feelings of rejection, depression and loneliness in both partners.
How To Work Around Low Libido and Fibromyalgia
If you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and are also experiencing a decreased sex drive, the best strategy is to address your overall condition.
Fibromyalgia is a big picture that is made of many different symptoms that are all interconnected. By treating one symptom, we help ease others.
It’s important to work with your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and figure out a strategy to best treat your symptoms, but here are some things that can help:
It may seem counterintuitive that movement should help a condition where the main symptom is widespread joint pain, but many fibromyalgia patients experience relief from a regular exercise program.
Most people dealing with fibromyalgia actually report increased pain from sitting still for long periods of time. Exercise can help ease stiffness and improve flexibility in joints and muscles.
It improves blood flow and cardiovascular health. One of the biggest benefits to exercise isn’t a physical one, but a mental one: regular exercise can cause a reduction in anxiety and depression. E
xercise releases endorphins, which help naturally relieve stress and boost mood. All of these factors can help relieve symptoms that are depressing your libido.
Successfully controlling fibromyalgia pain and treating many of its other symptoms (such as depression) often requires medication.
These can be a double-edged sword, as pain medications and antidepressants can decrease your libido even as they’re helping your other symptoms.
Talk with your doctor about all the different treatments available and their potential side effects (and certainly talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any new medications or supplements).
Compassion and Communication
This seems simple, but it’s something that might get lost in the swirl of doctor’s appointments, treatments, down days and simply trying to live a normal life.
It’s of huge importance that people with fibromyalgia (and any chronic disease—especially “invisible” ones) be compassionate with themselves.
Imagine what you would say and do if one of your good friends or family members was suffering with this condition: Would you berate them and tell them that they’re not doing something good enough or fast enough?
Would you tell them that they’re a bad parent, bad spouse or that they should simply be able to “suck it up” and get on with life?
Shouldn’t you treat yourself just as well as you would treat someone else with this disease? Self-compassion and communication are hugely important in dealing with fibromyalgia.
The second aspect of compassion and communication that is important with fibromyalgia—and specifically issues around low libido—is keeping your partner in the loop.
Talk openly and honestly with them about how you feel, what you need and what you miss about intimacy with them.
Let them talk as well, and really listen. Make time to be alone and intimate, even if your schedules are busy.
Keep in mind that intimacy may mean simply cuddling, holding hands, taking a hot bath together or having a romantic dinner together.
Fibromyalgia and its symptoms are an individual thing, and with time and patience, you will decide what is comfortable for you as a couple.