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Interstitial Cystitis and sex: tips for exploring intimacy 

Living with Interstitial Cystitis (IC) brings a myriad of challenges, especially regarding intimacy and sex.

The Interstitial Cystitis Association found that 90% of people with IC say their condition affects their sex life.  

The chronic pain and discomfort associated with IC may lead to frustration, anxiety, and strained relationships. Interstitial Cystitis and sex can work together with patience and understanding.  

In this blog, we’ll explore some tips for navigating sex and intimacy when living with IC. 

Why is Interstitial Cystitis and sex so difficult? 

People with IC often experience an array of symptoms, such as urinary urgency, urinary frequency, and pelvic pain. During sexual intercourse, the friction and pressure exerted on the pelvic region can aggravate these symptoms. As a result, there are many reasons why sex may not be enjoyable.  

If you have IC, you may experience:  

  • Sensitivity to pressure and friction  
  • Hormonal changes that may trigger a flare or increase sensitivity  
  • More frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs)  
  • Psychological barriers to intimacy, like anxiety and depression  

Sex and intimacy are important components of any relationship. But when you have IC, you might be worried about discussing these issues with your partner.  

Can sex cause an IC flare? 

Yes, sex could cause an IC flare in some patients for a variety of reasons. Sexual activity causes pelvic muscles to tighten and may trigger irritation in the bladder and pelvic area. Movement, vigorous or gentle, can also agitate the area, causing a flare. Additionally, IC has many associated conditions, like UTIs, that may set off a prolonged flare because of increased bacteria.  

Despite the frustration, people with IC can still form meaningful relationships by being patient and understanding. Let’s explore some ways you can be proactive and bring some ease back into your sex life.  

Tips for talking to your partner  

Whether you’re single or in a committed relationship, there shouldn’t be any barriers to intimacy and connection. These tips will help you take charge of your intimate relationships.  

Here are some suggestions to make dealing with IC and sex easier: 

  • Have open conversations: The more honest you can be, the better. Being transparent about your IC symptoms, triggers, and limitations is important. Express your feelings and concerns openly, and encourage your partner to do the same.  
  • Prioritize learning: You and your partner can learn all you can about IC, but also, each other. Discover what works for you and what doesn’t. Understand your triggers and things you can do to manage your symptoms.  
  • Use Lubrication: If friction is bothering you during sex, you can use lube to help alleviate the discomfort. Choose a water-based lubricant that is gentle on sensitive skin and free from irritating chemicals or additives. 
  • Consider Pelvic Floor Therapy: Pelvic floor therapy can help relax pelvic muscles. This may substantially soothe pain and discomfort during sex. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether pelvic floor therapy may be beneficial for you. 
  • Experiment with timing and positions: Some people with IC may find pleasure with a little creativity. Experiment with different sexual positions and timing to minimize discomfort. Listen to your body and communicate with your partner about what works best for you. 

Achieving an understanding and supportive form of intimacy  

Remember: there’s more than one way to be intimate. Physical pleasure is just scratching the surface. Cuddling, kissing, and massages all fulfill the need for touch. 

The emotional connection and proximity you experience with your partner, both inside and outside the bedroom, is valuable. Focus on that mutual care and support rather than penetrative intercourse.  

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