How To Feel Sexy When You Are In Pain?


When our beloved Christine suggested an article on this topic, I have to admit my first gut reaction was “Why should I HAVE to pretend to feel sexy when I’m in pain?” It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I got all defensive immediately and got that emotional guard wall up and thought of lots of self-righteous reasons why I should not be expected to feel sexy… ever… when I am hurting. My knee-jerk reaction assumed instantly that to be sexy while you are in pain would require pretending… Then, I realized that she did not use the word, “pretend,” in her suggestion!

I have to tell you, it feels quite odd to write about sex… or being sexy… but hey, what are the chances my husband will ever actually read my article, right? This topic HAS been a frequent source of frequent marital uproar having been a) married for 29-1/2 years and b) a pain patient for 13 of those!!!
In thinking about it, this all goes more to our core identity and how being in pain constantly can affect it. I have compared being in chronic pain to putting on layer upon layer of gloves, each with progressively longer rose thorns stuck on them toward the inside… more pain equals deeper thorns, more conditions acting up at one time equals more layers of “gloves” and less sensation in your hands to feel what you are doing with them. (Oh, and the drugs required to deal with all that interfere with the sensations too!)
Now, if you have a weird mix like I do – fibromyalgia with failed back surgery pain and nerve damage, a bum knee, a leg that’s had a blood clot and vascular damage, another leg that has developed diabetic neuropathy… just imagine that the sharp thorny “gloves” cover most of your body! Whatever is acting up on a given day will determine how many layers of them I have to wear.
Now imagine that I am having a typical 5-pair day. Dear Husband comes home from a hard day at work and gives me “that look.” How will I respond? Truthfully, and usually, by giving him MY version of “that look” – which says clearly, “don’t even go there.”
Have you ever had a bad headache and gone to a really great movie, or become engrossed in an exciting novel, or had a visit from a good friend – and later noticed your head did not hurt the whole time you were involved in the other activity? Thinking about it, really great romantic activity can do the same thing! And hey, it’s supposed to have all sorts of mental and physical benefits!
Now, it might be uncomfortable as heck getting there – I might have to yelp a bit just to lie down on a normal mattress! (My days of intriguing alternative locations are LONG over!) But if I am really committed to the idea, once I am there I might actually enjoy myself… in spite of myself! And, inevitably, later on I feel validated somehow… as though the “real me” buried under all the gloves has made a cameo appearance!
Don’t you ever feel like that? Like the “real you” is buried somewhere under all the layers of sickness, medications and pain? Heck, maybe even a “sexy” you? Doesn’t she ever want to just come OUT?
Oh, and it goes even deeper… to my appearance! I spent 15 years of my life doing personal image consulting (mostly for plus size ladies) part time, while I worked full time. I always told them, “I may be a big girl but by gosh I can look GREAT no matter what my size!” I even wrote a little book about that topic and I believed it with every fiber of my being. Gradually, over the years of becoming totally disabled, I struggled to keep up my self esteem via my appearance, but it became easier and easier to throw on the most comfy thing possible on bad pain days. Last winter I had plantar fasciitis in my right foot and had to wear a bandage around my foot. The only shoe that would fit over it was a special house-shoe I bought that I could wear indoors or out. I wore those damn house-shoes everywhere for months. It was a drain on my self esteem for sure. They were a long way from Nine West.
I did make one rule for myself when I first became disabled and started staying home. Regardless of how I felt, I had to wash my face, brush my teeth, comb my hair, get dressed all the way to shoes, and put on lipstick every single day. That rule got stretched 50 ways to Sunday… some days it might be 4 pm before I accomplished it! But it was a goal, and it kept me honest. I still follow it ten years later. I’ll be honest, some days that is ALL I accomplish!
Sometimes I still feel the urge to “get all pretty.” I will dress up in some nice looking outfit, put on my serious makeup, and fix my hair special. Then when Dear Husband comes home he will look askance at me as if to say “What the heck are you doing!” or as though some alien has landed in his house! But sometimes I just so desperately want to be the “real me” I was before I got sick.. and appearance is how I usually express it. Then, sadly and inevitably, I’ll be feeling “all dressed up with no place to go.” Another missed opportunity.
So how can you feel sexy while you are in pain? The same way I will – first, I will make up my mind that I am GOING to! Second, I will do my “get all pretty” routine AND give Dear Husband a clue of what’s going on. Then, I will remind myself that: 1) It is worth it to benefit my feeling of self worth; 2) It will make the mood around the house a lot lighter; and 3) It will probably be fun once I get there! I will then lay out the playing rules to myself: 1) I won’t do anything that will actually hurt me or make any condition worse, because that is NOT worth it; 2) I will use any means necessary to ensure I am as comfortable as possible; and 3) I will make sure I am adequately medicated beforehand – it’s no time to skimp on the pain pill dosage! I will also remember that all this extra activity requires “spoons” and will make sure to keep the rest of my day on the undemanding side.
Good luck on having a very romantic Valentine’s Day despite being in pain! I’d love to let you know how mine goes… but I can’t kiss and tell ; )
Written by: Sheila Talley © 2008,

  • Great article! I don’t have anyone to get sexy for right now, but I’ve bookmarked this page!

  • nicole

    great article!!
    how do you inform your husband what is going on? i’ve done the “all dressed up with nowhere to go” many times & gotten that same blank look….

  • Valerie Wojak Kiesel, M.C.

    Sheila, loved your post. Before I got fibro I, too, was working with women with body image issues. In fact, that’s what I got my counseling degree for (luckily, it’s come in handy for my support group work with FMS/CFS people).
    Valerie Wojak Kiesel, M.C.
    Facilitator, Fibro Folks of Seattle

  • Hafren

    I, also,would like to tell you that this newsletter does more for me than all the jokes and other e-mails I get.Diagnosed with lupus,Raynaud’s,and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity it is good for me to know that I am not alone.I,too,make an effort to dress well, apply make-up each day,no matter whether it is a ‘walking’ day or not.And I do it *for me*,not for anyone else. We are having a dreadful winter this year,but I still layer my clothes ,and at least play with the dog outside for 10 minutes or so when I can.
    I am,soon, going to have an Atlas vertebrae adjustment to see if it will lower my blood pressure.But in spite of everything I still smile,and enjoy ‘sex’ too.It does lighten one’s burden of life’s peculiarities.At least it is not one of those ‘remember when’ episodes which I know many of us go through with our illnesses.May you and all other persons reading these daily posts Be Blessed.

  • Patrice Howe

    Interesting story—but how do you feel “yourself” when your husband complains that it is not natural for all the foreplay to be so hurtful??? I really don’t know how and maybe really am tired of explaining this after almost 35 years of marriage—I was Dx’d in 1984—after 11 years of marriage—-any offers of help??? THANX

  • Katie

    This is a great article!
    Not often are people brave enough to step past that emotional guard wall to honestly and openly look inside. That you can do this AND share it with the world makes you one amazing and special person!
    Thank-you for sharing this!!!

  • Stacie Rall

    I read your posts every day and have never left a comment. I just felt it was time for me to express my gratitude to you, and tell you how much of a difference your stories make in my daily life! I just read the “how to feel sexy” e-mail, and it was great!I am a 38 year old divorced mom of one 12 year old son, and have had weird things going on w/my health the last 3 years. It’s finally been narrowed down to Hashimoto’s throiditis, fibro and P.C.O.S…..all this after being misdiagnosed by a bad rheumy w/Lupus & APS…talk about scary!I haven’t felt well for a long time, still work full time, and was recently “spoken to” about all of my Dr. appt’s. (It’s not like I was leaving work to go to happy hour!!) 🙁
    On days like that when I am feeling like no one gets me…your e-mails always save me. So, THANK YOU. I am so sorry Christine is having a hard time right now. I will always send good thoughts and prayers to the both of you.
    Take Care~Stacie

  • Anna

    This was a very good article and made some excellent points. When we are in pain and fatigue is overwhelming, often the last thing we want is sex. But, it’s true, sometimes it’s worth the effort to make it happen, because it does lighten the mood in the house, and it does wonders for our self esteem and the relationship. My partner and I try to make a “date” so that we know what we have to do to prepare. Like saving spoons. And it’s always worth it!

  • Noelle

    What an awesome post!
    After being diagnosed with RSD at 22, I thought my dating life was over. I met my fiance 4 months after my diagnosis. Thats when I too made that promise to myself….that everyday I would shower, shave my legs, brush my teeth , and throw on a little mascara and gloss. Most of the time just to sit in the house, but it really makes me feel good! No matter what, I have at least accomplished that!
    My fiance thinks the effort aone is sexy! Hey a little romance can go a long way for your mood and pain levels!