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Inflammatory arthritis has significant impact on sex life, study finds

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People living with inflammatory arthritis are more likely to experience higher levels of sexual dysfunction in their intimate relationships, new research led by Curtin University has found.

The research, published in Arthritis Care and Research, analysed 55 published research studies across Europe, America, Asia and Africa to better understand the impact of inflammatory arthritis on both men’s and women’s intimate relationships.

Senior-author Professor Andrew Briggs, from the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University, said arthritis already affected one in six people in Australia with predictions that will rise to 5.4 million people by 2030.

“Inflammatory arthritis conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause significant pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, as well as other symptoms like fatigue which make daily activities and work very challenging. Our recent review identified that they can also impact on sexual function and intimate relationships, potentially leading to dissatisfied partners, relationship issues and family breakdown,” Professor Briggs said.

“Our research found that people with inflammatory arthritis were more likely to experience pain and mobility restrictions during sexual intercourse, as well as psychological impacts such as reduced self-esteem, poor body image perception, and lowered mood, which in turn impacted sexual function.

“For men with inflammatory arthritis, erectile dysfunction was the most significant impact which led to additional frustration, shock, stress and a sense of emasculation. Negative body image, reduced desire for intercourse and erectile dysfunction all contributed to an altered sense of sexuality across both genders.”

Professor Briggs said the research suggested that partners who had a greater understanding of the disease were more likely to try to strengthen the relationship, while those with no understanding created additional fear and tension in the relationship.

“Further research is needed to determine whether factors such as age, disease duration, and other health-related issues could be linked to reduced sexual function in both men and women living with inflammatory arthritis,” Professor Briggs said.

“The findings may also be of interest to healthcare professionals who are likely to work with patients dealing with inflammatory arthritis. Given the sensitive nature of the topic, it might be useful to ensure topics such as sexual health and relationships are components of the management of inflammatory arthritis.”

The research was also co-authored by research students from the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University, Monash University, The University of Melbourne, and the Alfred Medical Research and Education Precinct.

The research paper is titled, ‘A systematic review of the impact of inflammatory arthritis on intimate relationships and sexual function.’

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