Sex can be painful or uncomfortable for all manner of reasons. It might be you got the angle wrong. It might be you’ve recently given birth or had an infection. Or it might be as a result of a lifelong condition or disability.
“For those of us who are disabled, that pain might be more frequent and difficult to control,” Jennie Williams from Enhance The UK tells HuffPost UK. “But there is good news: sex is for everyone, and that’s most certainly a fact.”
A recent report from relationships charity Relate found disabled people and those living with long-term health conditions were more likely to be dissatisfied with their sex lives. This is particularly concerning when studies have linked low sexual satisfaction to lower psychological wellbeing.
To tackle the problem head on, experts have revealed their top tips and workarounds for boosting sexual satisfaction in the bedroom.
It might sound obvious but communication is key when it comes to sex - especially if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort.
“Communication is something many of us find the most difficult,” explains Williams.
“It sometimes seems simpler to grin and bear it, especially if a partner is new and exciting and perhaps not fully aware of the impairment. But please don’t do this - speak up and suggest other ways of pleasuring each other.”
Consent is also incredibly important and if you don’t quite feel comfortable doing something sexual with another person, then it’s crucial that you say so - don’t let them pressure you or feel like you have to.
Think Beyond Penetration
Any woman will tell you that penetrative sex isn’t the be-all and end-all - yet unfortunately society seems to put a lot of emphasis on it. Sex education in schools is all about penetration and avoiding pregnancy, not so much about pleasure. Meanwhile, it’s rare you see film scenes involving oral sex.
Gillian Leno is a specialist sex and relationships educator working with people with a wide range of disabilities. She says the focus on penetration (and then orgasm) puts a lot of pressure on everyone involved.
As such, her advice is to “look at focusing on intimacy and sensuality in the first instance and not the ‘end goal’ of achieving penetration or climax”.
If penetrative sex is difficult, experts advise getting a little more hands-on.
“You might not be able to get into the missionary position without hurting, but you might be great with your hands or mouth - remember to play to your strengths, whatever they may be,” says Williams.
Massage And Play
Never underestimate the importance of a good massage. If you’re looking for something a little more sensual than a neck or shoulder rub, an intergluteal massage might be the thing for you.
Alix Fox, sex expert at Superdrug, explains: “Ask your partner to lay comfortably on their front, then slick up the ‘peach seam’ where their buttocks meet with plenty of lube, before stroking and massaging their butt cheeks and the delicate, highly sensitive tissue between them, which is loaded with nerve endings.
“Experiment with varying angles, speeds, movements and pressure. There’s no need to penetrate the anal opening unless you both want to. In fact, I’d really love us all to move away from the limiting idea that sex has to involve inserting one thing into another in order to be good or to ‘count’.”
As well as massaging your partner, you might want to consider stroking their pubic hair, she adds.
“Lightly tugging, patting, stroking or even combing public hair can be a deeply sensual, relaxing and reverent exercise,” she suggests.
Stay Well Lubricated
Lubricant can be a very helpful sidekick to have lying around.
“If your partner is female and vaginal penetration is off the cards but she doesn’t experience vulval pain, try slowly cupping and ‘holding’ her whole pubic area with the entirety of your hand, then sliding your lubed first and second fingers up and down her inner and outer lips and gently squeezing her clitoris between them.
“Tapping motions, tracing tiny circles and ‘pulsing’ on the skin - pressing then releasing without lifting your finger away - can all feel amazing without you having to slide anything inside anywhere.”
She adds that if you’re looking to engage in oral sex, drinking mint tea beforehand can work wonders for improving sensation - plus it’s a great natural lubricant for your tongue.
“Sip a cuppa before you lick your lover. Mint tea works better than a builder’s brew, as it can give a very mild, refreshing, tingly feeling as well as heating up your mouth before you head south,” she says.
“It’s useful to help deal with a dry tongue too or to subtly sip to take the taste of ejaculate or natural vaginal fluids away if that’s something you don’t like so much.”
Try New Toys
If penetration is painful, yet you want to pleasure a male partner, sex toys may help.
Alix Fox recommends Tenga Eggs, which she describes as “an innovative alternative to penetration that offers incredible sensation”.
“They can help make giving hand jobs easier for those with weak wrists, as they mean you can move your palm more slowly yet still impart intense feelings,” she explains.
“Each egg looks like a soft silicone dome with a hole in the bottom. Pour a little lubricant into the hole, then slide it over the head of his penis. Grip your hand around the toy and stretch it up and down to stroke his shaft.”
‘Guybrators’ provide a helpful alternative for men who can’t get an erection due to erectile dysfunction or nerve damage.
“Check out Hot Octopuss,” Fox advises. “Some models can be used together by couples and they’ve just launched their first toy for folks with vaginas too: The Queen Bee.”
Other sex toys which might prove useful include The Humpus - a device that automatically masturbates either a man or a woman without the need for hands (“it straps around the waist, then a motorised dildo/penis stimulating ring moves in and out/up and down,” explains Fox) and the Tantus Rumble Vibrator, which has been specifically designed to be easier to hold for those with arthritis or mobility issues.
Use Mobility Aids
In addition to sex toys, mobility aids can provide enhanced pleasure and, a lot of the time, they’re already installed in your home.
“Mobility aids can often double up as sex aids,” explains Williams. “Sex in hoists, or while grabbing onto a bed rail, can add a new and less painful dimension to what goes on in the bedroom.
“Don’t forget the usual sex supporters either if you’re experiencing pain. Holding the body up with pillows or slipping and sliding with lube should never be underestimated in minimising discomfort.”
Fox recommends Silver Sex, a company which hand-makes supports, slings, ramps and other furniture to help people with extra physical needs comfortably achieve and hold the positions they desire.
Similarly, Liberator are “the kings of sex ramps and positioning aids”, which have options to fit toys into them - however these can prove costly.
“If the amount of dosh leaves you limp, remember that sofa cushions are often firmer than pillows - they can be useful in angling and supporting the body,” adds Fox.
Seek A Therapist
Physical discomfort during sex may be as a result of vaginismus, which can sometimes have psychological roots.
Vaginismus is the term used to describe persistent involuntary tightening of muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted - whether that’s with a tampon, finger, toy or penis.
“Sex becomes excruciating to the point of impossibility,” explains Fox. “The issue is still not thoroughly understood by the medical community, but we do know that it can result from mental trauma following a scary or upsetting sexual or genital-associated experience - such as assault, an accident, a difficult childbirth or a history of penetration being painful - or some other fear or anxiety.”
For women who experience this, Fox says it’s really important to speak to a specialist therapist.
She also recommends female-friendly erotic emporium Sh!, which has developed a set of special dilators - “vaginal probes that start off small and get gradually larger in size” - so women can gently train their bodies to get used to the sensation of penetration, if they so wish.
“After noticing that many of the devices given out by the NHS are made of blunt, hard plastic which can be unhelpfully unpleasant to use, they’ve crafted theirs from soft, sensual lilac silicone, with more tapered tips for easier insertion,” she adds.
“There’s also the option to pop a vibrating bullet in the base of each dilator to enhance arousal and muscle relaxation.”
Gillian Leno, who also provides advice on disability charity Scope’s sex forums, adds: “Advances in using botox to ease vaginal spasms have really helped some women.”
Remember... Comfort Is Key
While all of these recommendations are great, experts agree that it’s important to stick to what you’re most comfortable with when it comes to boudoir antics.
“We all have the tendency to want to be Superman or Wonder Woman when we get it on, but that’s not all that possible if we are pushing ourselves too hard and grimacing along the way,” says Williams.
“Plenty of confidence to stick to your guns when it comes to comfort will lead to much less painful, much more pleasurable sex.”
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