Following a diagnosis of liver disease, many people place sexual relations on the bottom of their priority list. Learn the pros and cons of sexual activity for those with liver concerns.
This discussion of sexual activity is intended for adults only, either solo or with a partner in a safe, supportive context.
Whether guided by valid concerns, unsubstantiated fears, or lack of energy, sexual activity typically slows when a person is burdened with a chronic disease. Because sexual health is a crucial ingredient to the quality of life for most adults, evaluating the pros and cons for its presence or absence can help you get the most out of living with liver disease.
Any chronic illness may be associated with sexual dysfunction. This is particularly true for liver disease, since it is so often associated with fatigue and depression, each of which can contribute to a decreased interest in sex. In addition, medications used in the treatment of liver disease may cause sexual dysfunction and decreased libido. Other medical conditions unrelated to liver disease may also cause or worsen sexual dysfunction. Openly discussing any sexual problems with your physician can reveal whether a medical condition other than liver disease is contributing to your particular issue. Once any obstacles to enjoying sexual activity are removed, you can choose to incorporate this pleasure back into your life.
Many people find thinking of themselves as sexual beings, regardless of whether or not they participate in sexual activity, helps them develop a greater ability to enjoy their existence. The feelings we have when we are sexually aware are sufficient to alleviate a variety of physical and emotional ailments. Being or feeling sexual can enhance self-esteem, help ward off depression and perpetuate a more positive outlook on life. Sexuality can even enhance healing by creating an environment for a better functioning immune system.
Sexual relations has many advantages when living with chronic disease. Researchers and physicians agree what some of us already knew – sex and orgasms are good for the body, mind and soul. Medical authorities are now confirming that sex and orgasm have positive effects on our physiological and emotional health. A person living with the array of challenges presented by chronic liver disease could most certainly benefit from these positive effects.
Some of the premiere advantages of sexual activity include:
1. Tension release – The relaxation that typically follows orgasm may be one of the few times people actually allow themselves to completely relax and let go of stress. In addition to taking your mind off of your liver enzyme levels, this relaxation allows your liver an increased chance to regenerate healthy cells. This deep relaxation also fosters sound sleep, a challenge for those with liver disease.
2. Boosts immunity – Right before orgasm, the level of the hormone DHEA spikes radically. Shown by scientific studies to improve brain function, balance the immune system, promote bone growth, maintain and repair tissues and keep skin healthy, naturally enhancing DHEA levels has a beneficial impact on chronic disease. Additionally, psychologists at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania found those who have sex once or twice a week had 30 percent higher levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that boosts the immune system. The stronger a person’s immune system is, the better chance they have of staving off the advancement of liver disease.
3. Exercise – A form of exercise in disguise, sexual activity can burn approximately 150 calories per half hour. During arousal, the pulse rate rises from about 70 beats per minute to 150, the same as that of an athlete putting forth maximum effort. The activity from sex delivers a fresh blood supply to your cells, organs and muscles, saturating your body with fresh oxygen and hormones. This increase in circulation helps flush toxins from the liver, helping this organ achieve optimal health.
A few cautions for sexual activity with liver disease must also be considered:
1. Contagious liver disease – People often assume that most forms of hepatitis are easily transmitted through sexual contact. However, only Hepatitis B has a high rate of sexual transmission. The incidence of sexual transmission of Hepatitis C is very low, rarely occurring outside of monogamous relationships, and in most cases, likely stem from a mingling of blood during sexual contact. If you have viral hepatitis, appropriate safety measures should be used to protect your sexual partner. Additionally, anyone with liver disease other than Hepatitis B should complete the Hepatitis B vaccination series to eliminate any chance of adding an additional burden to the liver.
2. Hypertension – Having a form of hypertension, whether it is portal hypertension or heart disease, carries a fear of sex increasing blood pressure to dangerously high levels. Since this is a valid concern, discuss what your personal limits are with your physician. In general, unless sex occurs with a new partner in unusual or unfamiliar surroundings, or involves a high level of physical activity, it should be tolerated as well as any other kind of moderate physical activity.
3. Drains energy – If you are anything like a majority of liver disease sufferers, fatigue is a common occurrence. Excessive amounts of sexual activity can further drain your precious energy reserves. While defining what is excessive will vary for each person, anyone with chronic disease is encouraged to be aware of how they are feeling and to refrain from pushing beyond their limits. A preferred strategy for balancing sexual activity and fatigue is to plan intimate time when feeling most rested.
Engaging in sexual activity in your mind, by yourself or with a partner can fuel your success in managing liver disease. The pleasure derived from sex obviously provides many healthy rewards ranging from physical to emotional benefits. When giving adequate attention to safety, discussing any limits with your physician and proceeding judiciously, you can enjoy a satisfying sex life. Weighing the pros and cons of sexual activity with liver disease can help you achieve the pleasure unique to this most basic of human instincts.
www.hepcchallenge.org, Promoting Liver Health, Lorren Sandt, Hepatitis C Caring Ambassadors Program, 2007.
www.liverdisease.com, Sex and Liver Disease, Melissa Palmer, MD, 2007.
www.sexualhealth.com, Cardiovascular Disease: Sexual Problems and Their Management, Annette Owens, The Sexual Health Network, Inc., 2007.
www.sexualhealth.com, Orgasms: Good for Body, Mind and Soul, Dr. Kathleen Van Kirk, The Sexual Health Network, Inc., 2007.