As You Desire: Sex & Intimacy During Times of Stress or Illness

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When life is going along just great and everyone is feeling good and healthy, sex is an extra bonus we get to enjoy. Even if we’re a little tired we might still find the energy to arouse our partner (and ourselves) to enjoy some lovin’.

What happens when “life gets in the way”…when it creates an obstacle that sucks away all our life energy leaving nothing for a sexual escapade? There are many life events or phases that create a shift in our personal energies. The addition of a child, the illness or death of a significant other or aging parents needing our undivided attention. How do we maintain intimacy during these times and is it that important?

How do we cope? How does it affect the relationship? Do we feel comfortable talking about it?

As I have addressed in many of my columns, intimacy and sexuality have equal value in a loving relationship. Sex resulting in orgasm can increase hormone levels such as testosterone, giving us more energy and life fire. Intimacy increases oxytocin, which make us feel bonded. When we are using all our life fire to heal a major illness or cope with a life-altering stress, for most people, the idea of being sexual is the last thing on their minds. Or is it?

During most stressful periods of a relationship the one thing that breaks down first is communication. Each partner makes assumptions about how the other is feeling or what they need; both are often misguided. The one who is ill may not feel attractive, although still desires the touch and closeness; while their partner is worried about over doing it and harming them in some way, so they avoid out of fear. Both can end up feeling rejected and unsure.

The most important thing a couple can do during these times is to create a safe, quiet personal space where these concerns and fears can be discussed openly and honestly. You might discover you both still need the same frequency of loving attention but what is required is a new approach. Ask specifically what each other needs. Speak honestly about the type of touch or sexual play you desire and would feel safe. Let each know your vulnerabilities, specific needs and concerns to keep the door of sexuality and intimacy open.

We easily forget about all the other ways to enjoy being sexual and share intimacy other than just through penis-to-vagina penetration; especially if a lazy habit of hop on/hop off has been established.

When penetration is not mandatory, it invites opportunity for more creative play, touch, talk, fantasy, toys, visual pleasures, etc. What matters most is that you still feel connected, even if that means taking time for cuddling and kissing without any further expectations. Many women feel that if they allow this and their partner becomes aroused he will feel frustrated or expect more. So they shy away from any form of intimacy to avoid the conflict. This is where men need to communicate their reassurances that just because he may become aroused, it does not always have result in penetration (although they usually won’t mind if it does). (FYI: The body may respond even when the mind and heart have a different agenda.)

Don’t be afraid to touch, massage, kiss, cuddle and love on your partner when they are stressed or ill unless they ask you not to. The loving touch from your life mate can expedite your healing process and keep you feeling connected. Remember, Love does Heal.

Intimately Yours,

Nancy Sutton Pierce RN, Health Educator is the Founding director of Nancy Sutton’s House of Yoga and Radio Talk Show Host on The Conscious Living Show LIVE every Saturday 11a-12noon on KCNR 1460am You can reach Nancy at with your comment or questions.

As You Desire is proudly sponsored by Body Logic MD; helping both men and women restore their libido and vitality through hormone therapy, fitness and nutrition counseling.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of

Dr. Nancy Sutton Pierce
Dr. Nancy Sutton Pierce’s eclectic background places her expertise in a league of its own. The compilation of her career as an RN, health educator, intimacy author, radio talk show host, and yoga therapist all fuel her passion as an International speaker and clinical sexologist. Earning her Doctorate degree in human sexuality has broadened her reach around the globe teaching Conscious Living Sexuality™. When not traveling the globe inspiring others, Dr. Nancy enjoys her home life with the love of her life for more than 30 years. They’ve raised three children and now bask in what she refers to as “the dessert of parenting” -- being grandparents. Website. Contact Dr. Nancy
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7 Responses

  1. Avatar rmv says:

    So "TRUE LOVE" and "SEX" might be related?

    Thank you Nancy, from two who have been married 49+ plus years! 🙂

    We NOW have the answer to another 49+ years??? 🙂 🙂

    If only "others" would read, listen, and learn. (aka: easy to walk)

    GOD BLESS AMERICA, (and her children) !! 🙂

    p.s. we learned this LONG ago!

    • Dearest RMV,

      Perhaps the fact you learned this long ago is one of the reasons you are still married after 49+ years? Maybe you should be writing these; no doubt we could all learn a lot from those who have walked the talk and are still standing!

      Thank you for your kind words and for reading. I appreciate your letter!

      Stay sexy and curious!


  2. Avatar RA says:

    Dear Nancy,

    I have found for myself that I still desire intimacy even when sick, hurt, or stressed. It provides a relief from some of the symptoms and assures me that even though I am sick or hurt my husband still loves me. He and I discuss during these times. He does not want to hurt me and I often fear that he will not want to be intimate when I am sick. Of course there have been times when while I needed to be intimate, I felt very icky and was not up to initiating intimacy. Through some tearful talks we have worked things out so we both understand.

    Of course there are times when one is so sick that neither person in interested in intimacy! lol But for the most part I feel intimacy aids in healing.

    • Dear RA,

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us. How wonderful that you and your husband have taken the time and made the efforts to work through this and find a way to stay connected, even during the

      "low times". A lot can be learned from your testimony.

      Blessings to you and your man,


  3. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    Wonderful article Nancy. I don't think we even have a glimpse yet at how important touch is to human beings and other mammals. Some family cultures that do not encourage touching and hugging. There are people who avoid human contact. I knew one 84 year old curmudeon really cared for me when I could hug him or touch his arm when we were talking. You gave me a lot to think about.

    • Thank you Joanne,

      It always comes down to communication; finding ways to express ourselves in ways that others can understand. And yes, touch is a most powerful tool we can use to heal ourselves and each other.

      Your notes always warm my heart,

      With respect,


  4. Avatar gamerjohn says:

    Unlike the typical male archetype, I could never separate the acts from the feelings for the partner. I cared deeply for each and every girl I ever kissed. Once I got married the connection was carried to the next level. Later as I aged and began having ED issues as part of my diabetes, I mourned my loss and it effected our relationship. I regreted the missed opportunities when I didn't have sex since I couldn't do what I used to do. The drugs are not a real substitute and not enjoyable.

    Still we do what we can and relish the closeness.