Living With Polio

Divorced and Ready to Date But….

Post-Polio Health, Volume 29, Number 1, Winter 2013

Dr. Stephanie T. Machell is a psychologist in independent practice in the Greater Boston area and consultant to the International Rehabilitation Center for Polio, Spaulding-Framingham Outpatient Center, Framingham, Massachusetts. Her father is a polio survivor.

Question: I am a 49-year-old female with PPS. I am divorced and finally feel ready to date again. I find that some potential partners want to be intimate first before developing an emotional bond. This causes me a lot of anxiety.

I haven’t had sex since being diagnosed with PPS and feel anxious about how to bring this issue up. I am not as spontaneous physically as I used to be and also have back and hip pain now. If I do choose to be intimate, how can I talk about my fears with a partner make sure it is the kind of experience I want it to be?

Response from Stephanie T. Machell, PsyD:
However you raise the issues, the most important thing to remember is that when and whether to be intimate is as much your choice as it is your potential partner’s. Doing something that goes against your own values and beliefs won’t lead to good sex or to a good relationship.

Once you’ve made the decision to be intimate, being able to talk openly and honestly about sex with potential partners is part of the brave new world of dating. Discussing issues of disease, contraception, preferences and physical limitations ideally should happen before any sexual encounter.

Notice I said “ideally.” Given the expectations most of us have that sex – especially sex with someone we don’t know well – should be something that happens spontaneously, talking about the practicalities involved can feel wrong.

But this discussion will make sex better for both of you. Remember that if your partner is around your age or older, his physical condition and ability to perform may not be what they once were either. Bad backs and knees are common. Older men may have difficulty with erections and need more time to become aroused. It may be easier for them to perform in the morning than later in the day.

In other words, even if your potential partner seems eager for sex, you can’t assume you will be the only one who might have difficulties. But because of the expectation that men should always be ready for sex, he might find it even harder to discuss it – and might appreciate it if you did.

How are your dates letting you know they want intimacy? If they are asking how you feel about it, then the topic is out there. If you are interested in that person, you could simply let him know that you are and go from there. If you are comfortable with it, humor can make awkward moments easier. For example, you could say something about having told your children that if they were mature enough for sex, they had to be able to talk to their prospective partner about it first and that having never been a hypocrite, you have to do the same. Then you could raise your concerns and ask about his.

Or you could just be straightforward and tell him you would be happy to be intimate with him but that you have problems with back and hip pain and therefore there may be certain positions or activities that wouldn’t work for you. You could let him know you need to plan ahead so that you won’t be too fatigued to enjoy the experience. And if you are so inclined, you could suggest that exploring ways to make the experience the best it can be might be a lovely way to get to know each other better.

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Mental Health