Intimacy - Life after Burns and Wounds
Intimacy means being emotionally and physically connected to another person. It can mean having sex, but that is not the only way to be intimate. It is also about being comfortable with another person and trusting them with your thoughts and feelings. Intimacy can be the closeness and trust you feel with a friend or family member. It is an important part of being human.
When you are first admitted to the hospital, you and your family are focusing on keeping you alive and on your physical healing.
After you start to heal, you may start thinking about:
- “How normal can life be?”
- “How will I handle relationships with others?”
- “How will others see me?”
Your feelings about your body may change after you have burns. It may challenge how you view yourself. How you feel about yourself and your body can affect how you feel about connecting with others.
Intimacy is something patients and health care workers sometimes do not talk about. This handout will help you and your partner talk about your expectations and feelings about your connection with each other, both physically and emotionally.
What is normal sex life?
A normal sex life is one you and your partner decide is fulfilling and gives you both pleasure. It can be gentle and healing. It can be holding a hand, a caress, or gentle and loving words. Slow down. Take small steps. Have fun with each other. Use some humor. Give yourself time. If at first you do not succeed, try, try again.
Tips to stay sexually healthy
- Learn as many facts as you can about sex after burns. Skin grafts may take 8 to 12 weeks to heal. Having sex after that time is fine. After sex, check your skin grafts for signs of pain and soreness.
- Keep an open mind about ways to feel sexual joy. A gentle massage or cuddling are ways you can enjoy physical touch.
- Your normal routine has been disrupted. Be willing to think about new ways to connect with each other.
- Do not use perfumed and scented body oils. Use soft lighting, mineral oil as lotion, and soft or satin bedding and clothing to create a loving setting.
- Talking with your partner is a needed part of your lovemaking. Do not expect your partner to read your mind. You may have a certain way or spot you like to be touched. Share what feels good to you. The worst enemy of sexual health is silence.
Effects of burns on sex and solutions that can help
Loss of skin sensitivity
Skin is our most basic sexual organ. When skin is disrupted, it can change how we feel about giving and being touched. You and your partner need to know what feels good for each person.
Start by slowly exploring each other’s bodies with touch. This will help you learn what causes pain or gives joy. The goal is to learn what feels good to each of you.
Lower energy level
You may experience a lower energy level as you heal. This can get in the way of intimacy. If you are low on energy, you might not feel like being emotionally or physically close.
Choose a time during your day when your energy level is best and your pain is less. Planning ahead lets you save energy for your time as a couple.
Pain and decreased movement
Decreased movement and pain can change what is pleasing for you sexually.
If you feel pain or have less movement during sex, try:
- Taking pain pills about 1/2 hour to one hour before having sex
- Stretching before or as a part of lovemaking
- Trying new sexual positions. It is okay to say “let’s try it this way.” Be creative and find a position that is pleasing to both of you.
Redefining yourself and your relationships
Changes in your feelings about your body test your view of yourself. You may be grieving the loss of the way your body used to be. As you grieve what used to be, you can also start to accept who you are now. Focus on healing. This will help you save your limited energy, prioritize your concerns, and give you the chance to tackle the often-hard task of accepting yourself.
This journey may cause tension in your relationships. Your partner may feel hurt if you are reluctant to be close. Your friends and family members might also notice that you are behaving differently toward them. It is helpful to let them know that healing takes time.
Your struggle to feel at home in your body might mean you feel differently about activities you used to enjoy. It is helpful to let friends and family know that you have a new body and new life, and it may take time to figure out what that means for you.
Tips to help you feel better about yourself
- Do not use your past level of success to gauge what is okay today. This is like comparing apples and oranges.
- Set up a goal for the day. It does not have to be big. Start with small goals. Celebrate successes as you meet them.
- Think about things you enjoyed doing with your partner, family, and friends in the past, such as going for a walk, cooking a meal, or watching a movie. These are all ways to connect with someone.
- Know that healing and change take time. Just like other things in your life, you have to work at it.
It can be hard to feel loving when you question your identity and purpose. For your partner, it can be hard to feel loving while spending much of your day as a caregiver.
Keep in mind that any problems or struggles you and your partner had before the burn injury may return in this time of stress. Counseling may be helpful.
If this sounds like your life, know that these concerns are normal. It takes patience, understanding, and lots of work by everyone—burn survivors and loved ones—to adjust to these life-changing events.
Be kind to yourself and to each other. Take one day at a time.
Resources for burn victims
The Phoenix Society of Burn Survivors: https://www.phoenix-society.org/
National Burn Victim Foundation: http://www.burnfoundation.org/
Your local mental health center
Your local burn treatment center
If you have any questions, contact:
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
Burn Treatment Center (Elevator H, Level 8)
200 Hawkins Drive Iowa City, IA 52242