fbpx How to Have Sex With Dislocating Joints

How to Have Sex With Dislocating Joints

A bodily 'malfunction' does not always equal sexual dysfunction. You can make some adjustments.
Hannah Shewan Stevens
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Hannah Shewan Stevens

Just as the sex reaches fever pitch and the climax bubbles up—my right hip tries to slip out of its joint. It sends shooting pains down the leg and cuts off my orgasm before it can tip over a waterfall of pleasure.

My joints are dysfunctional. I have hips that delight in grinding to the edge of their sockets and screech with pain, elbows and wrists that love the thrill of almost dislocating, and overly flexible finger joints. All are the result of a condition called joint hypermobility syndrome.

In a relationship or a long-term hookup, joint slips are a semi-regular occurrence and become easier to remedy with time. But for shorter flings and this particular one-night stand, I've had to learn how to slowly protect my body from further harm and act fast enough not to kill the mood.

What conditions cause joints to dislocate?

For most people, joint dislocations and subluxations–a partial dislocation–are a rarity triggered by injury, but for people with a select group of chronic illnesses, they are a constant risk.

Two of the conditions that cause these symptoms are Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a connective tissue disorder with multiple types, and joint hypermobility syndrome (JHS), a diagnosis characterized by flexible joints and associated pain.

"EDS is a multisystemic connective tissue condition with no cure," explained Lara Bloom, who has EDS and is the president and CEO of the Ehlers-Danlos Society in the United Kingdom. "In the rarer types of EDS, there is also weakness of specific tissues that can lead, for example, to major gum and dental disease, eye disease, cardiac valve and aortic root disorders, and life-threatening abdominal organ, uterine or blood vessel rupture."

The most common type of EDS is hypermobile EDS, affecting approximately 1 in 100 to 200 people. There are 13 types of EDS, with most being very rare, but classic EDS is noted by stretchy skin, hypermobile joints and abnormal wound healing.

My hypermobile joints mean daily pain and constantly strengthening the muscles around my weakest joints to prevent subluxation. Although I have never had a full dislocation, the threat of it looms over every sharp joint pain or unplanned movement.

"I was a late diagnosis, so I lived my life assuming my chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues [and] subluxations were normal," said Jenna, 34, an EDS patient who lives in the United States and requested her full name not be used. "Last year, I was diagnosed with two torn labrum muscles, hip dysplasia, mild EDS and hypermobility disorder. Having that diagnosis made it feel like a weight was lifted off my chest; for years, I was told it was in my head."

Shrouded in mystery, these types of conditions are often sidelined in favor of easier to understand diagnoses. Their effect on sexuality is hard to assess without in-depth research or an overall broader investment in developing and understanding disabled sexuality.

Impact on the body and life

"When joints dislocate or go into subluxation, they can cause discomfort and pain that can distract someone from being able to focus on sexual pleasure," said Ness Cooper, a Norfolk, UK-based sexologist. "Some dislocations and subluxations need seeing to right away and this means stopping any sexual activity at play. Even when a dislocation or subluxation happens before sex, pain could reside in areas of the body afterward and this may make certain positions uncomfortable."

While many people dive into sexual escapades with wild physicality and zero planning, engaging sexually alongside a physical disability requires forethought and undermines natural sensuality with pain. The sexual requirements that regular joint subluxation dictate, such as changing positions, taking rest breaks or forgoing sex altogether on bad days, can shred a carefree approach to sex.

"It feels really isolating," Jenna said. "I feel that people don't understand what it's like to have a chronic condition. Sometimes you just want support from others and not advice. I'd say my confidence has definitely taken a hit."

The emotional toll of such a condition is significant, and finding a compatible sexual partner is difficult, because joint dislocations and associated symptoms can turn "complex" into "catastrophic."

"Sex has been really painful the past few years, so once I got my dysplasia and EDS diagnosis, I stopped dating," Jenna said. "I did go on a few dates, but when I explained my diagnosis and about dysplasia, it was not received well by the men I had met. They asked very personal questions like, 'Oh, so you can't have kids?' or 'Isn't that what dogs get?' or 'Isn't that the bendy disorder?' I decided at that point I needed to focus on myself."

Management and communication

To achieve a flourishing sex life that includes temperamental joints, learning to manage the condition is crucial. Hypermobility and EDS impact people's lives in vastly different ways, so take the time to fully understand the condition before stripping. Understand how your body works and what its limitations are and, most importantly, learn what feels good.

Jenna advocates for "open communication and a judgment-free zone" with partners.

"I tell them after I feel like they've earned the right to get close to me. Not everyone deserves to hear your story," she explained.

No one is entitled to your personal medical information, but conversely, do not remain silent to make someone else comfortable. Vulnerability is a significant part of building healthy and sustainable sexual relationships.

"Just be honest and explain your chronic medical condition thoroughly—how it could possibly affect or not affect the relationship down the road—so your prospective partner will generally have an expectation," said Chris Pleines, a UK-based matchmaking dating expert and author of "Online Dating for Dummies." "You don't have to be a health expert to understand the needs of your partner, sometimes just being there is enough. Being there during the happy moments is just as good as being there when they had to cancel plans due to painful attacks."

I prioritize telling partners about my joint hypermobility syndrome once I feel safe with them. I direct them to educational resources to protect my energy and ensure they can demonstrate a vested interest in my well-being. With all of its pressures and the never-ending obsession with perfect bodies, sex can feel like navigating a picturesque field littered with hidden traps. But there is always hope in the arms of a compassionate partner.

"Find a partner who is understanding, that you feel comfortable being vulnerable with," Jenna said. "Nothing is wrong with you. People with EDS are as deserving as anyone else. Dealing with chronic pain shows resilience, a quality that any partner would want."

A practical approach

If you struggle to engage in old favorite sex positions, such as doggy or cowgirl, using supportive tools is liberating. Pillows are your friends: Use them to cushion joints, support awkward positions and alleviate pressure on sensitive areas.

"It's difficult to recommend a particular set of positions that are suitable for those with hypermobility as every individual is affected differently," Cooper added. "Using position pillows can help individuals explore positions they may be prone to going into hyperextension in, as the pillows act as support and stop the body moving in certain ways."

Decentering penetrative sex can also be beneficial. Playing with a vibrator and engaging in sensual touch and oral sex do not require significant physical exertion and create a strong bond of intimacy between partners.

The nature of EDS and hypermobility means there is no way to provide a comprehensive guide that applies perfectly to every individual's sex life. However, with patience, communication and an exploration of supportive tools and positions, anyone with disruptive joints can enjoy the full spectrum of sex.

"I think it's important to remember how many different versions of sex there are and that disabled people enjoy sex, too," Bloom said. "The stigma to be able to have open and honest conversations should be removed by society and for people who are diagnosed to realize that a diagnosis does not mean the end of a good and healthy sex life."