Migraines and sex…
Since I’m a sex educator and a chronic migraineur, you can imagine I think about those two things quite a lot. Even though the experience of the former is distinctly more pleasant than the latter, developing the tools to successfully manage my migraines has offered a number of surprising ideas for how to build a dreamy sex life.
Here are four of the big things migraine management has taught me about good sex.
1. Checking in with the earliest signs of physical changes can help you tune in to your (and your partner’s) body.
Migraineurs are advised to pay close attention to their early warning signs of a migraine attack. These signs include sensitivities to sensory input, changes in your vision, nausea, etc. The sooner you can identify a migraine, the sooner you can take the medication (which doesn’t work as well if an attack is well underway).
Migraineurs understand that paying attention to their bodies’ subtleties isn’t indulgent; it’s key to managing their condition and staying as pain-free (and happy + productive) as possible.
So how does this relate to sex?
I was recently chatting with a therapist friend of mine who works with women struggling with low sexual desire. She shared with me that many of her clients never learned to pay attention to the small tremblings of their body’s early arousal indicators. We talked about how those little signals, like tingling in the genitals or flushing on the chest, can so easily get buried under the weight of our busy minds.
Learning to tune in to our bodies is a practice in mindfulness. When we actively notice what sensations and feelings come up for us, we become more present and can allow ourselves to experience pleasure more fully.
2. Broadening the definition of “sex” and dismantling sexual hierarchies is key to long-term fulfillment.
Unsurprisingly, having migraines does not make it especially easy to have lots of sex.
There is a lucky percentage of the migraine-having population that finds sex helps get rid of an attack, but sadly I am not among them. I just have to modify my routine so sex isn’t triggering of future migraines.
During a migraine, loud noises and physical exertion may serve to worsen the pain. I often get migraines that make sex the furthest thing from my mind, but many of my more average ones are intimacy-amenable as long as my medication has worked. I may just feel a bit tender.
What I’ve learned is that I need to listen to what my body is requesting and realize that even if loud, aerobic lovemaking sounds sexy, gentle, quieter sex can also be hot.
One type of sex isn’t inherently better than another. False hierarchies that place one type of sex above another are decidedly not my jam. Sexual expression comes in many different forms, all of which are valid as long as the consent and enjoyment of all parties is prioritized.
For example, I meet many people in my work that place penis-in-vagina sex on a pedestal above all other types of sex. There are a number of reasons why a body might prefer, say, manual stimulation to experience sexual pleasure. If we create a false hierarchy in our minds, manual pleasure is seen – unnecessarily – as the poor cousin.
There are many, many ways to experience pleasure and connection. We do our partners and ourselves a disservice if we do not embrace the tremendous variety of ways we can intimately connect.
What is my jam? Being curious, playful, and present. That is what makes for awesome sex.
3. Sustained habit-building is what creates meaningful change.
Making one’s life migraine-friendly, that is, making it as trigger-free as possible, involves a lot of slow habit-building. There are very few quick fixes that actually work. Even many of the medications aren’t quick fixes. The preventative medications and treatments can take weeks or months to become effective.
From micro diet changes like drinking enough water, to macro changes like moderating your job stress, managing migraine triggers involves slow and incremental change over time. Eventually, those changes become habits and migraineurs get fewer attacks.
Again, how does this relate to sex?
Despite what some magazine headlines would have you believe, a great sex life is not built off lists of “killer moves to drive her wild.” I’d argue that good sex, especially in long-term relationships, is about sustained habit-building over time.
Of course, good sex also requires variety and novelty. But certain habits like doing Kegels, scheduling regular sex dates with our partners, and practicing empathetic listening require long-term devotion.
Habit-building is often a little uncomfortable. New behaviors can take some getting used to. But that’s one of the reasons we build relationships that support us – to cushion that discomfort so that when we are making challenging choices, we can do so in a supported manner.
4. Good communication gets you more of what you want and need.
I often lament that we humans can’t Vulcan mind meld like as they can in the Star Trek universe. In lieu of possessing that skill, good communication goes a long way in creating harmony and joy in your life.
Linguistic precision is gold. Having the clarity and vocabulary to articulate exactly what you intend to communicate is one of the more satisfying things in life. You can double that satisfaction if that communicative transparency is happening with someone you care about.
As a migraineur, I need my good communication skills on a constant basis. It’s my single most important tool in getting the care I need. Explaining my migraine brain to loved ones and colleagues takes some exactness.
The topics range from the more basic, “Please don’t wear perfume to my party – it triggers my migraines,” to the more complex, “These are the feelings I’m having about needing so much help this week.”
Having strong communication skills and the language to describe what you want and need sexually is invaluable. It’s an erotic gold mine. Needless to say, it’s something worth investing in and the dividends are never-ending.
I’m particularly grateful for the trainings I’ve done in non-violent communication (NVC) and Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map. Both have been invaluable companions in helping me articulate my experiences of migraines, sex, and life in general. I recommend these resources wholeheartedly and they feature heavily in my work as an educator.
Having a chronic pain condition is messy. Sex and relationships can be messy too. The only way we can really manage these things with any sort of ease is with a good set of communication skills in our linguistic toolbox.
Rarely do we get any sort of formal education in how to emotionally communicate well, so it’s up to us as adults to seek out that education so we can live our lives more connected, supported, and joyful.