#97 – Sex and Chronic Illness – Dr. Lee Phillips

Chronic Illness and Sex 

My guest is here to talk about chronic illness and how it relates to sex. Originally, there wasn’t a lot of information or resources on the subject, so to fulfill this pressing need, Dr. Lee Phillips made it a point to devote his time towards researching and alleviating some of the sexuality stressors of chronic illness. 

Lee has worked for more than 12 years as a psychotherapist; he is a licensed social worker, an educator, a sex therapist, and a prolific researcher in the sexuality realm. He brings a lot of experience and wisdom to this episode. Check it out! 

Listen to “97: Sex and Chronic Illness – Dr. Lee Phillips” on Spreaker.

The Inspiration for his Book on Chronic Pain 

Lee says that he started a chronic pain management group through his work as a geriatric psychotherapist in Williamsburg, Virginia. This would lead to the inspiration for his subsequent work in understanding and mitigating the detrimental sexual effects of chronic illness.  

Shortly after, he was approached by a colleague and persuaded to get into sex therapy because of the impacts of chronic pain on sex and relationships. He knew he could do some good work in that facet of therapy.  He also says that he was inspired to take his own research further because there wasn’t a lot of information out there on the topic of chronic illness and pain, and how it relates to sexuality. 

 

The Various Emotions That Can Accompany Chronic Illness in a Relationship 

Lee says that some couples go through ‘crisis mode’ whenever a partner is diagnosed, but overall the emotions and dynamics vary from person to person. 

He says that it’s typically a dynamic consisting of one ‘ill’ partner and the other healthy. Occasionally relationships can “open up” as the ill partner doesn’t feel adequate enough to pleasure their partner. But even more frequently, the healthy partner teams up and doesn’t act adversarial towards the illness, but instead looks for a way to manage it together. 

And sometimes there’s actually relief after a diagnosis because it brings context to an otherwise mysterious ailment that hadn’t been understood. 

 

The Mental Aspects of Chronic Illness 

Lee says that the physical symptoms can be extreme for chronic illness, but they can also lead to severe mental health difficulties that should not be overlooked.  

A big part of his job is to try and alleviate the mental turmoil that can arise dealing with an illness. When considering getting back into as healthy a sex life as possible, he likes to take into account their sexual history and see what can be done about getting back to the same level of frequency and intimacy. This can be a good boost for overall mental health in a patient. 

 

Imago Dialogue for More Reconnection Between Partners 

He says he uses Imago dialogue therapy for his couples. One of the core principles of Imago is that we unconsciously pick partners based on the qualities of our caretakers through life. So, if there’s a lot of isolation, anger, fighting, or depression within a chronic illness relationship dynamic, he will use the Imago model as exercises to break through some of those issues. 

He says there’s a sender and also a receiver within this model. The basis of the practice is to have couples actively listen and repeat what is sent from the sender back to them. This builds the necessary rapport and reassures both partners that what they’re saying is being internalized and understood. 

 

The Importance of Seeing a Sex Therapist 

Lee encourages couples to see a sex therapist and make active strides for sexual reconnection. In addition, a sex therapist can help a couple figure out alternatives to the traditional way they’ve had sex. Because, after all, sex is so much more than just penetrative sex. There’s a whole spectrum, and a sex therapist can help illuminate this crucial aspect of sexuality to those suffering from chronic pain.  

 

Key Links for Dr. Lee 

Dr. Lee’s Website: https://www.drleephillips.com/  

His blog: https://www.drleephillips.com/drleephillips  

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drleephillips/  

Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/drleephillips  

Affiliate link for The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability 

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