Sex After Back Surgery – Common Problems and How to Get Your Sex Life Back on Track

by lmatthews on December 17, 2012

sex after back surgery

Taking things slow after back surgery can lead to fun exploration and increased intimacy.

Sex after back surgery can have its risks and many patients undergoing lumbar spine surgery, particularly spinal fusion, are advised to wait several weeks, if not months before resuming an active sex life. The extent of the surgery, and the success of the procedure will affect the time frame in which full sexual activity can be safely engaged in once again.

Sex After Surgery – Risks

Incisions in the back, muscle spasms and side-effects of pain medications can all conspire to make a patient’s sex life less than vigorous and often painful or unsafe. Surgical scars can be particularly sensitive and care needs to be taken to avoid opening up incisions accidentally or risking infection. In addition, nerves in the pelvic area may have been traumatised by the lumbar spine surgery, or by inflammation during the healing process and this can affect performance and sensation.

Nerve Healing and Sex After Back Surgery

Where nerve damage occurred prior to surgery it may take some time for sensation to be fully restored and in cases of severe nerve trauma it may never return to normal. Nerve damage before or during back surgery can affect the ability of achieving and maintaining an erection and can cause a lack of sensation in the vagina and/or clitoris compromising the ability to orgasm or become aroused in ways similar to before surgery. Nerve pain and abnormal sensation is not the only problem patients and their partners encounter when considering sex after back surgery, other issues can include:


  • Fears over hurting the recovering partner
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder after surgery
  • Side-effects of medications for nerve pain relief
  • Getting out of the habit and being stuck in a rut, sexually
  • Impatience and misunderstandings with partners and poor communication or support generally
  • Other health conditions that have been exacerbated by the effects of surgery, such as stress, depression, and even heart conditions or diabetes

Arousal and Desire After Back Surgery

Experiencing difficulties with sensation, arousal and performance during sex can adversely affect desire after surgery. Patients may also feel anxious about the possibility of doing damage to their spine, which can reduce libido and enjoyment. The partners of back surgery patients are also often anxious about causing harm, which can create difficulties in maintaining arousal or initiating sex.

Pain, PTSD and Sex After Back Surgery

Unwanted pain is a significant barrier to desire and sexual fulfilment and so many patients encounter problems after back surgery due to fears over recurrent injury. The emotional strain of surgery itself can affect both the patient and their partner(s) and may result in sex simply being less prioritised during healing, leaving them in something of a rut even after the physical difficulties have subsided. Some patients experience post-traumatic stress disorder after back surgery and can find that therapy is helpful in reducing anxieties and fears for better emotional health which can then help feed into sexual health.

Improving Sex After Back Surgery

It can help to communicate fears about sex after back surgery in order to know how partner(s) are feeling and to work together on ways to minimize risk and remain intimate, perhaps in different ways to before. Use of props and supports can help improve comfort and reduce the risk of injury and trying new positions during sex can also work to reduce stress and strain on the spine of the recovering party.

Sex Positions Post-Back Surgery

Adopting a passive position that is well supported is recommended for back surgery patients resuming sexual relations. This may mean laying flat on a bed with a pillow beneath the knees while a partner takes a more active top role. Well supported seated positions can also work well, as can using a table, desk or counter for support as bending forward actually opens up the lumbar spine region and may reduce nerve compression. Care should be taken not to twist or arch the back during healing from back surgery and so it is often advised to refrain from engaging in sexual activity for a number of weeks after serious surgery so as to minimize the risk of getting carried away in the moment and forgetting such advice.

Libido and Medications After Surgery

Some patients find it helpful to take painkillers just prior to having sex after back surgery so as to enhance comfort and minimize pain that can adversely affect enjoyment. It is important to remember that some medications may cause drowsiness, however, which can kill the mood somewhat.

Taking Sex Slow and Easy After Back Surgery

Deciding when it is safe to have sex again after back surgery is a very individual decision based on each person’s comfort level, the extent of surgery and their response to the operation. For some people it may be three or more months before they feel ready to engage in full intercourse or sexual activity of any kind, for others it may be just a few weeks. Although the patient may not feel like being fully active in the bedroom themselves it may be that compromises can be reached between partners so that physical intimacy is maintained, even if it is necessarily one-sided for a little while.

Intimate Explorations After Back Surgery

Looking after your back, be it by wearing a back brace, using pillows or rolled up towels as support or by adopting positions that are different to pre-surgical practices may not feel especially sexy after back surgery but it is helpful to approach the subject with good humor. Having a happy sex life after back surgery involves many of the tenets of a good sex life generally: communicate with your partner(s) about your desires, stay safe, be as imaginative and innovative as necessary.

Help with Sex After Back Surgery

Give yourself and your partner time to adjust and to explore and it might be that a new level of intimacy is reached, based on openness and trust and the compassion shown for the partner in pain and the patience of a caregiver. However, should severe pain or discomfort arise, or should you have specific fears over resuming sex after back surgery, consult with the physician or surgeon.

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