Severe burns leave often leave behind scarring, changing how the survivor’s body looks as well as how it works. Some people worry about their partners seeing their burn scars during intimate moments, while others struggle to adapt to life with limited mobility or functioning. It is important to remember that this is absolutely normal for burn survivors and intimacy after a burn injury is possible.
Unfortunately, though, doctors and therapists do not always address intimacy after burns. A study published in the Journal of Burn Care and Research found that only about 14 percent of health care providers said they were very comfortable bringing up potential intimacy issues after a burn injury. In fact, 55 percent said they only addressed the topic if the patient asked specific questions about sexuality and intimacy.
How do burns and burn treatment affect intimacy?
Severe burn injuries and the treatment can affect intimacy in a number of ways. Scarring and skin grafts in or around the erogenous zones can directly affect how these areas function. At the same time, burn injuries affect how your body interprets the sensation of being touched, no matter the location of the injury.
These changes can drastically affect what feels good in the bedroom and what makes you feel good intimately. These changes often lead to frustration for both partners, and even anger and disappointment in some cases. This makes couples less likely to try to share intimate moments. Exacerbating this problem, roles often change in a relationship after a serious illness or injury, and the uninjured partner may feel more like a caretaker than a partner. This is especially true when the couple avoids intimacy.
Other ways that burn injuries affect intimacy include:
- Physical impairment, including amputations or limited mobility
- Extreme fatigue
- Diminished sex drive from medications
- Intense itching
- Chronic pain
- Increased sensitivity
- Lack of sensation
- Depression or anxiety
- Altered body image
- Skin integrity issues
How can couples overcome these issues?
Most doctors do not discuss sexual health or intimacy after a burn injury and treatment, but if you are struggling with this, it is important to bring up the topic with your doctor. Your doctor can offer advice for both physical and emotional hurdles, helping you and your partner reestablish your intimate relationship sooner. Other tips to overcome these issues include:
- Talking to your partner: Openly discuss your feelings with your partner in advance, telling them how your injuries and scarring affect your function and body image, and how you feel about being intimate.
- Taking your time: Explore your options with your partner, focused on what feels good for both of you. Do not worry if you cannot do things exactly like you did before, so long as you both get pleasure from the experience.
- Staying positive: Remember that most people who suffer burn injuries are able to sustain intimate relationships. Many have active, fulfilling sex lives.
- Starting slow: Know that your stamina may not be as good as it was before your injury, and do not push yourself too hard or be too hard on yourself if you tire quickly.
- Making sure you have ruled out medical causes: If you have a diminished libido, discuss your medication with your doctor and see if switching to an alternative is possible. Your doctor can also help you get to the bottom of erectile problems.
It is also important to remember that intimacy is about far more than sexual activity. Many couples are able to rekindle their intimacy by focusing on being romantic with one another in other, less physical ways. This includes affection such as kissing, handholding and cuddling, spending time together in intimate settings, and even just taking the time to talk to one another with no distractions.
How can Burn Victims Resource Center help me?
Burn Victims’ Resource Center links burn survivors and their loved ones to others who suffered similar injuries, offering emotional support and practical advice through shared stories. We also have resources that can help you recover in a number of ways, from evaluating treatment options to offering resources. You can also call one of our lawyer referral specialists at 844-549-8774 if you need help finding a lawyer.