Illness & intimacy: how peer-to-peer conversations are identifying and filling gaps in whole-person health

Sarah E. Kucharski theafternoonnapper@gmail.com
Alexandra Drane alexandra@drane.me
Alexandra Fine alex@dameproducts.com
Karolyn Gehrig karolynprg@gmail.com
Justin Halls jhalls@tulane.edu
Matthew Dudley mattjdudley@hotmail.com

Abstract

Just as doctors receive little training as to how to talk to patients about death and thus avoid the conversation to patients’ and caregivers’ detriment, there exists a major gap in doctors’ willingness and ability to talk with patients and caregivers about intimacy and illness. Reclaiming intimacy after an acute medical event is regarded much the same as resuming any physical activity such as riding a bike, gardening or climbing stairs. These mundane tasks do not carry the same weight—they do not require intimacy’s physical and emotional exposure. They do not carry the burden of a body changed—a body that surgery has scarred; a body that healing has fatigued physically, mentally and emotionally. These iFor some patients there arises a complex sense of fear. In their struggle to recover and accept what has changed, patients face the reality that their significant others may not be able to cope. And indeed caregivers—often tasked with needed but intensely personal chores such as helping a patient bathe, bandaging wounds and preparing meals—may struggle with the responsibility their loved one comes to represent. 

In “Illness & Intimacy: How Peer-to-Peer Conversations Are Identifying and Filling Gaps in Whole-Person Health” a panel of patients, providers and researchers come together for a provocative discussion based on personal experiences and data to be collected through partnerships with online health communities. Questions the panel will explore will include: does the drive for sexual intimacy suffer when one person in a relationship becomes greatly dependent on his or her partner for basic needs; can love truly conquer the depression often associated with cardiac surgery; will a marriage survive when one partner becomes seriously disabled; how does a decline in physical intimacy impact healing; what successes and failures have couples experienced in trying to maintain or re-establish intimacy after an acute illness or throughout a chronic illness?

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