How is Your Libido?
Last updated: March 2023
Seriously, how is your sex life living with chronic hep C? This is a subject that can raise a few giggles I know, but It can be a serious issue for people living with a chronic illness, and hepatitis c is no exception.
Sex is a part of life. I am not fixated on this being the most important issue facing people living with hep c, and there are many, but it is something I often hear questions about in my work with community.
Is it risky to have sex with hep c?
The most common things I hear on the subject are about getting or giving hep c to a partner through sex. This can drive a wedge in personal relationships if there is an unwillingness to learn about any risks, talk about it or seek help from a good therapist or counsellor. Just to be clear I am not a sex therapist or a qualified counsellor on the subject. Most of the questions and inquiries about transmission are coming from younger people, but not exclusively, with libido concerns being more common in the older adult group.
Questions about libido
One could suggest that libido is commonly diminished with age, even in the general population living free of hep c. This is accurate to some extent, but does not explain or diminish the very real concerns that people express. As I am aware, many people maintain a healthy appetite for intimacy throughout their life. This is not to say that desire for intimacy will not ebb and flow as a part of a healthy life free of disease or illness. The question is whether your own hep c journey has caused your libido or that of your partner to be diminished.
A few years ago I conducted an informal survey with a group of people with lived experience. The group was made up of people who had never treated, and those who had treated previously, and people with cirrhosis. Some were SVR, and generally speaking it was a cross-section of the population affected. The majority of people responded with a yes in respect to my asking if they felt their libido had been impacted by living with hep c and from, or during treatment. Some were candid about how they were affected, and the dialogue was healthy in my view.
Possibilities for improvement
The comments were from the full range as one might suspect. In general people experienced a decrease in interest in the time before treatment, as their symptoms worsened-if they did-during and after treatment. In most people who had treated in their past and were cured, they saw an improvement in their drive over time.
New therapies promise greater cure rates and shorter duration of treatment. Newer drugs may see fewer post treatment issues like we saw with Sovaldi, but there have been anecdotal reports of some post-treatment concerns. To my knowledge at this time, there is no good data to support any long-term adverse health conditions. I am not suggesting for a New York second that one should ever avoid a cure! As someone who treated some year’s back - 5 years ago, I understand the desire and need for being hep c free. I am myself cured and regret nothing about my own choices around treatment.
Thinking about the whole person
We all share a common goal. To be well and to have the best possible quality of life. This includes our sexual health, as much as it includes our other measures of good health. No one piece is more important, except to the individual, and we are all individuals. Dialogue is key to understanding, just as much as science is important to learning and knowledge.
Keeping the lines of communication open between affected persons is one way that can help, and I am of the opinion that there is no absolute answer or piece of the puzzle that unlocks the door to a perfect outcome, regardless of the topic. Reading, sharing, and if it works in your world, engaging a qualified therapist, but there is no one truth that fits us all.
Don’t give up, there is always hope.