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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Gail Saltz, M.D., psychiatrist and active national health, sex, and relationship contributor. She is famed for writing a weekly relationship column for MSNBC.com, is a bestselling author, and is a regular contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine. This question and answer format will go over Saltz's background, why she has focused her attention on the importance of intimacy,as well as tips and advice for those living with chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Q: How did Saltz get involved in intimacy and RA?
A: Saltz is specially trained in sex therapy. Many of her patients were women 30-40 years of age, commonly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. While helping these patients through the trails of fatigue, pain, and sometimes disfigurement associated with the disease, she became increasingly interested in specific therapies to help target the issues of body image and how these women relate sexually.
Q: Why is intimacy especially important for those living with RA? Are there any physiological benefits?
A: “Relationships are the number one source of happiness,” Saltz said. She then touched on both the emotional and physical aspects of relationships and how being able to express ourselves sexually is critical to a lasting relationship. She continued to explain how this is especially important for those living with a chronic disease due to the potential sadness, and the need and benefits of sharing one’s life and feelings. When discussing the physiological benefits, Saltz emphasized the mind-body connection, and how those with depression or high stress levels tend to deteriorate more and feel pain more significantly. “Having a source of pleasure in your life and feeling supported, and feeling that you are supporting someone else makes a big difference in terms of not only your mental health, but also your physical health.”
Q: Do you have any tips for maintaining intimacy during RA flare-ups?
A: Saltz stressed the importance of communication. Communicating with your partner not only during flare-ups, but also on a regular basis is key.