It is challenging enough to talk about intimacy and sex with a spouse or longtime partner. But if you are single and have arthritis, it can be super intimidating to even try to date. Here’s how to look for love in all the right places.

1. Love yourself first. “When you’re a little girl, you want to grow up and find that perfect man and live happily ever after,” recalls Elizabeth Counter, 26. “But after I got systemic juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, I was convinced nobody would want me. Why would they? I’m damaged goods.”

That kind of negative thinking is common among those with arthritis – and it isn’t sexy to anyone, says certified sexuality educator Cory Silverberg, co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness (Cleis Press, 2003). “It isolates people and keeps them from having healthy relationships.” 

Counter says that her mom always told her that she was more than a disease, but until she started believing it herself, she was reluctant to date. “I decided that feeling sorry for myself wasn’t very attractive,” she admits. And once she stopped seeing herself as a sick person, others did, too.

2. Find others who really understand chronic disease or disability. Online dating is hugely popular, and services such as www.disableddatingclub.com and www.enablelove.com specialize in connecting disabled singles. Silverberg doesn't recommend any particular online dating site, but says such sites, in general, can offer an advantage. “What’s nice about online dating is that you can bond because of your personality and communication before you have to deal with the physical,” he says. (As always, follow common-sense safety rules when getting together with anyone you’ve met on the Internet.)

Don’t want to meet someone on the web? Sign up for the Arthritis Foundation’s Arthritis Walk or train for a marathon with the Foundation's Joints in Motion team. You can learn more about these events at www.arthritis.org.