By Jane Elson, ACSW, LCSW
My sex life has clearly changed since I have Multiple Sclerosis. I’m embarrassed to talk about this with anyone including my partner. Any suggestions?
Approximately half of all men and women with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) experience sexual dysfunction. Some symptoms include a decrease in sex drive, changed genital sensations such as numbness or pain, decreased vaginal muscle tone, erectile difficulty, decreased vaginal lubrication and decrease in frequency or intensity of orgasms. These changes occur because of demyelination in the spine or brain.
Fatigue, the most common symptom, can diminish desire. Spasticity can cause pain and interfere with sexual positioning. Bladder and bowel problems are related to sexual dysfunction because nerve pathways are shared. The thought of having a bladder or bowel accident during sexual activity can cause anxiety and fear and may further decrease interest in sex. Sensory changes also contribute to loss of sexual desire. Tremors can interfere with physical and emotional communication between people. Side effects of some medications can also contribute to lack of sex drive or sexual functioning.
Family and social role changes can further create sexual problems. For instance, MS may change a person’s role at work, running the home, parenting and other daily activities. Sometimes the person with MS feels helpless or dependent and unable to be a loving partner. The well partner experiences changes also; taking on the caretaker role rather than a sexual partner. Self-image affects both partners and any change in physical appearance may damage a person’s image of themselves as a sexual being.
Take care of your body with relaxation, exercise and healthy food. Take time for yourself when grooming and select clothes that are comfortable and which you find attractive. Living with a chronic illness makes people aware of their bodies. Your body may react differently than it used to. Try to make peace with this new condition.
Communication is especially important between sexual partners. It can increase emotional intimacy and alleviate anxiety and fear during difficult moments. Couples need to devote significant time and effort to understand each other and to feel respected by each other. Protecting and nurturing each other creates safety in the relationship and this is essential in maintaining intimacy.
It’s important to speak to your doctor if you are experiencing sexual problems. Sometimes a medication adjustment is all that’s needed. However; there is a lot of information available on this subject. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you feel you need help. There are books, pamphlets, counselors, newsletters and websites that address sexuality for the disabled. The MS Society can help you obtain the information you need.