Missing good sex since you were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis? You’re not alone! Between 75-90% of men and 52-80% of women with MS suffer from sexual dysfunction. Reports of sexual problems in the general U.S. population range from 30 to 50% in otherwise healthy individuals. Odds are, if you have MS, you probably have, at one time or another, experienced sexual dysfunction. If so, there’s no reason to lose hope.
Understanding Sexual Dysfunction
Sexual dysfunction is not limited to erectile dysfunction for men or insufficient lubrication for women. In fact, there are three types of MS-related dysfunction.
- Primary – caused by damage to the nerves by MS. Examples: genital numbness or an inability to climax.
- Secondary – physical complications to intimacy, such as spasticity, tremors, or incontinence.
- Tertiary – emotional, psycho-social, or cultural complications, such as poor body image, mood swings, depression, or simple lack of desire.
What can we do to improve our sex lives?
Talk to your partner, and let them know what you’re experiencing. Even if you’re embarrassed about it, you’ve got to let your partner know what’s going on so that they don’t misconstrue the situation. That vulnerability will increase emotional intimacy, which will pave the way for better sex later. Depending on what is going on with you, your partner may even have some suggestions or techniques at the ready to keep the spark alive.
Focus on the health of your relationship outside of the bedroom. Many folks with MS choose to not talk with their partners about how the disease affects them. This can cause resentment on either side. Nothing will kill sexy fun time like being angry and resentful of your partner. Nobody is psychic, so you have to communicate your needs and offer them the opportunity to be compassionate and responsive.
Talk to your doctor(s) about it. Believe it or not, it may or may not be a problem caused by MS. Your doctors will be well equipped to help you figure out both the cause and potential solutions. Age, stress, anxiety, medication, or other physical complications may be to blame. Heck, even birth control pills have been known to decrease libido.
That being said, many medications are on the market to help out in this area — like Viagra for erectile dysfunction, Botox to help with incontinence, and recently FDA-approved Addyi for female libido.
Psychiatrists have a whole arsenal of possible medications to aid with depression, mood swings, and even pseudobulbar affect.
Endocrinologists can help balance your hormones. If you’re dealing with low testosterone, whether you’re a man or a woman, your libido will suffer.
Also, the timing of medications can affect optimal times for intercourse. Did you know antihistamines can cause vaginal dryness? It’s something to consider during allergy season!
If pharmaceutical products won’t help, there are many other options, such as vacuum pumps or penile implants to help with impotence, a myriad of different products and even FDA-approved laser surgery to help with vaginal lubrication, and countless creative products on the market to help both men and women achieve orgasm.
Lastly, it never hurts to discuss all of this with a psychologist and/or sex therapist. This is their area of expertise.
Take a look at your nutrition and activity levels. If you’re regularly bloated and gassy and/or are experiencing loose stool, you’re not going to feel like being physically intimate. You may have a food intolerance or you may just be eating convenience foods that don’t make you feel good. Eating a diet with fewer processed foods that includes healthy fats and fibrous vegetables and fruits can be helpful.
Likewise, if you rarely exercise and are fatigued, you may not have the stamina needed to enjoy yourself during sex. If you’re completely sedentary, start small with daily stretches. Even folks who are wheelchair-bound have good options available to them for exercise.
Remember the goal: to have fun and explore. My husband and I have a rule that has benefitted our marriage for years: no bad sex. Nothing ruins the moment more than worrying about performance. The point of sex is not just to climax. It’s to enjoy both emotional closeness and physical sensations. Even if you’ve lost all feeling below the waist, this can still be true for you and your partner.
Oftentimes, people who have lost feeling in one part of their body have reported heightened sensations in different parts of the body – the neck, earlobes, breasts, arms or other areas. Concentrating on “holistic” sexual experiences rather than on genital-specific sex can give folks with primary dysfunction an opportunity to achieve climax in new ways.