For those men and women who have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, not only do they struggle to find their new “normal” getting their footing in everyday life but are also often facing struggles with intimacy and sex. Intimacy and sexual activity have been proven to boost health and wellness by reducing stress, easing mental tension, spurring the release of the “good” body chemicals and hormones like dopamine and serotonin, lessen depression, triggering faster whole-body healing, and promoting overall wellness. Of course, that list could go on and on.
Multiple sclerosis is a potentially disabling, life-altering brain and spinal cord disease that affects the Central Nervous System. The immune system attacks the protective myelin sheath that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and your body. This disease can leave permanent damage or permanent deterioration of the nerve fibers. This disease can also cause severe sexual dysfunction.
The signs of MS vary substantially between people and depend on the location and severity of the nerve damage in the nervous system. Scans show doctors where these brain and spinal cord lesions are throughout the body. Many people with severe multiple sclerosis lose the ability to walk or move around at all. Other people will experience severe bouts of MS flares, with long stents with no signs or symptoms at all. There are many treatments for MS but currently no cure.
“Sexual dysfunction is common in people with MS, affecting an estimated 50–90% of men and 40–80% of women. It can have substantial impact on a patient’s self-esteem, relationships, and other aspects of health, all of which relate to quality of life.” Lindsay Shapiro, PhD
Intimacy, Sex & Sexual Dysfunction
Due to MS affecting the brain and spinal cord, there is a good chance that your normal system functions may not work as they should. This might mean that sexual function is not possible because an erection cannot be achieved or maintained. This could mean that the vaginal pain you are experiencing will prevent you from wanting to experience physical touch. The body twitches and spasms caused by misfiring nerves may make you feel like intimacy is too complicated or complex.
The truth is that there are many ways to reach, find, and achieve pleasure and intimacy- even in a body that would prefer to battle. Below are the most common issues people with MS face in regard to intimacy and sexuality, and numerous tips on how to reclaim your intimacy and sexuality needs.
Questions for your Doctor. Start simple and begin by arming yourself with knowledge and power. These basic questions are a great place to start. Along with these questions, consider meeting with a sex therapist or counselor who is well-versed in the topic of intimacy and sexuality, practicing talk therapy, and being open to the idea of trying mental health medications, should your doctor suggest it.
- “I am concerned about how MS might affect my sex life. What should I look for and how can I plan for these changes?”
- “I have some questions about how MS might be affecting my sexuality.”
- “I’m not sure how to talk to my partner about how MS has affected my sexuality. Where can I find resources to help?”
Coming to Terms with the Mental Health Side of Intimacy and Sexuality. Depression, anxiety, feelings of failure, and the gamete of emotions that visit us in our everyday lives all play a direct role in our ability to want or to be intimate and sexual with ourselves, and others. By practicing self-care, self-discovery, and working with a licensed mental health professional, one can get back on the right path mentally, and see this flow in to their every day lives.
Libido and Dysfunction. Libido is a touchy, fickle thing that can be “turned off” and “turned on” by external forces, mental and physical issues, and even simple day-to-day worry. Libido is the butterfly feeling in your belly when you think about being intimate with someone you desire. Sexual dysfunction occurs when something is hindering a person from finding feelings of pleasure or being able to utilize their sexual organs for achieving pleasure. There are many things that can hinder libido like: prescription medications, alcohol, drugs, cancer and long-term illness, surgical body alterations, and more.
Here are some options for people to try if they find themselves facing sexual dysfunction:
For Women: Vaginal Atrophy is one of the most reported problems women deal with in regards to vaginal health and dysfunction.
- Lubrication to ensure that vaginal tissues are moist and pliable. A thick friction barrier will help to reduce pain and dryness.
- Insertion pain? Consider dilator therapy. Dilator are designed to be inserted into the vagina and help to widen and tightened, tense vaginal opening.
- Too tense? Try a dilator with vibration, or another basic vibrating bullet. These can help to relax tense muscles and also provide pleasureful feelings while in use.
- Struggling with daily dryness? Try a natural daily moisturizer. The more natural, the better! Chemicals, additives, and those “special features” (like “cooling,” or “tingling”) have many things in it that can be very damaging and irritating to the skin.
For Men: Erectile dysfunction is the most reported problem men face in regard to their sexual function, followed closely by loss of libido.
- Use lubrication to ensure penile and genital tissues are not being damaged during masturbation or any other sexual act. Water-based lubrications provide a thin friction barrier, while silicone or silicone-hybrid lubrications provide a thicker, longer lasting friction barrier.
- Consider the side effects of prescription dysfunction medications. There are many options on the market now, but all come with their own side effects. Think of your holistic options before putting more chemicals in to your body.
Erectile dysfunction? You have many options!
- Partial Ability? Using a support device, like a wearable extender, can help keep the penetrative action alive when you’re struggling to maintain a full erection.
- Occasional trouble? Try a support ring, or cock ring, to help to hold the blood in the penile shaft, thusly making the erection fuller, longer lasting, and usable.
Unable to achieve an erection at all? No worries!
- Self-Discovery & Masturbation Devices. There are specific items on the market designed for males facing erectile dysfunction. Masturbators that can be used with one hand, or heated devices that provide a “sucking-like” action while warming.
- Vacuum Penis Pump Devices. Penis pumps have been around for an exceptionally long time and offer a temporary solution to a possibly permanent problem. While air pumps are typically the standard when providing pump therapy to help restore lost penile function, water pumps are also on the rise– being a great tool for those men who have fragile, sore areas after facing cancer, surgery, or long-term illness.
For BothMen and Women. These sexual dysfunction issues plague both men and women who are facing Multiple Sclerosis and many other health related issues.
- Anorgasmia. This condition denies the person of being able to achieve an orgasm, or have to work very strenuously to achieve one. This can be a very discouraging condition to have when working to restore lost intimacy and function. This condition is annoying but is not dangerous.
- Painful Intercourse. Pain with intercourse, insertion, or touch, can happen for a variety of reasons, causes, and conditions. If you are experiencing pain with intercourse, bring this up with your doctor at your next visit to ensure that you are bodily sound and not having some other sort of problem. Once cleared by your doctor, proceed slowly with getting to know your body again. Practicing self-discovery and masturbation can help you to find your trigger pain points to understand more how to work through intimacy issues.
- Incontinence. Bladder, Bowel, or Both. Incontinence is an unfortunate issue that many people will face in their lifetime for a myriad of reasons. There are many at-home therapies that can be done to help to increase pelvic floor health and strength, which can help to prevent and better control urine and bowel leakage.
Muscle spasms. Muscle spams go hand-in-hand with Multiple Sclerosis due to the brain and spinal cord involvement. If you find that your muscles are going in to overdrive with intimacy or sexual acts, consider these tips:
- Stretch before intimacy. By allowing your body to stretch, this can help to ease the built up muscle tension you are holding in your body.
- Try new positions for sex. For some, complicated positions, or those positions that stretch areas of your body where you struggle, will cause more stress on the muscles than needed. Start easy and slow- sticking with positions that are not complex or too difficult.
- Medications. If you have antispasticity medications, follow your doctor’s guidance on when to take them before intimate or sexual activities.
- Relaxation techniques. Practice positive mental health activities prior to being intimate or sexual. Allow yourself time to get out of your own head before trying to connect intimately with another. Yoga, deep breathing techniques, mental activities like HeadSpace can all help to calm the entire body, which can then help to ease the spasms.
People with Multiple Sclerosis may experience vast changes in their sexual needs and intimate desires throughout the years with their illness. MS will indeed change the way you think about intimacy and sexuality, and the role that it plays in your life. Remember, where there is a will, there is always a way and Reclaiming Intimacy is here to help you finds yours.
Questions about your options? Reach out to our team of experts today.
National MS Society