Multiple Sclerosis and Sexual Relationships

Sex and MS

Around 80% of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) say they experience some sort of sexual problem at some stage. This can be physical, as the disease attacks the nerves, or emotional as a person learns to cope with the psychological aspects of their illness. In most cases it is both.

Because MS affects the central nervous system, which controls our reactions and senses, sexual problems are likely to be high particularly among those with the more advanced form of the disease.

According to one study, people with Multiple Sclerosis are more likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction than the rest of the population. Researchers in Italy looked at the levels of sexual problems within three groups ­- one with chronic illnesses; another group in good health and the third with MS. It was found that 73.1% of the MS group had problems with their sex lives compared with 39.2% of the chronic disease group and just 12.7% of the healthy group.

Doctors now divide the ways in which MS can affect a person sexually into primary, secondary and tertiary categories.

Primary ­

This is a direct result of the disease affecting the nerves. In both men and women this can include burning and other unpleasant genital sensations, loss of sex drive and decreased ability or lack of orgasm. Men may not achieve or maintain an erection and they may find it difficult to ejaculate. Women complain of vaginal dryness and a loss of muscle tone in the vaginal area.

Secondary -

This happens as a result of the MS symptoms or as a reaction to disease modifying drugs such as interferons. Sexual desire and function can be affected by tiredness, bladder or bowel incontinence, aches and pains and lack of attention and concentration.

Tertiary ­

This encompasses the myriad of social and psychological issues that can affect an MS sufferer's sex life. Depression, lack of confidence, low self esteem and fears about "performance" are all common problems guaranteed to send the sufferer's libido running for cover.

Sex is tough enough to talk about at the best of times but many people with MS report that it really does help to talk openly with their partners about their worries and expectations regarding sex. Talking about and sharing the problem is often half the battle.

Don't suffer in silence and don't be afraid to seek professional help from your doctor and Multiple Sclerosis health team. Your health professional may be able to recommend a sex specialist or prescribe a course of treatment ­ Prozac and other anti-depressants can sometimes help to revive both the spirits and a flagging sex life.

For women suffering from vaginal dryness, doctors recommend lubricants such as K-Y Jelly ­ though you do have to use an awful lot of the stuff!

For men who have problems maintaining an erection medicines such as Viagra are commonly prescribed. Mechanical vacuum pumps can also be used.

Spasticity (when the muscles tighten or spasm uncontrollably) is a fairly common symptom of MS and that can have an adverse effect on what might otherwise be a great sex life. Learning how to time the use of anti-spasticity medicines can often help with this one. Changing the time of day when you have sex might help especially if, like so many people with MS, you suffer from severe fatigue as the day progresses.

If all else fails counselling and therapy can help people accept what they can't change. And let's face it there's far more to intimacy and satisfying sex than a penis in a vagina. There are many ways people can enjoy their partners sexually without penetrative sex. Specialist therapists recommend being creative and rediscovering your bodies. So stop thinking about MS and start thinking oral sex, mutual masturbation and sex toys!

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