Parkinson's Disease and Sexual Relations
Let’s talk about sex…because having any chronic condition is bound to affect a relationship on both a physical and emotional level. Both partners in a couple whose lives have been affected by Parkinson’s disease need to understand the disease and its progression in order to cope with any difficulties which may arise in their sex life.
Knowledge and understanding take away some of the fear, dispel some of the myths and allow a couple to look at the future and what it might bring, in a practical way. There’s no doubt that understanding exactly how Parkinson’s can affect a sexual relationship can help prepare people better. So being armed with the right information is important.
The best thing to do is to talk openly about any problems with your partner, doctor or even a trained counselor. This might mean taking the plunge and overcoming any previously felt embarrassment about discussing sex. But it will help dispel some of the worries and anxieties which could in fact be the root cause of any sexual problems.
If the problem is medical, help is available. Ensuring that a person is on the correct medication and the correct dosage can control Parkinson’s symptoms which maybe hampering their sex life. It’s also important to establish whether any physical problems - such as impotence and vaginal dryness – are due to the disease. A gynecological and urology examination should rule out other causes.
So emotionally speaking, what’s happening? The symptoms of Parkinson’s can be distressing. Constant shaking, maybe drooling and rigidity can make the sufferer feel very unattractive, causing them to withdraw from any physical contact.
Likewise their partner may be put off sex too – they may feel that making love will somehow cause pain or worsen the condition. This emotional turmoil can have a knock-on physical effect such as erection problems or vaginal dryness.
Depression affects a third of people with Parkinson’s and that alone is enough to plunge the libido to rock bottom. And if a person isn’t in a relationship, a chronic illness with possibly distressing symptoms can cause them to withdraw completely from a social life.
On a medical level, the medications alone can affect sexual function. Anecdotally one of the side effects of the widely used drug levadopa is a heightened sex drive - whether that’s a good or bad thing, of course, depends on the individual! Unfortunately there can be a lack of physical pleasure and loss of libido in some people who take dopamine agonists. Antidepressants can also cause a lack of interest in sex.
Parkinson’s is a disease which can affect the autonomic system. This area controls a man’s ability to get and maintain an erection. Viagra or the use of a “penile pump” have both been found to be helpful. Injections into the base of the penis to maintain an erection are also available.
As a woman, not only might the symptoms and medication put you off sex or make it physically unpleasant but possibly there is the menopause to cope with as well. A dry vagina and painful intercourse are common symptoms of the menopause. Lubricants and plenty of foreplay can certainly help.
Because of the nature of the symptoms, turning or moving in bed can be difficult. So it might be worth ditching the bed and becoming more adventurous by enjoying sex in unusual positions and unusual places.
And if tiredness is a problem think about changing what time of day you have sex.
Don’t forget that sex isn’t just about penetration. If for some reason a person with Parkinson’s disease no longer wants or cannot have full sexual intercourse, there are plenty of other ways to show affection and have fun. Most human beings want and need to be touched - holding hands, having a kiss and plenty of cuddles all go a long way towards keeping a loving relationship alive.