Sexual issues are often experienced by people with multiple sclerosis (MS). That's because sexual arousal begins in the central nervous system (CNS), where MS strikes. If MS damages the nerve pathways to the sexual organs, sexual response, including arousal and orgasm, can be directly affected. Sexual problems may also stem from MS symptoms such as fatigue or spasticity. Psychological factors like mood changes may also play a role in sexual function.
Simple ways to start the conversation
Many people experience sexual issues. Talking about them takes courage, but they’re easier to address when they’re out in the open.
If you don’t want to talk with your healthcare provider about your situation, you can always talk with your nurse before you meet with your doctor. If sexual issues are not on the exam, you can write them in. It may feel awkward, but starting the conversation can help you discuss the topic. Keep in mind your healthcare provider is there to help. Most likely, they’ve heard it before.
In women, symptoms include:
- Reduced sensation in the vaginal/clitoral area or painfully heightened sensation
- Vaginal dryness
- Trouble achieving orgasm
- Loss of desire or response
In men, symptoms include:
- Changes in arousal and response
- Difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection (the most common problem)
- Reduced sensation in the penis
- Difficulty achieving orgasm or ejaculation
- Loss of desire or response
Dealing with sexual problems due to MS
Although sexual issues can be one of many symptoms of MS, it's worth noting that sexual issues are also common in the general population. If you are experiencing sexual issues, talk to your healthcare provider. He or she can provide a medical assessment to determine whether the issues you are experiencing are a symptom of MS or have another underlying cause. Understanding the cause will help your healthcare provider recommend a plan for treatment.
A variety of therapies treat sexual dysfunction. Men should speak with their healthcare provider about the many options available. Women can relieve vaginal dryness by using over-the-counter personal lubricants. However, petroleum jelly should not be used because it is not water soluble and may cause infection.
Working together to find other ways to give and receive pleasure allows many couples to have satisfying sexual relationships. Abnormal sensations and spasms can often be controlled through the use of medication. If bladder problems exist, techniques such as reducing fluids 2 hours before intercourse and emptying the bladder prior to sexual activity are helpful.
The key to a healthy sex life in any relationship is communication. Talk with your partner, as well as your healthcare provider. By exploring options and requesting information, you can maintain a satisfying sex life.
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