Sexual arousal begins in the brain (when a person senses something they find arousing), and then electrical signals are sent down through the spinal cord and out to the body. The nervous system damage that occurs in MS can interfere with these neurological pathways, causing challenges with sexual health and arousal.
Sexual problems in MS
Many people with MS also experience reduced sensation in their genitals, and patients may have difficulty achieving orgasm. Decreased libido or a loss of sexual desire can also occur.
Outside of direct effects of MS on sexual responses, many of the disease’s symptoms — such as fatigue, emotional changes, bladder/bowel problems, and spasticity — can also cause challenges when it comes to intimacy. Medications can also influence sexual health; for instance, many antidepressants are known to decrease libido.
MS does not impact a person’s fertility.
Managing sexual health
Sexual problems can be difficult to talk about, but open and honest communication — with sexual partners, as well as healthcare providers — is always the first step toward finding solutions for these problems.
For some symptoms, medications may help. In particular, a number of approved medications can help individuals with erectile dysfunction to get and maintain an erection. For people with vaginal dryness, personal lubricants can help to make sexual intimacy more comfortable.
Other symptoms might require finding accommodations or trying new things during intimacy. For example, in people with reduced genital sensation, finding more vigorous methods of stimulation or incorporating vibrators or other toys can help to make sexual encounters more satisfying. Finding other ways to be intimate that aren’t dependent on genital stimulation — cuddling, kissing, caressing, etc. — can also help increase satisfaction and connection between sexual partners.
In all sexual encounters, good communication is absolutely vital, but it can be challenging. For some, talk therapy or couples counseling may be helpful for navigating these challenges.
It is also important to address any other MS symptoms or issues in a person’s life that may be contributing to sexual frustrations.
Last updated: Jan. 14, 2022, by Marisa Wexler MS
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