I am often so preoccupied with the daily maintenance of MS that I forget where the disease ends and I begin.
It is too easy to lose our identity among the myriad challenges that accompany a chronic disease. I am the queen of juggling chaos, but that often leaves me little energy or desire to focus on being a woman; more specifically, on my sexual health.
September was an awareness month for sexual health, a perfect excuse for me to delve into this elusive and often overlooked topic. There is so much unnecessary stigma associated with sexual health, especially for those of us with disabilities.
I am among the many who have accepted the status quo as the norm. This isn’t because I want to, but rather because I don’t know where to start.
Let’s start with this: You are not alone. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, one study of people with MS found that 63% said their sexual activity had diminished since diagnosis. Sexual problems can range from erectile dysfunction and difficulty achieving ejaculation in men to painful intercourse and lack of arousal in women.
Because arousal begins in the nervous system, damage in the spinal cord can result in disruption. This primary cause of sexual dysfunction is due to the physical manifestation of our disease. This varies among people with MS, but lends validity to so much frustration.
Secondary causes are attributed to bladder and bowel function, weakness, fatigue, and spasticity, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Tertiary causes are more psychological and psychosocial. These include, but are not limited to, depression, anxiety, and familial changes.
But clinical jargon can often frustrate and overwhelm. We are far from textbook. To begin to unravel our sexual needs, we first need to allow ourselves the freedom to explore. I have had to risk and trust not only others but myself. I am my own worst judge and jury. I have been so hard on myself when I am unable to feel sensual or aroused. This alone is detrimental. Our psyche dictates so much of our ability to free our inhibitions. I have the uncanny ability to think myself straight out of pleasure. I am prone to worrying about the weight I have gained or the change in my ability to explore different positions. Have you ever had a spasticity attack while trying to look sexy? It is awesome. But these moments can level tension into much-needed laughter.
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