Reclaiming Our Sexual Health
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.
I have taken the liberty to speak with my neurologist about my sexual health. For too long, it seemed unimportant and far less of a priority to maintaining other aspects of my MS and overall health. This was, and is, a fallacy. Sexual health is important. You are worthy of experiencing whatever degree of sexual satisfaction you desire.
This looks different for everyone, and there is no right or wrong answer. I stopped comparing my own sexuality with that of others long ago. In doing so, I became my own gauge and litmus. Desire is personal, and you are OK with whatever works for you.
Multidisciplinary treatment does exist for both individuals and couples. From cognitive therapy, role-playing, sexual touch, and stimulation alone or with a partner, to internal physical therapy, these therapies are designed to meet specific needs. I am on my journey and encourage you to embark on yours, too. Only then can we eradicate stigma and embrace sexual health.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.