However, like pretty much everything else, sex is something that women with MS find more difficult than others to just do. It is estimated that about 75% of women with MS have some form of sexual dysfunction. What this means is that, for about a million possible reasons (including fatigue, loss of sensation, spasticity, loss of libido, etc.), sex is just not that fun.
I am going to give you 10 tips that may help you rediscover some of the fun of sex. I’m not going to tell you that you will be instantly able to recreate torrid honeymoon adventures. However, sex is an important part of a healthy adult life, especially if you are married or in a committed relationship. Given that many of our husbands or partners have to take on many “caregiving” tasks, it is crucial that we work to maintain the sexual parts of our relationships.
1. Talk With Your PartnerOpen communication is essential for good sex. Talk with your partner about any sexual difficulties you might be having as a couple. Try to treat them as problems to solve and work together on finding creative solutions. Make sure that your partner knows what feels good to you and what doesn’t – these things may change with time as certain areas of your body may become numb and others may become oversensitive.
2. LubricateMany women with MS have trouble achieving an adequate level of vaginal lubrication naturally. This is easily fixed by using a water-based lubricant. At first, applying a lubricant for sex may seem awkward, but you and your partner will quickly become used to it and can even incorporate it into foreplay.
3. Experiment with Positions and TimesPain, weakness or spasticity can interfere with sex. Experiment with different sexual positions, and you may find one that works better than others. Also, some MS symptoms are often less severe at certain times a day, which will vary for each person.
4. Reassure Your PartnerAs I mentioned, many women with MS find themselves needing more help from their spouses or partners than they did in the past. Admittedly, some of these needs put us in “less-than-sexy” situations, such as help with injections, getting dressed, etc. It is extremely important that you let your partner know that, despite the changing roles, your romantic feelings have not disappeared.
5. Feel BeautifulWe live in a culture that has a narrow definition of beauty. As women experience the different effects of MS, they may feel less sexually attractive, which can interfere with sexual desire. Ignore messages and stereotypes from television, magazines and other media sources and embrace your body for what it can do.
Women with MS may experience a range of disabilities. They may need assistive devices to walk or a brace to hold a limb steady or need to wear an indwelling catheter if they have bladder dysfunction. These disabilities can dramatically change how a woman perceives her own attractiveness. Open communication with your partner can help reduce anxiety and negativity.
6. Take Care of Your HealthWe may have MS, but don’t forget that we are also aging along with everybody else. Poor health can interfere with sex. If you have a health condition besides MS, be sure to the manage it. Follow your doctor’s orders and make the lifestyle changes you need to be healthy. Losing weight, exercising and eating well will not only improve your health, your sex life will also improve.
7. Expand Your Definition of SexThere is a lot more to sex than intercourse. Hugging, kissing and other forms of contact are essential parts of your sex life. Simply talking to your partner about something other than health issues or other stressors may be a bridge to intimacy. We often don’t realize how just managing the “business of life” can be a full-time job, leaving no time for romantic thoughts or actions.
8. Time Your MedicationsCertain medications can impair (or help) sexual functioning. For instance:
- If you take anticholinergics for bladder dysfunction, taking these 30 minutes before sex can minimize bladder contractions during sex. These include: Propantheline (Norpanth, Pro-Banthine), Tolterodine (Detrol tablets and Detrol LA extended-release capsules), Dicyclomine (Bentyl).
- Medications for fatigue taken one hour before sex can put you at your peak energy level. These include Provigil and Symmetrel.
- If you take antidepressants, these may be having a negative effect on your sex drive. Talk to your doctor if you think this might be the case.
- If you self-inject (or have your partner inject you with) one of the disease-modifying medications, coordinate the timing of your injection with any possible sexual activity. Injections may cause women so much stress or unpleasant side effects that they could not possibly enjoy sex right after a shot. On the other hand, some women may feel such a sense of pride and relief after an injection that this may be a great time for sex.
9. Talk to Your DoctorIf you are having sexual difficulties, talk to your doctor. There may be simple solutions to your problems such as changing the time of day that you take a medication or making lifestyle changes. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a medication to help your particular sexual complaint. Expect that you will have to make adjustments in your life and sexual habits as you live with MS. Your doctor can help your these adaptations go smoothly.
10. Vibrators and MasturbationEven if you don’t have a partner at the moment, sex and orgasms bring both emotional and physical benefits. Women should not feel guilty about masturbation. Vibrators and other devices can help tremendously.
Nancy J. Holland and June Halper. Multiple Sclerosis: A Self-Care Guide to Wellness. New York: Demos Publishing. 2005.
Allison Shadday. MS and Your Feelings. Alameda: Hunter House Publishers, 2007.