Romance and Multiple Sclerosis
Adults with multiple sclerosis find that self-acceptance and open communication can unlock the door to dating and intimacy.
Self-Acceptance Eases Disclosure continued...
Rick Steinhaus who, at 46 years old, has lived with MS for 12 years, recalls the impact the diagnosis originally had on him. "My perception of myself was that I was lesser of a person. You end up asking yourself, 'What's wrong with me? How could this be?'" he says.
"We [men] have this bravado: We're going to be the caregiver, the breadwinner," Steinhaus acknowledges.
Had he maintained this attitude, Steinhaus may have opted out of the dating scene altogether. As it was, he was engaged when he learned he had MS. The marriage ultimately ended in divorce. While he says MS wasn't the sole reason for the marriage's failure, Steinhaus admits, "It contributed to my marriage's demise."
When Steinhaus told his present girlfriend about his MS, he wasn't concerned about it compromising his masculinity in her eyes. At the time, he had no intention of dating her. "We worked together. I confided in her because, as I told her, 'You're my friend, and I want you to know about this.'"
Out of an understanding friendship grew something more. Presently, Steinhaus and his former co-worker have been dating for more than seven years. "I think one of the things that drew me to her was how incredibly compassionate she was," Steinhaus says.
Squelching his male bravado has helped him maintain the relationship. "It's taken me a long time to relinquish some control; to say, when I'm too tired to drive, 'Will you take over?'" he tells WebMD.
Issues of Intimacy
"I have to know and respect my own limitations; conversely, so does the other person in the relationship," Steinhaus says. For him, that means accepting the fact that he can't always maintain the same pace as his partner as they walk through the streets of New York, despite having once jogged together at an even pace.
For many couples with MS, it means being up front about problems of sexual dysfunction, which affect up to 80% of all adults with MS.
Causes of Sexual Dysfunction
"There's no relationship between disability and sexual function," says Marie Namey, RN, MSN, a clinical nurse specialist at The Cleveland Clinic's Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Research. "It can affect individuals with no visible symptoms."
While it's sometimes difficult to tease out the exact origin of sexual dysfunction, professionals have categorized MS-related sexual dysfunction into three types.
Primary sexual dysfunction can result from the formation of MS lesions on the spinal cord affecting nerve pathways. "There are so many pathways along the spinal cord that mediate different aspects of sexual function -- drive, orgasm, arousal. Because there are so many, there's a good probability that there's going to be a lesion somewhere along the way," says Frederick W. Foley, PhD, a neuropsychologist and expert on sexual dysfunction in people with MS.