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Romance and Multiple Sclerosis

Adults with multiple sclerosis find that self-acceptance and open communication can unlock the door to dating and intimacy.
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Causes of Sexual Dysfunction continued...

Then there's secondary sexual dysfunction. That's when MS symptoms or medical interventions interfere with sexual function or expression. For instance, many people with MS suffer from bladder dysfunction, an inability to control urination. "Concern about having bladder problems during sex is common," says Namey. Fatigue, another common symptom of MS, also zaps people's interest in sex.

Tertiary sexual dysfunction -- a cluster of psychological, social, and cultural issues -- can also play a role. "Some people have an altered body image. They may lack self-esteem due to a change of status in life, whether it's a professional change or something else," Namey tells WebMD.

Help for Sexual Dysfunction

Despite the high incidence of sexual dysfunction among adults with MS, experts say it's often reversible. They advocate honest, open communication to jump-start the process.

"Most people have inhibitions when it comes to talking about sex. In our country, sex is either framed as pornographic or highly medicalized. There's not a good in-between language for people to comfortably talk about sexuality," Foley tells WebMD.

"If you can get people to talk about sexuality, they can sometimes solve their own problems," he adds.

Others find help through formal counseling interventions.

"The vast majority of people with MS and their partners can find help in a relatively short period of time," Foley says, recalling a young female patient of his. Prior to being diagnosed with MS, she enjoyed a healthy sex life with her partner. Shortly after being diagnosed with MS, she lost all interest in sex. "Her sudden loss of libido was very distressing for her," Foley says. Even more distressing, her medical team found no specific psychological or medical cause to her sexual dysfunction. But they didn't give up on treating her.

"Even if the multiple pathways that mediate drive and libido are shot, teaching patients and their partners how to touch each other differently can enable them to experience orgasm," Foley says. That approach was effective for the young woman whose situation he described.

"The single most important thing in the rehabilitation of sexual dysfunction is getting people to get over inhibitions about their bodies and talk about sexuality, and the mechanical problems they may have," Foley tells WebMD.

That same advice applies to all aspects of a relationship, not just to intimacy.

"Relationships with good communication and a solid commitment can weather all sorts of challenges," Kalb notes.

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Reviewed on March 28, 2006
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