Maintaining Intimacy With Multiple Sclerosis

Many people with multiple sclerosis report a decline in sexual desire. With symptoms like fatigue, muscle spasms, and bladder control problems, it may be hard to think about sex. But you can take steps to improve sexual function and intimacy, despite MS.

How Does Multiple Sclerosis Affect Sexual Function?

Changes in sexual function can happen because of the neurologic and psychological effects of multiple sclerosis.

Neurologic impact of multiple sclerosis on sex

Sexual arousal begins in the central nervous system, as the brain sends messages to the sexual organs along the nerve pathway in the spinal cord. MS-related changes to these nerve pathways can directly or indirectly affect sexual functioning. For example, the following symptoms can occur as a direct result of myelin breakdown in the spinal cord or brain:

  • Weak sex drive
  • Changes to genital sensations (numbness, pain, more sensitivity)
  • Trouble maintaining erection
  • Less vaginal lubrication
  • Less vaginal muscle tone
  • Problems ejaculating
  • Problems having an orgasm

These symptoms can happen because of MS physical changes or treatments and affect sexual intimacy:

Psychological impact of multiple sclerosis on sex

You may lose interest in sexual contact or intimacy because of psychological or social issues tied to multiple sclerosis, such as:

What Can Be Done to Improve Sex if You Have Multiple Sclerosis?

Talk to your partner about your sexual issues and your health. The most important way of dealing with sexual difficulties is to discuss your feelings. When MS begins affecting your sexual desire, start the conversation. Confiding in your partner deepens intimacy and may help resolve intimacy concerns.

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What if You’re Single?

Dating can be complicated even when you aren’t dealing with a long-term medical condition like MS. Here are some tips on navigating it.

  • Put yourself first. The better care you take of yourself, the more you’ll have to offer. You may have more energy to go out and meet people.
  • Check out apps. Some dating apps are designed for people who have health conditions.
  • Talk about it when you’re ready. You may feel comfortable mentioning MS on your dating profile. Or you may want to wait until you think a connection is promising. Even if your symptoms are visible, you don’t have to be specific right away. Say something like “I’m working through some issues with my arm” until you’re ready to talk about it in detail.
  • Prepare for the conversation. The more you know about MS, the easier it will be to explain it to someone else. Share things in a relatable way, like saying “I might need to keep our plans flexible, because sometimes I wear out easily” or “I’d be more comfortable going to a show than taking a long hike.”
  • You’re more than your MS. Remind yourself that you can put yourself out there and have a rewarding romantic life, just like anyone else. If your date can’t handle your MS, they’re not the right person for you.

If You’re Dating Someone Who Has MS

When you get the news, it might take you a little time to adjust.

Not sure what to say? Say that. Need time? Say that. Have questions? Ask if your partner is open to answering them. If it’s hard to find the words right now, simply thank your partner for trusting you enough to share their story.

You may want to read up on MS so you know more about the condition or even offer to go along to some doctor appointments. Take your cues from your partner. Being considerate is a good idea in any relationship.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky on July 23, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Intimacy."

Multiple Sclerosis Foundation: "Intimacy and Sexuality with Multiple Sclerosis."

Cleveland Clinic: "Intimacy and Multiple Sclerosis," “Multiple Sclerosis.”

MS Conversations: The Official Blog of the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America: “Dating and MS: Loving and Risking Heartache.”

Mayo Clinic: “Multiple Sclerosis.”

Momentum: The magazine of The National MS Society: “Finding love when you have MS.”

MS Society of Canada: “Single, ready to date and living with MS: What you should know.”

The Mighty: “These Dating Apps Are Made for People With Illnesses and Disabilities.”

Multiple Sclerosis Trust: “10 ways to help your partner if they have MS.”

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