Sex and MS symptoms – your questions answered

A couple holding hands

Sex is all around us - in our favourite TV shows (Game of Thrones anyone?), on the billboards we drive past, and in the pop hits that get stuck in our heads.

You'd think everyone was having great sex, all the time.

But the reality is lots of us have difficulties with sex at one time or another. Sometimes our bodies don't want to play ball, sometimes we don't feel in the mood. And MS can throw extra challenges into the mix.

But however MS affects you, and whether you’re single or in a relationship, there are ways to enjoy sex and intimacy.

Paul works on our MS Helpline, and previously worked as a sexual health practitioner. Here, he answers your questions on sex and MS symptoms.

If you're finding it hard to talk about sex, with a partner or with health care professionals, check out part two of Paul’s Q&A.

Experiencing fatigue

Q. Since I was diagnosed with MS, I seem to have lost interest in sex completely, partly due to fatigue. Is there anything I can do about it?

A. You can definitely find ways to feel sexual again. Making time regularly to do simple things on your own that that give you physical pleasure – like eating your favourite meal or enjoying a long bath – can help to bring back your desire for sensual and physical contact.

If you have a partner, asking them to hug, stroke or massage you without intending to have sex can increase sexual desire.

If you don't have a partner, touching, stroking and massaging yourself are all equally good.

Remember that sex doesn’t have to happen in one session. You can take breaks or have shorter sex sessions – whatever works for you.

Not feeling sexy

Q. I don't feel desirable now that I have some disability related to MS. My partner still wants to have sex but I make excuses to get out of it.

A. Feeling undesirable is a very understandable response to the onset of disability but there are things you can do to help you feel sexy again.

Being honest and explaining to your partner that you're feeling vulnerable about your body can help them understand what you're going through.

If you're able to, doing some exercise can also help you feel better about your body, as well as lift your emotions.

Finding ways to be physically close again, such as sitting next to each other on the sofa and holding hands while watching TV, can help you gradually become close and feel desirable again.

> Read blogger Trevis’s take on all the ways to be close to someone

When sex doesn’t feel like it used to

Q. I've always had problems reaching orgasm and now my MS is making it worse. I feel like giving up on sex totally, but is there something I can do?

A. There are various tried and tested methods that can help you reach orgasm. Getting to know your own body well, especially if there have been problems reaching orgasm before MS, can help.

A sex therapist can talk you through some activities that you can try to increase the likelihood of orgasm. These include different ways of touching your body, masturbating, using sexual fantasies and guided imagery.

You can also and use equipment such as vibrators either alone or with someone else.

> Read one woman’s experience of losing and finding the big O

Q. My erections are not as strong as they used to be. My GP has suggested Viagra to see if that will help but I wondered if that’s the only option for me?

A. There are many options for men who are experiencing erection difficulties. These include Viagra and other pills which are designed to increase blood flow to the penis.

But there are also injections, pellets that can be inserted into the end of the penis, vacuum devices, and testosterone replacement therapy. If nothing else works, doctors may consider surgically implanted devices called penile prostheses.

The treatment that you are offered will depend on the medical assessment of the problem and what may be causing it.

No matter what the cause, medical practitioners or sex therapists can work with you to find a solution.

The benefits of exercise

Q. Can exercise help me with my sex life?

A. The short answer is, yes. WebMD summarises a range of research which suggests that exercise can increase hormone levels and increase blood flow to the genitals.

Exercise can also help you build stamina, help the body cope with exertion, decrease stress, and help you feel more physically attractive too. If you use a wheelchair, we have exercise videos that can help you.

There are also particular exercises called pelvic floor exercises which are often suggested for both women and men with sexual difficulties. In women, they can help to increase sensitivity during sex and help with stronger orgasms. In men they help to reduce the symptoms of erectile problems.

It can take a while to see the benefits of these exercises but when you do, enjoy them.

> Got more questions? Join our online community to find support from people who know what you’re going through  

Read more blogs about sex and MS

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