I first heard these words uttered on an Oprah show long ago, where the show's topic was something like "When Men are Too Tired for Sex". Oprah would replay the audio of a man's deep southern voice saying "Oooh baby I'm so tired" over and over. Oprah, as well as the audience members, giggled in response.
Whether you are a man or woman, who can relate to saying this phrase? If you or your partner has Multiple Sclerosis, I guarantee you have either said it or heard it before. And it really is no laughing matter. MS can definitely put a damper on intimacy at a time when you need that connection the most.
How can MS affect sexual relations? Let me count the ways.
- Fatigue: In an article entitled, "Beyond Just Tired: Figuring out MS-Related Fatigue" author Christine Haran states that "Fatigue affects up to 87 percent of people with MS, and about 40 percent say it is their most disabling symptom-and one that interferes with their work and social lives." And I am going to add that it also affects our sex lives. It is difficult to feel emotionally or physically capable of vigorous intimacy when you feel so darn weary.
- Some people with MS experience numbness or even pain in sensitive regions of their body. These sensory changes can make sexual relations a mine field to deal with. It may be difficult to know on any given day what will bring pleasure and what will cause discomfort.
- Spasticity or tremors in muscles can make certain positions awkward if not impossible. Certain movements may be difficult or cause pain.
- Depression is often a symptom of having MS and this can certainly diminish sex drive and desire. Some people may feel feel worried about sex and this can create performance anxiety. For others depression can lead to feelings of low self worth and a discomfort with body image due to the physical changes brought upon by this disease.
- Since sexual arousal is dependent upon the messages sent via the central nervous system to sexual organs, the myelin destruction caused by MS can impair these signals. What can happen as a result? For women it can cause a lack of vaginal lubrication, a lack of control in vaginal muscles, and a decreased ability to orgasm. For men it can cause problems with erection and ejaculation.
Okay before you get too depressed reading this I do want to say here and now that there are some things you can do about all this. I cannot promise you that there is a magic wand to make things all better but there are definitely things one can do to increasing the chances for having better sexual relations despite having this illness.
I am going to be speaking from a woman's point of view here since...well...I am a woman. I am hoping that a subsequent article might be written from a man's point of view about how to cope with the effect that MS may have upon one's sex life. Any volunteers?
The first thing I want to tell you is that there is great truth to the belief that the biggest sexual organ is the brain. Sexual arousal always begins with our thoughts. And here is where we do have some control. This may be a marvelous opportunity to explore what things make us feel more sensual and in the mood for intimacy.
And this leads me to my first recommendation which is:
- Communicate with your partner. Tell your partner what things get you more in the mood for sexual relations. This could be a good time to explore fantasies and desires.
Other suggestions I have include:
- Intimacy isn't just about sex. Intimacy can mean just snuggling under the covers or kissing. Think about ways that you can get close with your partner that don't necessarily include the act of sex.
- Massage is an excellent way for your partner to become reacquainted with your body. You can then tell your loved one what areas of the body are requiring more touch and which areas are in too much discomfort to be touched.
- Personal lubricants can be used for women who experience vaginal dryness.
- Take things slow and easy. Many women tend to need to feel relaxed prior to sexual relations. Do things which will decrease stress like take a bath, put on some gentle music, ask for that massage.
- Make your encounters less dependent upon reaching orgasm than upon enjoying the process of bonding with your partner. Take the pressure off things by placing no conditions upon a certain outcome. Just relax and enjoy the time spent with your loved one.
- Schedule times for sex when you know you will be the least tired. For some people this may be in the morning hours or after a nap or whatever works for you both.
- It goes without saying but have fun Be playful with your partner. Laugh and joke around. It doesn't have to be so serious all the time. Humor is a great aphrodisiac in my opinion.
My last suggestion for women comes from a book out about MS written specifically for women and it is called: Women Living with Multiple Sclerosis by Judith Lynn Nichols. It is a great book for the simple reason that it takes posts written by a group of women from an on-line MS support group, and provides some very candid and genuine discussion on all sorts of topics. What is especially unique about this book is that they devote a whole chapter to discussing sex in very down to earth language. A dry clinical approach to talking about sex....this is not.
For example, one support group member talks openly about something which can be very beneficial in the bedroom: "Another milestone came after eighteen years when we introduced a vibrator into our lives. That was a major breakthrough in that it greatly reduced the amount of foreplay, which translated to less assault on my nervous system."
- Sexual aids can absolutely help to increase a woman's chances of achieving orgasm during sexual relations. Discuss this option with your partner first so that you are both comfortable with the idea.
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease which can affect all parts of our lives including our relationships and even sex. It can be a hard topic to discuss but it is such an important part of life that it is well worth it to open up that dialogue with your significant other. We all need intimacy in one form or another. Don't let MS take that away from you.
I do hope that this article and some of my suggestions will be of help. I am quite eager to hear any comments, thoughts, or advice that you all have to impart. What has been your experience pertaining to this topic? What has helped you in the matter of creating more intimacy with your partner despite having this illness?
Your opinions and thoughts matter. So please do express them here. I am very interested in hearing from you.