Sexuality and intimacy play an important role in the quality of life for nearly everyone, including those with a chronic illness such as multiple sclerosis (MS). In MS, sexual dysfunction may be one of the less talked-about symptoms of the disease. Recognizing and understanding this symptom is important to adequately address the different issues that may be involved.
Several factors may contribute to sexual dysfunction in MS, including physical limitations as well as psychological, emotional, and cognitive challenges. In this writing, sexual dysfunction is divided into three areas: “primary,” referring to symptoms in sexual function caused by MS damage to the central nervous system; “secondary,” referring to other MS symptoms that can interfere with sexual function; and “tertiary,” referring to the psychological, emotional, and cognitive aspects of MS that can impact sexuality and intimacy.
The first step to managing sexual dysfunction is to recognize and discuss it with your partner and MS team or a sexual counselor. Other important steps are to review medications for side effects and to make various lifestyle changes, such as timing medications, avoiding certain drinks and foods, conserving energy, and doing specific exercises. Treatment options can include medications as well as counseling through a sex therapist and other members of your healthcare team.
Types of Sexual Dysfunction in MS
How MS Symptoms May Impact Sexual Function
Managing the Physical Causes
The Impact of Psychological Symptoms
The Effects of Depression and Anxiety on Intimacy
How Cognitive Problems Affect Sexual Function
Updated in January 2024 by Dr. Barry Hendin, MSAA Chief Medical Officer
Original content reviewed by Amy Perrin Ross, APN, MSN, CNRN, MSCN