Music. Check. Mood lighting. Check. Fresh bedding. Check. Feeling of crushing exhaustion, um… numb left arm, er… the fear you could wet yourself at any moment… what? No, back up, back up – that’s not how it’s supposed to go.
Being intimate with your partner can feel like a minefield even at the best of times. Throw in an unpredictable nervous system, irritating physical symptoms (hang on, darling, while I change my catheter), and a whole bundle of emotional hang-ups that living with a long-term condition can bring, and… well, there’s nothing like MS to kill the romance .
If this sounds all-too-familiar, then rest assured you’re not alone. According to studies, up to 75% of people with MS experience sexual dysfunction at some stage . Which isn’t exactly surprising. Neurological changes can affect everything from your desire to have sex to your ability to orgasm, while symptoms like fatigue , weight gain and bladder and bowel control issues don’t do your libido any favours either .
Staying connected as a couple
Often it’s the emotional fall out of living with MS that presents the biggest challenge to couples. Receiving a diagnosis of MS can send shockwaves through a relationship, as your roles and expectations shift. The pair of you fretting about the future, and worrying how you’ll cover the bills isn’t the most powerful aphrodisiac. But as with any major life hurdle, honest and open communication can strengthen your bond and bring you closer together in the long-term.
Because true intimacy involves sharing your whole self with your partner – not just your body – it is important to open up about your insecurities, fears, and desires. Spending quality time together when you can and really ‘talking’ (“What’s on the telly?” doesn’t count as conversation, by the way), can strengthen that feeling of intimacy between you. As any sexpert will tell you, the most important foreplay happens outside the bedroom.
Keeping it real between the sheets
As for what goes on in the bedroom… yes, your sex life can take a hit when there’s any kind of medical condition involved, but the more honest you both are, the less impact your MS will have. You might even be surprised: what you see as a major turn off, might just be one more thing your partner loves about you (or, at the very least, a source of amusement for you both!). It’s also worth remembering that your partner isn’t a mind reader – if something stops turning you on, or you’d like to try something else, speak up. If you feel anxious about anything, wetting yourself during sex, for example, have that conversation beforehand. If getting physical is the last thing you need right now, be honest about that, too. Sex isn’t the only way to connect physically – holding hands, kissing and cuddling can be just as bonding.
Asking for help
Another person, you need to have a candid chat with is your doctor. Many of the symptoms that get in the way of physical intimacy can be managed effectively with treatment. From low sex drive to depression, bladder issues to fatigue, your doctor will be able to explore the various options with you. Sometimes, a change of medication is all it takes to improve things. Counseling can also be helpful for exploring how MS is affecting your relationship, whether as a couple or by yourself.
Maintaining intimacy is a challenge for most couples. Romance is rarely like the movies – but then what is? True love is being there for each other no matter what life throws at you. Mood lighting optional.