Adjusting to Changes in Sexual Function in MS

Frederick W. Foley, PhD and Audrey Sorgen, PhD

Normal sexual function changes throughout one's lifetime, but having multiple sclerosis (MS) can profoundly affect an individual's sexual experience in a variety of ways. The most frequently reported change in men is diminished capacity to obtain or maintain an erection (impotence), while the most frequent change reported by women is partial or total loss of libido (sexual desire).

Symptoms that can affect sexual activity include:

• Muscle weakness

• Spasticity

• Bladder or bowel dysfunction

• Cognitive dysfunction

• Depression

• Sensory changes (e.g., numbness, tingling, burning sensations)

These (and other) MS symptoms can cause:

• Changes in family roles

• Lowered self-esteem

Grief and other feelings of distress

• Difficulties in meeting expectations about sexual expression, which can particularly affect those who live with a disability

Certain MS medications can also interfere with sexual functioning. For example, certain antidepressants can cause this difficulty.

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