Man with heart broken tattoo on his elbow leans his hand against his head.

Dating with a Disease – Part Three: Intimate Issues (Doing It Dilemmas)

Last updated: August 2019

As I continue on in my series about dating topics, I may not being going in any particular order. I may also cover topics that apply to marriage, too (though I’ve always thought that even if you’re married, you should still “date” your partner), and today’s topic is one of those. A serious set of issues that hamper a lot of people with MS, myself included (ugh, we’ll see if I can actually get a date after I finish this series). I’m, of course, talking about symptoms that affect, um, intimate moments. OK, sex, I’m talking about sex! Not often spoken about, especially from a male’s perspective, Multiple Sclerosis can wreak havoc on our sex lives. So yeah, just when you think I can’t possibly embarrass myself more than I have in the past, here I am talking about sexual problems I’ve had.

It can be an embarrassing topic

The thing is, sadly, it can be an embarrassing topic for many. Sex is something that many people don’t like talking about. Folks are taught from a young age that it’s something to be hush hush about, something to be kept in private. All despite it being one of the most natural acts that a human being can do. Despite how natural of an act it is, many people, whether they have a chronic illness or not, are afflicted by some sort of sexual dysfunction. There’s a reason why Pfizer made $1 billion in sales in the first year alone with Viagra. That’s because these issues are abundant and widespread among the population. So let’s get past the embarrassment.

MS-related problems

There are numerous sexual issues that can occur because of MS. Women can often experience vaginal dryness and reduced or heightened sensitivity in the vaginal/clitoral area. None of that makes for a good time. Men can have trouble getting and maintaining an erection and can also suffer from reduced sensitivity. Both men and women can have trouble achieving an orgasm and both can suffer from a reduced libido. Along with these physical issues, let’s not forget the emotional toll MS can take on us. Changes to our emotions, mood swings, etc, can have a profound effect on our sex lives as well. Other MS-related issues like numbness (that makes sense right?) and fatigue (another underrated saboteur of a good sex life) can have huge impacts as well.

Battling the physical issues

There are some ways to battle some of the physical issues. Lubricant can help with dryness, erections can be helped by medications, implants, and even, uh, penile suppositories (I had to take a break after typing that one). So there are some options out there, with new ones coming out every day, but none of those address all of these problems and this is how I will segue into talking about my issue.

My experience

So, yeah, as an adult male with MS, starting in my early 30s, while I was still reasonably fit and active and working and all that, I started suffering from a drastic hit to my libido. I had been a very sexual person for most of my life and then suddenly I wasn’t, like almost overnight. My once hard-to-quench desire for sex seemed to have vanished overnight, and I admit, that messed with my head, a lot. That in turn messed with my whole life. I was engaged at the time, to this absolutely beautiful woman. The first woman I had ever saw from afar and said to myself, wow, I want to be with just her for the rest of my life. I was beyond attracted to her, in every way, physically, mentally, emotionally, even after we had gotten engaged. That’s when these issues hit. I still found her attractive, I just didn’t desire or want sex, it wasn’t about her at all. 

Good communication can really help

It’s a hard thing to understand unless you’ve experienced it. Not only did we lose that physical connection because of this, I wasn’t really talking about it because I was a stubborn guy who really didn’t know what to make of it. This kind of thing is devastating to a guy’s manhood. We’re raised in a society that values virile men. Growing up like that and suddenly your sex drive is in the toilet, and you really start to doubt yourself. At least, I did. We ended up breaking up, like any break up, that one thing wasn’t the sole cause, but it sure impacted a lot. I think when you can’t be close to someone physically, other areas start to suffer as well. I didn’t understand all that back then, but I do now. I was also too prideful to talk about it with her at length, and I think that’s an issue many people have when it comes to sexual problems. So many issues could be helped, if we simply talked about them with our partners and worked together to find a solution. Good communication can really help the physical areas of a relationship, but too many people are uncomfortable talking about it.

Our libidos are an important part of us

I’ve still suffered from libido issues, off and on since then. I eventually did meet another girl and got married, but that didn’t work out either. So now I face this challenge again, and I’ll admit, there are times when my desire for sex is down, that I’m pretty ok with just sitting at home, watching the Flyers and hanging out with my dog, even though I know I should be trying to get out there some (not that there's anything wrong with being alone). My point there, is that our libido, our sex drive, is an important part of who we are as human beings. Yes, it can have its negatives with some people, but for many, it’s an urge that helps push us closer to people when we need them the most. Most of the time, sex and physical contact is not bad, when it’s between two consenting adults, it’s a way to bring them even closer. A way to understand each other without words. I feel it’s essential to any great relationship.

It's not something to be ashamed of

Whether you have MS or not, you or your partner, may, at some point, experience sexual dysfunction of some kind. Statistically, many people reading this, have or will have, some experience with it. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s something to be discussed with your partner and something you should work with them and your doctor to overcome. It needs to be recognized as just another symptom that you are trying to take care of. If you’d seek help for fatigue or for pain or any of the other symptom of MS, then you need to seek help for this too. It’s no different and certainly no less important. In fact, in my experience, it’s more important.

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