We Can Enjoy Sex Despite Having Multiple Sclerosis
Last updated: May 2023
If you are anything like me when you think about sex, you might start with a wistful memory of better days. Whether it was in the earlier stages of the disease or during that golden time before I developed multiple sclerosis, the memories stay as painfully intact as an indwelling catheter. Back then, all my plumbing worked pretty consistently. My partner and I knew how to get to the moon and back with predictably gleeful abandon. Life seemed so much simpler then, and not just in the sack.
Living in the present
But I keep telling myself that I’m operating in the present and ought to make an effort to concentrate on the now. Things will never be like they once were. Many years, life-changing events, and partners have come and gone. That bittersweet reverie of longing and grief can linger like jet contrails streaked across the sky, tempting me to keep looking upward instead of focusing on what’s in front of me. I can so often reach an impasse, unable to do anything more with that jumble of emotions and memories. At first, I felt there was no place else to go with it. I told my tearful self that the excitement is no longer one of the brass rings I can grab. But that’s not really true. Sexual arousal and climax are not impossible dreams.
What causes sexual dysfunction in MS?
Dysfunction can happen in different ways, to varying degrees, and for reasons directly and indirectly related to MS. Nerve damage can be one culprit. For many of us, fatigue and depression may keep us from melting into a partner’s loving caress and throwing off the covers in feverish arousal. No matter the cause, whether we lack drive or can no longer climax, we have an opportunity to explore new techniques. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. More on that later. Let’s talk about symptoms.1
Overcoming numbness and pain
Numbness in itself can be a big game-changer, even partial numbness. And if you have multiple areas of it like I do, you’ve probably attempted to draw a map of your dead zones for your partner.
For example, I have an area on my outer left thigh the length and size of a butternut squash that is both numb and very painful to even a light touch. I’ve told my partner every time to work around that area, but it’s a really difficult place to avoid. I usually yelp in pain at least once during each foreplay/leg massage. I’m used to it, but geez. Just because something has become the norm doesn’t mean you’re gonna ever not wince and suck in your breath from the biting pain. But it only lasts a second and everything else feels good, so what the heck, I’m no stranger to discomfort.
I managed to get through years of self-injections and infusion therapies that were no joyride, and I survived. I’m gonna enjoy intimacy if it kills me. That sounds wacky, but we are living with a wacky, unpredictable disease. It’s time to get off the sidelines and take our positions on the battlefields. Helplessness and hopelessness are not going to improve our lives. Eventually, I realized that seeking joyful release is just as important as fighting the good fight.
Other steps with sex
I followed Alice down the rabbit hole; made like Neo and swallowed the red pill; got off the train at Willoughby; next stop: The Twilight Zone. In other words, I went to an alternative reality where my deeply ingrained, familiar sexual triggers were packed up and shoved in the attic, making the space to discover brand new ones. And that was the key to a new joy. The next step was research and experimentation. Here are some gems I picked up:
Used to enjoy being on top but your legs are too weak now? Online sex toy sites sell a kind of sling chair with short legs and a hole in the middle of the seat so you can be on top without tiring your legs.
Ever try using restraints, ladies? Kinky, yes, but this particular technique functions like traction and can take the pressure off crampy, spastic legs by suspending them over your torso. An inexpensive way to do can be looping old belts around the knees and fastening them to the headboard. You can relax your legs and focus more on what’s happening elsewhere.
Another thing to discover may be to revisit the old techniques that weren’t quite working anymore and try again, but more aggressively. It might be that area has become somewhat numb but not completely numb, and might respond to more pressure and a faster tempo. Think allegro con brio(lively, with fire) instead of adagio (restful, at ease). Or vice versa, if pain is involved instead of numbness.
Watching porn online may also be very helpful. Of course, I only watch it for the articles.
We don't have to sacrifice sexuality
Disease has altered us in a hundred different ways. But we don’t have to sacrifice erotic joy and spontaneity to keep up with those changes. The best revenge against the loss of sensation is telling ourselves it isn’t lost at all. It just moved across town in the middle of the night and forgot to leave a forwarding address.
Do you ever have moments where you question your self worth because of your MS?