The diagnosis of a neurological condition or a stroke turns your life upside down. Suddenly, you're spending more time visiting doctors and therapists than working, may be unable to participate in activities you love and may find yourself coping with a baffling array of medications and other treatments. But have you ever considered the effect such conditions may have on your sexual life?
Well, if you consider that sex starts in the brain—the center of any neurological illness—it can have quite an impact. Add to that the multiplier effects of fatigue, physical disability, depression and loss of independence, and you can imagine how total the loss might be.
Neurological conditions can affect how you process sexual stimulus, whether it's touch or visual. That can affect your level of desire, your ability to become aroused and your ability to reach orgasm. For instance, studies suggest that as many as 72 percent of women with multiple sclerosis have sexual dysfunction. And women with epilepsy may experience involuntary sexual gestures, such as touching themselves, grabbing their genitals, even having unintended orgasms, even as antiepileptic drugs tend to reduce libido.
No matter what condition you've been diagnosed with, you don't have to resign yourself to a life without sex or intimacy.
- Talk to your doctor. Tell your doctor how important your sexual life is to you. I know this might be difficult, particularly if you're not used to talking about such issues with "strangers," but it's worth it. In many instances, the medications you're taking may be interfering with your libido; in other instances, your doctor may be able to prescribe certain medications to improve libido, such as supplemental testosterone and even sildenafil (Viagra).
- Talk to your physical and occupational therapist. These health care professionals often spend hours a week with their patients. They get to know them—and their problems—well. And they often have unique strategies—emotional and physical—to help you retain the intimacy you desire.
- Educate yourself. The more you know about the possible effects your condition or your partner's condition may have on intimacy, the better prepared you are to face the challenge. Knowledge is power.
- Talk to your partner. If you've had a stroke, for instance, and you don't have as much sensation on one side of your body, ask your partner to focus on areas that can still feel sensation. Also have an honest conversation with your partner about the importance of intimacy in your life. And listen to what your partner says without judging. For instance, your partner may tell you that the drooling that is a result of your Parkinson's turns him off. If this is the case, talk to your doctor about options for reducing this symptom.
- Rediscover intimacy. Who says intimacy is all about intercourse? Intimacy could be taking a bath together in candlelight or giving each other massages with scented body oil.