Most people would like a healthy, satisfying love life. Physical and emotional intimacy is crucial to the long-term survival of couple relationships. But levels of desire change as relationships develop and sex in a committed relationship will ebb and flow - just like other aspects of the relationship.
This is especially true for relationships where one or both partners have MS. A diagnosis and the symptoms of the condition can affect how you feel about yourself, how you relate to your partner and how you feel about sex and intimacy. If you can explore these emotions, it can help lead to deeper understanding and hopefully ways of maintaining a fulfilling intimacy within your relationship.
Your sexuality is shaped by life experience. From early years through to teenage crushes, attitudes to sex are unconsciously influenced. If you're taught that nakedness is taboo and that bodies should be covered up, your're likely to carry this notion through to adulthood. Similarly, a disappointing sexual experience could make sex more difficult. When establishing a comfortable sex life with your partners it is helpful to talk about these past experiences. That way, you can recognise how you feel and share that with your partner and take steps towards building a better sex life.
The way you feel about yourself, your body and your sexuality is extremely important. As you adjust to living with MS you may worry about your sex life, meeting new partners and sustaining loving relationships. Talking things through with trusted friends will help you to face any fears you may have.
Talking to your MS team can help you gain a clearer picture of your long-term health. MS is unpredictable, so the way you feel about yourself sexually may fluctuate depending on how your MS is currently affecting you. It's important to recognise when your feelings about your body are affected by MS and to find ways of managing your self-esteem. Try and recognise what you are good at, and be kind to yourself when you face challenges.
Social attitudes about disability could make you worry that finding and maintaining a relationship will be hard. Research has shown that talking about this can help with your sexual self-esteem and body image. You could look for a professional counsellor, such as those trained by Relate, the relationship support organisation. Relate work with individuals and couples on communication and emotional support.
Your closest relationships can be deeply affected by MS, particularly those with a long-term partner. Coping with MS symptoms can put pressure on you and your loved ones. You may fear that an MS diagnosis means completely giving up on your sex life for good, but this needn't be the case.
If difficulties arise it helps if you and your partners can identify and discuss them openly. As you come to terms with having MS you may start to feel differently about yourself and withdraw from intimacy. It is natural to not want sex. Try to keep on communicating to your partners so that they can understand the changes and give you space.
Many people enjoy finding new ways of being intimate together. If you can no longer do all of the things you used to in your love-making, try adapting your routine or finding other ways of being sensual. Changing the times of your love-making can accommodate varying energy levels. Adapting your sexual positions can mean discovering more about each other and about what you like. Keep talking together throughout and allow time if you feel frustrated by any limitations.
Sometimes you may have to find ways to stay close that don't involve sexual activity. Maintain an intimate, sensual connection by incorporating hugs, strokes and kissing. Carry on trying new things together, sharing new experiences and laughing together.
Relationships naturally change over time and always need lots of maintenance to survive. Dealing with MS gives you the opportunity to become creative in ways that you may never have thought of. Sometimes you and/or your partner(s) may need other forms of support. If that is the case, your MS health professionals can offer advice. For sex and relationship problems organisations like Relate can provide affordable sex therapy.
Developed from an article written by Catherine Allen, Relate Counsellor in 2009.