If you’ve experienced challenges in your sex life, you’re not alone. Multiple sclerosis (MS) can affect your physical and mental health, which can in turn influence your sex drive and sexual relationships.

In a study of people with MS, more than 80 percent of sexually active survey respondents said they experienced problems with sex.

If left unmanaged, sexual difficulties can negatively affect your quality of life. That’s why it’s important to take steps to address them — and get help when needed.

Read on for tips to help you maintain a satisfying sex life with MS.

MS is an autoimmune disease that damages the protective coating around your nerves as well as the nerves themselves. It can potentially affect the nerve pathways between your brain and sexual organs. That can make it difficult for you to become sexually aroused or orgasm.

Other symptoms of MS can also affect your sex life. For example, muscle weakness, spasms, or pain can make it harder to have sex. Fatigue or mood changes can affect your sex drive and personal relationships. Some people may feel less sexually attractive or confident after developing MS.

If you think MS might be affecting your sex drive, sexual sensation, or sexual relationships, speak with your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for help.

What is sexual dysfunction?

Sexual dysfunction is a group of disorders characterized by difficulty experiencing sexual pleasure, including erectile dysfunction, female orgasmic disorder, and more.

These disorders often cause pain, lack of sexual desire or interest, and other disruptions in sexual activity.

Coping with sexual dysfunction may involve talking with a specialized healthcare or mental health professional.

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Depending on the exact cause of your sexual challenges, medication or other treatment options might help. For example, your doctor might prescribe medications to help relieve muscle spasms. If you have trouble with bladder control, they might recommend medications or intermittent catheterization to reduce the risk of urinary leakage during sex.

If you or your partner find it difficult to maintain an erection, your doctor may recommend treatments for erectile dysfunction. For example, your doctor might prescribe:

  • oral medications, such as sildenafil, tadalafil, or vardenafil
  • injectable medications, such as alprostadil, papaverine, or phentolamine
  • an inflatable device or implant

If you or your partner experience vaginal dryness, you can purchase personal lubricant over the counter at a drugstore or sex shop. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends water-soluble lubricants rather than oil-based options.

Using a new sexual technique or sex toy might help you and your partner enjoy sex more and address the symptoms of MS that may interfere with sexual pleasure.

For example, MS causes nerve damage. So, using a vibrator might make it easier for you to achieve arousal or orgasm. You might also consider specially designed cushions, such as those by Liberator. They aim to create “supportive landscapes for intimacy.”

The award-winning website Chronic Sex, which focuses on sex education and resources for people with chronic conditions, maintains a list of recommended sex toys.

Trying a new position might also help you manage MS symptoms. For example, in some positions, you may find it easier to work around symptoms such as muscle weakness, spasms, or pain.

You can experiment to see what feels best for you. Using your hands for stimulation and massage, mutual masturbation, and oral sex also provide pleasure for many people.

To take some of the pressure off, it might help for you and your partner to explore each other’s bodies through other forms of touch. You might find it romantic or comforting to share a slow dance, take a shower together, give each other massages, or cuddle for a while.

These activities might serve as foreplay to sex, but they can also provide pleasure on their own. Sexual intercourse isn’t the only way to be intimate with one another.

To help your partner understand how your condition is affecting you and your sex life, it’s important to maintain open lines of communication. Be honest with them about how you’re feeling. Reassure them about your care and desire for them.

When you communicate with each other, it’s possible to work through many sexual challenges together.

MS can affect your mental health, too. Managing a chronic health condition can be stressful. Its effects on your body and life might affect your self-esteem or leave you feeling angry, anxious, or depressed. In turn, changes in your mood and mental health can affect your sex drive and sexual relationships.

To help manage the emotional and psychological effects of your condition, consider asking your doctor for a referral to a mental health specialist. They can help you develop strategies to cope with your feelings and daily stressors. In some cases, they might prescribe medications, such as antidepressants.

If you’ve been experiencing difficulties with sex, it might help for you and your partner to speak with a trained sex therapist. Sex therapy can help you talk about some of the challenges you’ve been facing together. It can also help you develop strategies for working through those challenges.

If your condition begins to affect your sex life, there are strategies and resources that can help. Consider making an appointment with your doctor, mental health professional, or sex therapist.

Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling. Work with them to navigate challenges in your sexual relationship together.