Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that usually initially manifests through subtle and easily missed symptoms, can impact nearly any aspect of your life. Knowing the disease is progressive and worrying about the future is one of the things that makes the initial diagnosis so hard to come to terms with for many patients.
How can Parkinson's disease impact your sex life?
The motor symptoms seen in Parkinson's, which get worse over time, are perhaps the most obvious way in which the condition would interfere between the sheets. Beyond that, however, the medications you're prescribed to manage your symptoms can also have side effects that impair sexual functioning, and then there are non-motor symptoms and self-image factors to consider. Many Parkinson's disease patients suffer from depression, for instance, and fatigue is another commonly seen symptom. People with Parkinson's may also find that their diagnosis radically changes the way they see themselves, as least while they come to terms with it, and may not feel attractive or desirable anymore — something that definitely puts a damper on your intimacy!
Coordination, Parkinson's, and sex
Your tremors, slowed movement (bradykinesia), and stiffness can all make it difficult to enjoy sex in rather apparent ways. Not only are you likely to have trouble moving around the way you would ideally like to, you may also experience physical pain as the result of the movements you or your partner make.
Parkinson's in men: Erectile dysfunction
We should mention that erectile dysfunction can strike men with or without Parkinson's, and though it can affect men of all ages too, it's more common in older guys — who are also more likely to have Parkinson's disease. If you have erectile dysfunction, it may not be related to your Parkinson's, then. However, because Parkinson's disease does affect the central nervous system, it can contribute to erectile dysfunction. Studies additionally show that men with Parkinson's disease may have trouble becoming aroused — which can be for psychological reasons.
Parkinson's in women: Vaginal dryness
Vaginal dryness is one of the most common sexual issues in women with Parkinson's disease. It is, again, important to note that this may not be directly caused by your Parkinson's disease; the menopause also commonly induces vaginal dryness.
Inability to reach orgasm
Both men and women with Parkinson's may find they have trouble climaxing. This may be due to thinking about your performance, and the things you can no longer physically do, during sex — stress really does a very effective job of interfering with pleasure.
Though hypersexuality in the context of Parkinson's is talked about quite often — because people find it interesting — it affects less than a percent of the total number of people who suffer from Parkinson's disease. This hypersexuality is related to poor impulse control, and some Parkinson's patients struggle with things like gambling or online shopping for the same reason. It has been linked to levodopa and dopamine agonists, a commonly prescribed combination of Parkinson's medications.
In the meantime, here are 10 tips that may make all the difference.
1. Are your prescription meds messing up your sex life? Talk to your doctor!
There's no denying that prescription medications are an invaluable part of managing Parkinson's disease — but it's also abundantly clear that drugs can cause adverse effects. Those that impact your sex life are among them, as Parkinson's medications can send your libido packing, as well as affect the way in which you respond to physical touch. Switching medications isn't always an option, but your doctor has other options in their arsenal, in the form of drugs that can help ease the problems you're encountering.
Talking to your doctor about the ways in which Parkinson's and the drugs you're taking for it are affecting your sex life is a step you shouldn't miss out on.
2. Erectile dysfunction? There's a pill for that
We're all familiar with Viagra, the "blue pill", by now. If the drug is safe for you to take, it can do wonders for your sex life as it allows users to maintain an erection and reach a climax. Because Viagra isn't safe for everyone, have a serious chat with your doctor if you are interested in trying it.
3. Get out the lube
The vaginal dryness women who suffer from Parkinson's disease often encounter can cause anything from a mild discomfort to actual pain — not things that make sex fun. In turn, you may lose interest in sex, find yourself unable to become aroused, and have trouble reaching orgasm. A water-soluble lubricant can help you out in the short term, while estrogen therapy can increase natural vaginal lubrication over the longer term.
4. Make the most of your good periods
Parkinson's medications can fluctuate in effectiveness, and many patients find that they experience periods during which their symptoms are well controlled as well as those during which their lives are impacted by the disease more intensely. Parkinson's symptoms may also be better or worse during certain times of the day. We'd advise any Parkinson's patient who wants a fulfilling sex life to "pluck the day" — grab the opportunity to be intimate when you're feeling good.
5. Consider therapy
While the prevalence of depression in people with Parkinson's disease isn't exactly clear, as data varies from study to study, as many as four in 10 patients may be depressed. Depression itself has a great impact on a person's sexual desire and self esteem, but treatment may not solve the problem as antidepressants can likewise interfere with sexual function.
Even if you're not clinically depressed, your Parkinson's diagnosis is bound to have had an emotional impact — many patients are stressed, angry, emotionally tired, and even go through a form of mourning. While all this is happening, you may also worry that your partner finds you less attractive or desirable now that you have been diagnosed with Parkinson's. All of these things can radically impact your sex life.
Feeling better about yourself is likely to lead to an improved sex life as well — and that's just one of many reasons for which talk therapy can be extremely beneficial for someone who has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's. You could go alone, or together with your partner.
6. Overcoming physical difficulties during sex
The motor symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease — primarily slowness of movement and stiffness, but also the tremors — can make sex a physically demanding and difficult activity. Finding new positions that are now more comfortable, new places to have sex, or even using satin sheets (which allow you to move more easily) can all be beneficial.
7. Regular physical activity
Even gentle exercise can help improve your sex life by increasing your fitness, stamina, flexibility, and energy levels. Most kinds of exercise are suitable for people in the early stages of Parkinson's, but stretching, swimming, yoga, tai chi, and strength training are all excellent choices for you. You may also try working with a physical or occupational therapist.
8. Talk to your partner
Open and honest communication between partners strengthens relationships as it helps both of you understand each other's needs, opinions, and feelings. That's true in general, but the bedroom is no exception. You'll want to discuss how your diagnosis is affecting you, but also how your partner is experiencing it, as well as tackling sex-related topics head-on. That includes things like what gets you aroused, how you feel about your partner (it's especially important for Parkinson's disease patients to hear that they're still desirable!), what hurts, and what you can do to make things more enjoyable.
9. Try new things
We've already mentioned lubrication, experimenting with new sexual positions that may now be more comfortable, and making adaptations to your surroundings to make sex easier. If what once worked is no longer great for you and your partner, it's time to try new things — and you may even find that setting off on this adventure together ultimately strengthens your relationship and the ways in which you can enjoy each other.
10. There's no time like the present
Parkinson's disease results in many physical changes you'd rather you didn't have to suffer from — and these things can all make a patient self-conscious and crush their self-esteem. We've got to say it, though. Parkinson's predominantly affects older adults, who've seen all there is to see by the time the diagnosis rolls around. You've likely been around as your partner's farted, puked, suffered from diarrhea, went through childbirth, injured themselves, sat around in their very unsexy undies while unshowered and stinky, and much more beyond that. You still appreciate them despite being pretty disgusting, just like all other humans. They still appreciate you now.
The Parkinson's is here to stay, but so is your partner — so try make the most of the present, and enjoy each other in all of the ways that work for you at this time.