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How Does Parkinson's Affect Sex & Intimacy?

Sexuality is an important factor in a person’s quality of life. Unfortunately, many chronic diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease (PD), can have a negative impact on a person’s sexuality. This is often compounded by the fact that many people feel uncomfortable discussing sex with their doctor, so they continue to experience sexual dysfunction symptoms without seeking any treatments.1

Sexual effects of Parkinson's

This article discusses some common sexual dysfunction issues that people with PD can encounter. If you are experiencing any of these issues, you are not alone, and there are treatments available for many of the symptoms you may be having.

Decreased intimacy and sexual desire

People with PD often experience a decreased feeling of intimacy with their partner. This may be especially true of those who are diagnosed with PD at a younger age.1 People with PD may feel the same needs for affection, such as physical touches and caresses or showing loving emotion as they did prior to their PD diagnosis, but often feel that these gestures are not happening as often.

People with PD and their partners may find that their sexual drives are reduced. This can be because of some of the symptoms of PD such as muscle rigidity, tremors, and lack of fine motor control.2 People with PD may find symptoms such as hypersalivation (drooling), sweating, and urinary incontinence can make them feel less attractive to their partner.1,2 Patients may also be treated for depression along with their PD. Many anti-depressant medications can cause a decrease in sexual drive, which can make an already lowered sex drive even worse.1,2

The most common gender-specific sexual dysfunction complaints of people with PD are erectile dysfunction in men, with 60-80% of males experiencing some form of erectile dysfunction.1 In women, vaginal dryness, or lack of lubrication during sex, affects about 88% of females with PD. Both of these symptoms are treatable in most people.2

Increased sexual desire

Some people with PD may experience increased sexual drives or hypersexuality. Some people with PD may show an increased preoccupation with sex and some may display compulsive sexual behaviors. These patients often feel frustrated that they continue to experience sexual desires, but cannot relieve these desires successfully.1 This occurs more often in males with PD and may cause problems as people with PD often want to have sex more than their partners, who may be tired or depressed due to their caregiver burden.1

Compulsive sexual behavior is an impulse-control disorder that may happen in up to 3.5% of people with PD. This behavior can put patients and their partners at risk for sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancies, and even legal issues.1 Compulsive sexual behavior should immediately be brought to the attention of the person's healthcare team.

Hypersexuality issues are often a side effect of medications that are used to treat PD. Many PD medications cause increased levels of dopamine in a patient’s system. Dopamine is a chemical released in the body that is partially responsible for the feelings of pleasure and reward.3 Certain types of dopamine receptors in the brain are responsible for both addiction and risk-taking. Patients with hypersexuality issues almost always respond to a change in PD medications.1,2

If you or someone you care about is experiencing sexual dysfunction issues as a result of the PD, make sure to let your healthcare team know. While talking about sex and sexual dysfunction may seem uncomfortable to you, your care team is well equipped to handle your specific sexual health needs. They can work with your symptoms, make medication changes, add treatments, or they may refer you to a specialist or a counselor. It is important to recognize that sexual well-being is an essential part of your quality of life, and it is okay to ask for help if you need it.

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