Finding the ‘Fun’ in Sexual Dysfunction with Parkinson’s
Last updated: February 2021
Parkinson’s is a chronic neurological disorder expressed in both motor and non-motor related processes. Your quality-of-life can remain healthy throughout this time period. However, you will have to work hard to achieve and sustain the quality-of-life you desire.
One of the more challenging aspects of life with Parkinson’s is sexual dysfunction. And without advanced notice, this could already be eroding some of your quality-of-life. Sexual dysfunction in Parkinson’s is common in men and women. When you consider how we express the symptoms of Parkinson’s, it makes sense that problems with sexual function may be problematic.
Symptoms that contribute to dysfunction
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is affected by Parkinson’s; the ANS helps both your sexual function and sexual response. And since the role of dopamine is so vital in coordinating, controlling, and promoting movement; clearly, the loss of dopamine could hinder sexual function.
Consider how these features of Parkinson’s might interfere with sexual function: muscle rigidity and reduction of fine motor control that leads to clumsiness; tremor; hypersalivation; hypomimia (a fixed, mask-like appearance of your facial expression), bradykinesia (slowness of movement); dyskinesia (involuntary muscle movements); and neurogenic orthostatic hypotension (failure of the ANS to regulate blood pressure in response to postural changes).
Differences between men and women
Additional factors contribute to the quality-of-life regarding sexuality in someone with a chronic disorder like Parkinson’s. Both genders experience a loss of desire and dissatisfaction with their sexual life. The most common problems found for men with Parkinson’s are erectile dysfunction and problems with ejaculation. The most common issues for women with Parkinson’s are loss of vaginal lubrication and involuntary urination during sex.
Related to drug therapy for Parkinson’s, there is hypersexuality (compulsive sexual behavior) attributed to dopamine agonists. Remember the comment from Paulo Coelho: “When there is no turning back, we should concern ourselves only with the best way of going forward.”
Tips to improve intimacy
Here are seven suggestions to strengthen your relationship, and they are focused on knowing the potential exists for sexual dysfunction from someone’s Parkinson’s. Ultimately, the goal is to use these suggestions to regain the fun from sexual dysfunction as a result of Parkinson's:
- Talk about dysfunction. Open lines of communication to admit, discuss and describe what ‘issues’ may now exist from your Parkinson’s. Explain what works and what isn't working as well. It could be an awkward conversation, but without it, you will not understand what has changed.
- Rebuild your connection.Intimacy is a crucial element to the success of any relationship. Being successful at intimacy means you can express empathy, understanding, and you can embrace compassion. Use affection to rebuild what may have broken down due to the emergence of Parkinson’s.
- Work with your doctor. Deal with erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women by seeking medical-professional help and advice. You may have to get creative to manage impaired sexual coordination issues. Optimizing the timing of your Parkinson's medication may help reduce or control some of the symptoms during intimate interaction. The better you get at intimacy, the more it will help you deal with the (potential) inability to attain an orgasm.
- Manage your mental health. Depression is one of the critical non-motor processes that occur in more than one-third of those with Parkinson's. Is your sexual dysfunction due to depression? Seek professional help to deal with such issues. And realize that some anti-depressants may promote sexual dysfunction, adding fuel to the burning fire. But getting help will lead to better health ultimately, which will enable you to manage the sexual dysfunction better.
- Tackle fatigue. Many aspects of Parkinson’s, either from the therapy or from the disorder itself, lead to fatigue. Increase your fitness level through exercise, get plenty of sleep, and focus your loving time around a schedule that best accommodates both of you.
- Go on a date. Make it romantic. Remind yourself how special your partner is to you, your life, and your family. Change it up by making it a date for two, no children, no grandchildren allowed on this particular romantic time. If you can afford it, make it a weekend away somewhere close to home, but just not at home.
- Adjust to the change. Ultimately, the changes from your Parkinson’s may require you and your partner to alter your attitudes and patterns of sex; giving you the time to explore and redefine your sexual identity in the presence of Parkinson’s.
Communicating about sexual dysfunction
Based on the pathway and the mechanism of Parkinson’s, many of us will likely experience some sexual dysfunction at some point. For me, it’s a matter of connection and communication with my partner, knowing that she realizes what’s going on physically and emotionally with my disorder.
It is essential for me to communicate with my physicians about what’s going on. The reality is that erectile dysfunction can be treated with relative ease using the generic form of Viagra (Sildenafil).
It’s also crucial to maintain the physical connection with your partner, keep trying to find common points that intertwine intimacy with sex. One suggestion, and it’s a difficult concept, is to not invite Parkinson’s into your most private and intimate settings. In the backdrop of living with Parkinson’s, try hard to keep this close relationship with your partner supportive, durable, and steady.
Maintaining your quality of life
Caring for your partner and effectively communicating with one another are strengths of a loving relationship. Parkinson’s alone could introduce a lot of stress into a relationship; add sexual dysfunction, and it may challenge it even further.
Feel grateful for what you have together, and keep working on all aspects of the relationship. Stay hopeful and positive that the steps you are following will result in a stronger bond with your partner.
Even in the presence of such obstacles, you can still jump over the hurdle to maintain your quality-of-life in the presence of Parkinson’s. There are many paths to follow, search out what seems best for you at the current time. In closing, remind yourself of these words from Lao Tzu and Thomas Merton, respectively:
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” Lao Tzu
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone; we find it with another.” Thomas Merton
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