Challenges related to sex and intimacy can occur when a person has Parkinson’s disease (PD). These issues may be due to changes in sexual desire or problems with sexual function. This can affect a person’s sex life or cause intimacy difficulties.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Some people with PD may experience sexual problems, especially in the late stages of the disease. A person living with PD may be able to improve their sex life with certain treatments and strategies.
This article will look at the impact of PD on sex and intimacy, as well as how to maintain a healthy sex life.
Certain factors can cause a person to develop sexual problems when they have PD.
These factors include:
- Depression: The American Parkinson Disease Association states that up to 40% of people with PD also have depression. Depression can occur as a result of living with PD or due to changes in brain chemistry. It can reduce a person’s sexual function and lead to low sex drive. Research from 2018 found that
62.5%of males with depression in the study had a form of sexual dysfunction.
- Certain medications: Some medications that treat PD may affect a person’s libido, sexual desire, and sensation. If a person notices changes in their sexual habits after taking certain medications, they should speak with a doctor.
- Fatigue: PD can make a person feel tired or fatigued. If a person is regularly low on energy, they may not want to engage in physical intimacy.
- Mobility issues: The tremor, rigidity, and slowness of movement characteristic of PD can affect a person’s ability to have sexual intercourse.
- Anxiety: Anxiety can decrease a person’s sex drive and ability to maintain an erection or orgasm.
- Sleep problems: Sleep problems, such as restless leg syndrome (RLS), can cause a person to feel fatigued. RLS is
prevalentamong those with PD.
PD can cause a person’s dopamine levels to drop. This occurs when dopamine-producing nerve cells in the part of the basal ganglia called the substantia nigra die.
Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps regulate coordinated movements. It is also involved in all types of positive feelings and pleasure, such as sexual pleasure. Dysregulated dopamine activity can cause behavioral changes, including a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.
The American Parkinson Disease Association notes that if a person has low dopamine levels, they may have a reduced sex drive or interest in sex.
Mobility issues that occur due to PD can interfere with comfort during sex. If a person finds sex uncomfortable or painful, they may not want to have it.
On the other hand, less than 1% of people with PD will experience hypersexuality. Hypersexuality is when a person has a compulsive sex drive. Hypersexuality can
- increased interest in sex
- increased arousal
- preoccupation with sexual thoughts
- frequent desire for sex
- use of sex lines, pornography, or sex workers
Hypersexuality in PD could be due to a side effect of a PD medication called levodopa. If a person develops hypersexuality due to their PD treatment, they should speak with a doctor.
PD develops when nerve cells in the basal ganglia of the brain become impaired or die. The basal ganglia are a group of structures that help control movement.
Mobility issues that occur due to PD may also cause intimacy problems. Mobility issues include:
- slowed movements
PD can affect a person’s autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS controls involuntary processes in the body, such as heart rate and digestion. The ANS is also responsible for sexual arousal.
The following are sexual concerns that may affect males with PD:
According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, erectile dysfunction is the most common sexual issue for a male who has PD. Men may find that they are unable to achieve or maintain an erection.
Erectile dysfunction due to PD may be a result of the condition itself, medication used to treat it, or depression.
Lack of climax
PD can reduce sensation and function during sex, meaning achieving orgasm can be difficult. This can lead to frustration or dissatisfaction.
Parkinson’s UK notes that females with PD are most likely to experience:
Vaginal dryness and pain
PD can lead to vaginal dryness in some females. This means the vagina may not be properly lubricated during sex.
Vaginal dryness can lead to friction during sex, which can be uncomfortable or painful. Bladder infections are also common for females who have vaginal dryness.
Lack of arousal or climax
Females who have PD may also experience difficulty achieving orgasm. This may be due to issues with arousal or a result of pain and discomfort.
There are many ways a person can improve their sex life if they have PD, such as:
Being open and honest with each other
Communication between partners is important if a person finds sex or intimacy difficult. A person should let their partner know how they feel and how PD is affecting their sex life.
If a person finds that they are struggling to communicate with their partner, they may want to speak with a therapist. The therapist can help the couple open up to each other and facilitate change.
Speaking with a doctor about medications
If a person suspects that their PD medication is affecting their sex life, they should speak to a doctor. A doctor may be able to change a person’s medication to something more suitable.
Additionally, a doctor may be able to prescribe medication that could help a person’s sexual function. This may include antidepressants or erectile dysfunction medication, such as sildenafil (Viagra).
Methods to try during sexual activity
Sexual experimentation can help a person with PD figure out what works best for them and their partner. Experimenting may involve:
- using lubricants during penetration
- trying different forms of simulation
- using sex toys
- trying new positions
- applying oils to the skin to reduce friction from tremors
- putting satin sheets on the bed to reduce friction
- trying new things, such as roleplaying or dressing up
- trying positions that reduce strain and discomfort
PD can affect a person’s ANS, mood, and dopamine levels. This can result in a person developing sex or intimacy challenges.
Certain factors, such as mobility issues, fatigue, or medications, can also reduce a person’s desire for sex.
PD can cause a person to develop erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, or lack of climax. These issues can have an impact on a person’s sex life.
Open and honest communication is important when dealing with sexual issues. If a person finds it hard to discuss their sexual problems with their partner, they should speak with a doctor or sex therapist.
There are many ways a person with PD can improve their sex life. If a person is concerned about their sexual problems, they should speak with a healthcare professional.
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