Most doctors and therapists are not comfortable about talking about it, and their patients are not comfortable talking about it, so no one talks about it!
Last month, psychologist and certified Sex Therapist, Beth Leedham, PhD, spoke to our women’s support group about Sex. A women-only environment allowed for an honest discussion about issues relating to Parkinson’s and our sexual behavior. According to Dr. Leedham, most doctors and therapists are not comfortable about talking about it, and their patients are not comfortable talking about it, so no one talks about it!
There is very little research about women with Parkinson’s and sexuality. She started with an old survey, from 1992. The question was: Over the last 12 months have you……?
And the results: 43% of women and 31% of men reported having sexual dysfunction. The rate is higher in populations with mental or physical health issues. So this is a very common issue among all adults.
In a study of women with Parkinson’s, the most common difficulty is getting aroused (*87.5%). PD affects the autonomic nervous system, and that is the system responsible for arousal. Others include difficulty reaching orgasm (75%) and Dyspareunia or painful sex (12.5%)
Some of the causes: motor changes, bladder changes, cognitive changes, differences communicating emotion, sleep disturbance, depression, changes in self-esteem and body image, medication side effects and on and on.
In addition, the normal issues related to aging can cause problems. Decrease of estrogen and testosterone with menopause, vaginal tissues become thinner, decrease in lubrication. Men have aging issues too. So sexual dysfunction increases among all men and women as they age. The prevelance of sexual dysfunction among women with Parkinson’s is slightly higher than that of post menopausal women. So is the problem due to aging or is it due to PD?
Many times changes in long-term relationships because of illness cause conflicts for both the person with PD and the spouse. Sometimes, the partner experiences well-spouse stress. Enmeshment, or unwelcome intimacies (closeness that is too close) can occur after a diagnosis. The well spouse may feel solely responsible for the partner with PD.
The number one issue, however, is differences in desire between the two partners. Some of the issues are because both partners are aging, some are because of PD and some are because of differences in expectations. We forget that we are not 20 years old anymore and that we experience things differently now. It is ok to negotiate and change things. Fix the causes that can be fixed. Accommodate for aging. Address relationship issues. Take risks and try new things. Look at it as an opportunity to redefine and reclaim sexuality and eroticism.