Sharing and receiving affection are important aspects of maintaining a close relationship and can contribute considerably to overall quality of life. This can range from a cuddle or holding hands to sexual intercourse. Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s can make anyone feel differently about themselves and perhaps less comfortable with intimacy and this may upset the balance and harmony in a relationship. Some people say that they no longer feel attractive, making them feel less inclined to engage in sexual activities.
The importance of discussing any concerns you have with your partner, and talking as openly as you can about worries or problems, cannot be underestimated. Make time to tell each other how you feel and be a good listener, putting yourself in your partner’s shoes to understand their view. Hidden fears or anxieties could lead to resentment and tension. But good communication can help prevent such barriers forming, make the union stronger and encourage you to find solutions together. And if you need further help then you can seek the advice of a trained professional, such as a counsellor, physical/psychological therapist or sex therapist (see Who can help?), or there are support organisations in most countries, such as Relate in the UK, that can also offer guidance.
As with most long-term illnesses, sexual drive or Libido may decline in some people and levels of desire can vary from one day, or even one dose of medication, to another. Routine can often lead to a lower sex drive so if you become less interested in sex you might find it helps to change your patterns of activity – this can both enliven your relationship and inject fresh energy into your sex life.
Sometimes spontaneity can be lost as sexual activity sometimes needs to be timed around medication taking effect, but there is nothing wrong with planning ahead for intimacy and setting aside some quality time. So, don’t be put off – try to adapt to your needs or limitations as they evolve.
Arousal and orgasm
Parkinson’s can sometimes affect arousal levels and orgasm - this is frustrating, yet quite normal so try not to become despondent. Orgasms are possible, but tend to be reached with several smaller peaks followed by an abrupt finish rather than the more common ‘tailing off’.
There are some medications that can affect sexual function and interest – for example Dopamine agonists may induce Hypersexuality - which can cause tension in a relationship. Impulse control disorders, including hypersexuality, tend to be more common in men than women. But do be aware of such potential problems and monitor any significant sexual changes so that you can discuss them with your doctor and the dosage or type of medication can be altered accordingly.
See Also: Sex, sensuality & intimacy.
Reduced mobility in general will naturally affect mobility in the bedroom so talk to a Physiotherapist if this is a problem as they will be able to suggest ways to help. It is important to control symptoms such as Tremor, Rigidity and Fatigue as these can make intimacy more difficult, so if you find that your symptom control worsens discuss this with your doctor so that medications can be adjusted and symptoms better managed.
Some people worry that energetic sexual activity, as with any strenuous exercise, may exacerbate Parkinson’s symptoms, cause medication to wear off faster and some also say that it increases Tremor. But physical activity is almost always beneficial and can be a positive distraction from day to day problems. For more information on the benefits of exercise see [add link].
Depression and anxiety
Parkinson’s can also cause Depression and Anxiety which, in turn, could exacerbate any underlying worries about the sexual side to your relationship. If you think that you may be experiencing depression or anxiety then discuss this with your doctor, as carefully chosen Antidepressant medications can be very effective. A healthy diet (see also: Diet & Nutrition) and keeping active (see also: Exercise) can also help and can improve general wellbeing and quality of life.
Research with a group of female Parkinson’s patients, aged 35 to 59, revealed that many displayed anxiety about their bodies and sexual image1. Unfortunately, such concerns are rarely addressed by doctors and nurses2 so if you are experiencing such feelings and you think your doctor isn’t taking them seriously, you must discuss them with your partner, a sex therapist or counsellor.
It is also important to note that intimate activities, such as touching, kissing, hugging or massaging each other can be just as good as sexual intercourse and can give a wonderful sense of closeness. So try not to feel obliged to turn each intimate moment into erotic sexual activity and you may find that you become free to enjoy those moments of tenderness without feeling anxiety about your sexual limitations. The ability to focus on giving and receiving affectionate touch with your partner may later enhance also your sexual function. Reminiscing about the past can also be helpful, and remembering romantic moments can rekindle your passion for each other and help you to step outside your life as it is for a while. And never think that you are too old for intimacy or a healthy sexual relationship!