Research suggests that between half and three quarters of women with MS will experience sexual problems at some point in their lives.
Here we explore why people with MS experience sexual difficulties, the most common problems experienced by women and what can be done to help with these problems.
Sexual difficulties are common in women with MS. Not all sexual problems will be as a direct result of multiple sclerosis and often result from a complex interaction of physical, social, psychological and emotional elements.
You may find it awkward or embarrassing to talk about sex, but there is support available. The key element in managing sexual issues is the willingness to discuss problems.
What type of sexual problems might women with multiple sclerosis experience?
Sexual difficulties reported by women include:
- loss of libido (desire)
- vaginal dryness
- loss of sensation and difficulty achieving orgasm
What causes sexual problems for women with multiple sclerosis?
For many people, sexual problems are caused by a combination of physical, psychological, emotional and social factors. These problems fall into three broad groups:
- Caused directly by MS damage to nerve pathways in your brain and spinal cord that control sexual feelings and responses
- Caused indirectly by symptoms of MS, such as bladder symptoms, fatigue, low mood and depression or spasticity, or from prescribed medications
- Resulting from the wider consequences of living with MS. This can undermine your sense of self, sexual identity and enjoyment, and your confidence as a sexual partner or potential partner.
How many women with MS have sexual problems?
Sexual difficulties are not unusual. Studies estimate that from half to three quarters of women with MS will be affected by sexual problems to some degree at some time. Some difficulties may be long lasting or permanent whilst others may come and go. Although sexual concerns are more likely the longer someone has had MS, they can occur at any time.
What can I do if I have sexual problems?
The most important starting point for managing sexual issues is being willing to talk about them. Many people find it difficult to talk about sexual problems with their partner or close friends, let alone a GP or their MS nurse. But remember that sexual problems are symptoms of MS and deserve to be taken seriously and there are approaches to manage the effects.
Many healthcare professionals, such as your MS nurse, GP, district or practice nurse or continence advisor, are used to talking about such matters on a regular basis. If you are not receiving adequate support, ask to be referred to somebody with more experience in this area. Don't give up; help is out there, but you may need to be persistent.
Ask an expert: Sex and MS
Starting a conversation about sexual problems with a health professional can often feel daunting. Lesley Catterall and Denise Middleton, two MS specialists answer your questions.
Sex and MS: depression, fatigue and disability
1 September 2017
This research looks at the relationship between sexual problems in MS and symptoms, such as depression, fatigue and level of disability.
Last updated: March 2018
Last reviewed: March 2014
This page will be reviewed within three years
- Sexuality and Disability 2013;31(2):141-153. Full article Prevalence of sexual dysfunctions among women with multiple sclerosis.
- Acta Neurologica Scandinavia 2010;121(5):289-301. Summary Female sexuality in multiple sclerosis: the multidimensional nature of the problem and the intervention.
- Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics 2009;9(3):341-350. Summary Sexual dysfunction in multiple sclerosis.