The physical changes experienced by people who have multiple sclerosis can alter their view of themselves as sexual beings, as well as their perception of the way others view them. The psychological and cultural context in which physical changes occur can adversely affect self-image, mood, sexual and intimate desire, and the ease or difficulty with which persons with MS communicate with their partners.
One of the notions about sexuality that prevails in Western culture is a “goal-oriented” approach to sex. In this approach, the sexual activity is done with the goal of having penile-vaginal intercourse, ultimately leading to orgasm. The sexual behaviors labeled as foreplay, such as erotic conversations, touching, kissing, and genital stimulation, are seen as steps that inevitably lead to intercourse rather than as physically and emotionally satisfying sexual activities in their own right.
This Western view of sexuality leads to spending a great deal of time and energy worrying about the MS-related barriers to intercourse and orgasm (“the goal”) rather than seizing the opportunity to explore physically and emotionally satisfying alternatives to intercourse. The capacity to discover new and fulfilling ways to compensate for sexual limitations requires that couples be able to let go of preconceived notions of what sex should be and focus instead on openly communicating their sexual needs and pleasures without fear of ridicule or embarrassment.
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Sexuality, Intimacy, and Multiple Sclerosis