Intimacy Issues and Parkinson’s Disease 101
Warning: This article contains adult-themed issues and terms.
Every year, the top Parkinson’s experts from around the world who treat people with Parkinson’s at a Parkinson’s Foundation-designated Center of Excellence (a department or clinic within a hospital that specializes in PD) convene to discuss the latest Parkinson’s research and treatments. This article summarizes the 2018 Center Leadership Conference presentation on sexual disfunction by Gila Bronner, MPH, MSW, CST, Director of Sex Therapy at the SHEBA Medical Center in Israel. Read the articles covering some of the other topics discussed: new therapies in trial, oral health and music therapy.
Jessica made an appointment with Gila Bronner, MPH, MSW, CST, a sex therapist, to discuss a specific issue: how could she address her husband’s drooling interfering with their sex life. Even though her husband was the one living with Parkinson’s disease (PD), some symptoms affected the both of them.
Intimacy issues and sexual dysfunction is a “couple problem.” It affects both partners. One person’s sexual dysfunction often results in the same effect in their partner. For example, when a man experiences a sexual dysfunction, his partner is more likely to experience sexual dysfunction and dissatisfaction as well.
There is a high prevalence of sexual dysfunction in PD, with problems ranging from erectile dysfunction, reduced desire and frequency, vaginal dryness, orgasm difficulties and more. According to one study, people with PD rate sexual dysfunction in their top 12 most bothersome symptoms (Politis, et al., 2010). Another study cites that 41.9 percent of men and 28.2 percent of women cease sexual activity after being diagnosed with PD (Bronner, et al. 2004).
Sexual dysfunction in PD can be compounded by depression, anxiety, pain and movement-related symptoms, which can affect desire, erectile dysfunction and sexual satisfaction. Sexual dissatisfaction has been associated with movement symptoms in men, anxiety in women and depression in both genders.
As a sex therapist, Gila reminds her patients that it is important to remember that sexuality is not only about sex and orgasms; its emotional, non-sexual physical and intimate aspects play important parts. Intimate touch and sexual activity contribute to a better quality of life and health overall. They are associated with emotional and physical relaxation, better self-esteem, increased vitality and well-being, and closeness between partners.
The increase in oxytocin that comes from massage and touch can even reduce pain. Older people who continue to engage in sexual activity have better overall cognitive functioning (Hartmans, et al. 2014). Therapeutic touch has even been shown to decrease behavioral symptoms of dementia (Woods, et al. 2005).
There are many alternative intimate and sexual activities to treat sexual dysfunction, such as outercourse (other sexual activities besides sex), self-stimulation, non-demanding touch (relaxing and pleasant touch), open sexual communication, compensatory strategies and sexual aids, and erotic thoughts and fantasies.
Intimacy Tips from People with PD and Their Partners
- Plan sex for when movement symptoms are at a minimum.
- Apply oily lubricants to lessen the effects of tremor on skin.
- Use sexual aids.
- Plan positions in advance with minimized movements between positions.
- Use lubricants for penetration during intercourse, and be sure to read the lubricant’s instructions before you begin.
- Use satin sheets to ease movement.
- Perform intimacy training and erotic tasks.
- Reduce stress and burden on your partner.
“Remember that the right to share love, touch and intimate moments accompanies us along our life,” said Gila.
For more information about sex therapy or where to find a sex therapist near you, contact the Parkinson’s Foundation free Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636) or Helpline@Parkinson.org.