Sexuality

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Sexuality is a complex part of life, one that is difficult to define or measure because its expression is special and private for each individual. It has its roots in being human and adds a richness and pleasure to life that goes far beyond the sexual act. Although our society has recently become more open about sex and sexuality, many myths and negative attitudes still exist concerning the sexuality of those who have a chronic illness such as MS. Many people think that a diagnosis of MS means that their sexual life has ended, that it somehow is wrong or "inappropriate" to continue having sexual needs or to seek information about maintaining a satisfying sexual life.

Sexuality does and should continue to be an important part of life for people with MS. Sexuality affects your basic feelings of self-esteem and your views of yourself as masculine or feminine. It provides pleasure and relaxation, and it is an important aspect of relationships with a spouse or significant other because sharing a sexual life strengthens the attachment between partners.

A chronic illness such as MS may have a tremendous impact on sexuality. Sexual functioning—the actual physiology and mechanics of sex, may be affected by physical changes resulting from illness-related neurologic changes or by the presence of symptoms such as spasticity, bowel and bladder problems, pain, and fatigue. The psychological feelings associated with coping with an illness such as MS, including anxiety and depression, also may interfere with sexual expression and desire. Additionally, the partner of an individual who is coping with illness may experience a similar range of feelings, which may interfere with his or her sexual ability and interest.

Although there may be changes in sexuality in reaction to MS, sexual needs neither disappear nor become inappropriate. This chapter discusses both possible changes in sexuality that may occur as the result of MS and strategies to obtain information and maintain a positive sense of sexuality in the presence of the disease.

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