Personal Intimacy and Sexuality in Parkinson's Disease
The World Parkinson Congresses have been a special opportunity for me, as a sex therapist. I’ve been active as a speaker in the second congress in Glasgow, Scotland, the third congress in Montreal, Canada, and the last one in Portland, Oregon. These meetings enable a unique experience: one meets physicians and health professionals, as well as persons with Parkinson's disease (PwP), spouses, partners, and family members. We can communicate ideas during workshops, in roundtable sessions, during breaks and in the challenging exhibition hall. Frequently, I found myself sharing practical tips how to handle intimate problems and sexual dysfunction. But, more and above all- I’ve learned a lot from others. Listening to the voices of PwP and their families, while being aware of their sexual difficulties and their coping strategies, enriched my professional world. Some of you talked about creative solutions and your personal ways to protect intimacy and sexual life, when confronted with such a very challenging disease.
Yes, it is not simple to talk about sex. Most people in the world are not relaxed when talking about sex, peculiarly even not with their intimate partners. While talking about sex, we actually invade an uncertain emotional territory. It is so personal and so private, that people prefer to hide or ignore it and act as if it does not exist at all.
Is it really important to discuss sexuality? Well, yes!! As you probably know, physical intimacy and emotional intimacy are essential aspects of wellbeing and general satisfaction from life. This is a basic human need that accompanies our life from birth to death. You probably know the powerful effect of a close hug, when you try to calm a child or a crying baby. The same occurs with adults. We all need to love and be loved, to hug and be hugged, to touch and be touched, to feel close, and to live with affectionate, empathic and caring relationships. When this physical and emotional intimacy exists in our life, we may better accommodate life’s challenges and overcome moments of frustration, pain and despair.
So, what is the role of Sex? Problems in sexual activity, known as sexual dysfunction, are common among adults around the world, not only among people with chronic or progressive disease. For example, approximately 20% of men suffer from premature ejaculation, about half suffer from erectile dysfunction and about one third of the women complain of reduced desire and inability to reach orgasm. Obviously, the frequency of sexual problems increases significantly in the presence of a multi-dimensional disease like PD. The consequences of these sexual problems are feelings of frustration, misery and hopelessness, followed by increased marital tension, ending with a cessation of any physical, relaxing and loving touch. It happens even in couples who care for and love one another.
Quite often, when I meet couples with PD, I'm overwhelmed by the amount of love and care that they have towards one another. However, coping with the disease is so exhausting and strenuous, that they can't continue maintaining their intimate and sexual life anymore. Sometimes, they need a professional session with a health care provider or an expert in couple or sex therapy. Openly discussing intimacy and sexuality may contribute to reducing their stress and improving their relationship. It is enough, just to express to each other their craving for touch or a hug, and how much they miss their intimate and sexual life.
I would like to share with you, PwP and spouses, some tips to improve intimate life:
1. Change your mindset and your approach, when you deal with intimacy and sexuality.
2. Focus on pleasure and not on functioning.
3. Increase opportunities to give and get touch (hug your child, dog, cat etc.)
4. Don't stop touching one another, talk about it and enjoy it.
5. Stop the (bad) habit of making every touch a first step to intercourse.
6. Separate between intimate (non-erotic) touch sessions and sexual-erotic activities.
7. If medical intervention is needed, look for experts such as urologists, gynecologists, sex therapists or psychologists.
8. Consider the needs of the PwP and don’t forget to check your spouse’s needs and problems.
9. Remember that all of these options must become personalized: choose only what fits your and your partner’s personal needs and difficulties.
List of YouTube interviews on Parkinson’s disease and sexuality, with Gila Bronner
Parkinson's Victoria, Australia
Parkinson's Foundation, USA
Gila Bronner, MPH, MSW spoke at the second World Parkinson Congress in Glasgow, Scotland: the third World Parkinson Congress in Montreal, Canada: and fourth World Parkinson Congress in Portland, Oregon. She is a certified sex therapist and the Director of the Sex Therapy Services in the Sexual Medicine Center, Sheba Medical Center, Israel.
Ideas and opinions expressed in this post reflect that of the authors solely. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of the World Parkinson Coalition®