Research: Female sexuality and MS

Bronner G et al. Female sexuality in multiple sclerosis: the multidimensional nature of the problem and the intervention. Acta Neurol Scand. 2010;121:289-301.
Female sexual functioning is a complex process involving physiological, psychosocial and interpersonal factors. Sexual dysfunction (SD) is frequent (40-74%) among women with multiple sclerosis (MS), reflecting neurological dysfunction, psychological factors, depression, side effects of medications and physical manifestations of the disease, such as fatigue and muscle weakness. A conceptual model for sexual problems in MS characterizes three levels. Primary SD includes impaired libido, lubrication, and orgasm. Secondary SD is composed of limiting sexual expressions due to physical manifestations. Tertiary SD results from psychological, emotional, social, and cultural aspects. Sexual problems cause distress and may affect the family bond. Practical suggestions on initiation of discussion of sexual issues for MS patients are included in this review. Assessment and treatment of sexual problems should combine medical and psychosexual approaches and begin early after MS diagnosis. Intervention can be done by recognizing sexual needs, educating and providing information, by letting patients express their difficulties and referring them to specialists and other information resources.

Christopherson JM, Moore K, Foley FW, Warren KG. A comparison of written materials vs. materials and counselling for women with sexual dysfunction and multiple sclerosis. J Clin Nurs. 2006;15:742-50.

AIM: Evaluate whether symptoms of vaginal dryness, low libido, less intense or delayed orgasm could be improved in women with multiple sclerosis who took part in an education or education plus counselling programme.

BACKGROUND: Sexual dysfunction, a prevalent symptom in women with multiple sclerosis, can negatively affect quality-of-life.

METHODS: Women attending a large multiple sclerosis clinic were invited and 62 were randomized into one of two groups. Group 1 received written materials on primary, secondary and tertiary sexual dysfunction in multiple sclerosis as well as additional resources (books, websites, list of local psychologists specializing in sexual counselling). Group 2 received the same written materials as well as three counselling sessions from the clinic nurse, the latter two by telephone. The primary outcome measures were the expanded disability status scale and the multiple sclerosis intimacy and sexuality questionnaire-19. Repeated-measures analysis of variance was used to evaluate sexual dysfunction score over time and to compare two groups.

RESULTS:At baseline, total expanded disability status scale scores were not correlated with primary, secondary or tertiary sexual dysfunction. Total multiple sclerosis intimacy and sexuality questionnaire-19 score was correlated with use of anti-cholinergic medications [r (54) = 0.28, P < 0.05], but no other medications, alcohol or tobacco use. Both groups had equivalent and significant reductions in primary sexual dysfunction [F (1) = 14.79, P < 0.001] postintervention. There was a trend towards an interaction effect for tertiary sexual dysfunction [F (1) = 2.88, P = 0.096], in the direction of group 2 (education and counselling). Subjectively, women welcomed the opportunity to discuss sexual concerns and noted that the written information allowed a framework for initiating discussion with their spouses.

CONCLUSION: Relatively straightforward interventions provided by a clinic nurse may help women cope with the symptoms of sexual dysfunction associated with multiple sclerosis. Women who do not benefit from basic interventions could then be referred to an expert sexual dysfunction practitioner.

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Women with multiple sclerosis experience many disease-related physical and emotional challenges of which sexuality is only one. Sensitivity to sexual dysfunction and being willing to approach the topic is appreciated by women with multiple sclerosis. Nurses do not require in-depth expertise to offer some basic suggestions which may significantly improve life quality and assist the woman with multiple sclerosis to talk about or cope with sexuality issues.

Borello-France D et al. Bladder and sexual function among women with multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler. 2004; 10:455-61.

OBJECTIVE:Genitourinary dysfunction is common in women with multiple sclerosis (MS), yet few studies have evaluated the association between bladder and sexual dysfunction in these women. The aim of this study was to determine factors, including demographic and bladder function, associated with sexual dysfunction in a sample of women with MS.

METHODS:One hundred and thirty-three women with MS completed questionnaires related to overall heath status, bladder function and sexual function. Response frequencies and percentages were calculated for questionnaire responses. Multivariate logistic regression analyses were performed to determine predictors of sexual dysfunction.

RESULTS:Sixty-one per cent of the sample indicated that they had a problem with bladder control. Forty-seven per cent of respondents indicated that their neurological problems interfered with their sex life. Over 70% of the sample reported that they enjoyed, felt aroused and experienced orgasm during sexual activity. Not having a sexual partner and the indication of bothersome neurological problems were the best predictors of sexual dysfunction. Interestingly, patients bothered by their urge incontinence had higher levels of orgasm compared to women not bothered by urge incontinence.

CONCLUSIONS:Although over half of the women reported voiding symptoms, most still enjoyed, felt aroused and could experience orgasm. Neurological symptoms and lacking a sexual partner emerged as the best predictors of sexual dysfunction. Urge incontinence may not be a risk factor for an orgasm. Our findings elucidate the complex nature of sexual dysfunction in women with MS.

Zorzon M et al. Sexual dysfunction in multiple sclerosis: a case-control study. I. Frequency and comparison of groups.Mult Scler. 1999;5:418-27

Sexual dysfunction is a very important but often overlooked symptom of multiple sclerosis. To investigate the type and frequency of symptoms of sexual dysfunction in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, we performed a case-control study comparing 108 unselected patients with definite multiple sclerosis, 97 patients with chronic disease and 110 healthy individuals with regard to sexual function, sphincteric function, physical disorders impeding sexual activity and the impact of sexual dysfunction on social life. Information has been collected from a face-to-face structured interview performed by a doctor of the same gender as the patient. The disability, the cognitive performances, the psychiatric conditions and the psychological profile of patients and controls have been assessed. Sexual dysfunction was present in 73.1% of cases, in 39.2% of chronic disease controls and in 12.7% of healthy controls (P<0.0001). Male cases reported symptoms of sexual dysfunction more frequently than female cases (P<0.002). Symptoms of sexual dysfunction more commonly reported in patients with multiple sclerosis were anorgasmia or hyporgasmia (37.1%), decreased vaginal lubrication (35.7%) and reduced libido (31.4%) in women, and impotence or erectile dysfunction (63.2%), ejaculatory dysfunction and/or orgasmic dysfunction (50%) and reduced libido (39.5%) in men. Seventy-five per cent of cases, 51.5% of chronic disease controls and 28.2% of healthy controls (P<0.0001) experienced symptoms of sphincteric dysfunction. In conclusion, a substantial part of our sample of patients with multiple sclerosis reported symptoms of sexual and sphincteric dysfunction. Both sexual and sphincteric dysfunction were significantly more common in patients with multiple sclerosis than in either control group. Our findings suggest that a peculiar damage of the structures involved in sexual function is responsible for the dysfunction in patients with multiple sclerosis, but the highly significant lower frequency of symptoms of depression and anxiety in healthy controls may also imply a possible causative role of psychological factors.

Sex problems affect both female and male MSers and whilst it is a common problem the research output in this area is limited. However, there are things that can help so make sure you talk to your Neuro or research nurse.

Maybe our resident sexpert, Prof G Down Under will do a post on his new ipad or we can do some videos.

Check out some recent posts on Sexand MS. Multiple Sclerosis Research: Research:Sex and MS 25 Apr 2012