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Parkinson’s and Intimacy

All humans need physical and emotional intimacy. Aging and Parkinson’s disease can lead to changes in your relationship dynamics and sexuality. New communication styles may be necessary to get closer to your partner and strengthen your relationship.

Talking about your intimacy or sexuality openly is not always easy, even with your partner. We usually express these needs with non-verbal communication, such as eye contact or gestures. Parkinson’s disease can affect the signs of desire that you’ve established over time. Some symptoms, such as involuntary movements, can also bother you or seem inappropriate during sexual encounters. Finally, the disease can sometimes lead to sexual dysfunctions that can be treated.

These changes will require you to adopt new communication styles with your partner to avoid frustration, resentment and anger that can even develop in a loving relationship.

You can experience fulfilling intimacy and sexuality with Parkinson’s disease. Talk openly with your partner or a professional if you feel the need to do so. 

Physical intimacy and sexual activity can contribute to a happier life, and a regular and balanced sex life is associated to greater well-being. 

Human contact releases many neurotransmitters and hormones that lead to feelings of well-being. Specifically, contact increases levels of dopamine and serotonin, which tend to be lower in people with Parkinson’s. Neurotransmitters help regulate mood and decrease stress and anxiety, while dopamine plays an important role in pleasure management.

Physical intimacy also increases oxytocin, known as the “love hormone.” It helps inspire positive thinking, maintain an optimistic view of the world and increase feelings of compassion and trust.

We all need to love and be loved, to touch and be touched, and to have affectionate, empathetic and caring relationships. We can better respond to challenges and overcome frustrations, pain and despair when we have this physical and emotional intimacy in our lives.

The sexuality of couples affected by Parkinson’s disease changes in multiple ways, including: 

  • Non-verbal communication to indicate desire or satisfaction are disrupted by symptoms such as decreased facial expression and communication difficulties.
  • The disease can affect self-esteem, body image and seductive behaviours.
  • Sexual arousal can increase tremors or dyskinesia, though these are not dangerous and should not interfere with sexual activities.
  • Slow movements and stiffness can affect your sexual activities. Reinvent yourself
  • Just like Parkinson’s disease, age can lead to sexual dysfunctions, in both men and women.
  • Decreased dopamine can reduce sexual interest or desire.
  • Anxiety and depression, also related to the disease or how loved ones react, can also affect desire.
  • Fatigue and fluctuating effects of medication limit opportunities for physical intimacy and may place the person living with the disease in a less active role.

Try to maintain intimacy in your relationship despite the challenges caused by the disease. There are many ways to do this. 

Keep an open communication

Many couples do not openly talk about sexuality and intimacy. Parkinson’s disease changes the behaviours that you and your partner have established over the years, whether to evoke desire, satisfaction, recognition or enjoyment of being with one another.

As these patterns change, together you have to relearn how to show affection and love towards each other. Be attentive to the other person, without being discouraged by the new expression of their needs.

  • Express your love and appreciation regularly
  • Discuss your respective emotions and concerns
  • Spend quality time together
  • Take time for each of you

Be patient and understanding

Your ability to face the challenges of the dissease together will determine the future of your new intimate relationship.

  • Give yourself time to adapt to these changes.
  • Accept that the other is not living the situation in the same way you are.
  • Be flexible in your expectations. Symptoms of the disease can be unexpected, so accept that things won’t always go as planned.

Differentiate between intimacy and sexual activities

Intimacy does not necessarily mean sexual activities. There are other ways of getting closer to your partner and expressing your love.

  • Holding hands
  • Holding each other
  • Hugging
  • Sharing a meal
  • Watching TV together
  • Creating events based on your routine
  • Taking a trip for a weekend or even a day

Focus on pleasure rather than performance

Just like Parkinson’s disease, age affects the body’s capabilities. Our expectations of our bodies must be periodically re-evaluated by prioritizing mutual satisfaction in intimacy.

Focus on comfort and pleasure, not performance.

  • Learn comfortable positions
  • Find solutions (ex. touch, excitement) specific to your physical limitations
  • Practice intimacy and satisfaction through sexual stimulation without intercourse, then begin reintroducing intercourse
  • Rediscover your body and sensations
  • Discover how certain symptoms of the disease can be signs of arousal

Dopaminergic agonists cause unusual, excessive, or even compulsive sexual behaviour in about one-third of patients. These behaviours constitute impulse control disorders and these addictions can extend to gambling, shopping and even eating. 

In the sexual realm, these difficulties are usually expressed through compulsive masturbation, repeatedly and excessively demanding sexual intercourse, promiscuous behaviour, compulsive use of pornography, or new sexual orientations. These symptoms are especially significant when the patients are young men, and the extent of them is generally proportional to the dose of dopamine agonist taken.

People who experience these impulsive behaviours often don’t realize the seriousness of their actions or the resulting consequences. For any doubts, speak with a neurologist or healthcare professional immediately as they can progressively reduce medication dosage. This adjustment is usually enough to put an end to these symptoms.

If these challenges persist, you can get help from a professional, such as your doctor, neurologist or a sex therapist. 

During these meetings, your goal will be to express your emotions and intimacy needs while showing respect and understanding to your partner’s needs. 

Some people are embarrassed to discuss their sexuality with healthcare professionals, but your sexuality is an essential part of your life and related problems can affect other areas of your life. Talking to professionals about your challenges allows them to help you. Their support is completely confidential. You will find that it is entirely possible to have a healthy intimate and sex life with Parkinson’s disease.

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