Women’s Health & Sexuality: By Maria De Leon

“It’s not the size of the boat but the motion in the ocean…”

(Image by Ross Webb)

There I was, in the middle of a crowed classroom, addressing students and faculty alike about human sexuality  and talking about “orgasms” and “premature ejaculation,” with not as much as a wave of discomfort when it suddenly dawn on me – I had somehow morphed into Dr. Ruth (Westheimer)- iconic sexologist of the 80’s. I chuckled inside a bit as I continued lecturing. If someone one had told me that a shy, introverted young girl with “rose-colored” eye balls  and little world experience would become this carefree, self-confident, mature woman expounding on the issues of sexuality, I would have died laughing in utter disbelief.

Nevertheless, with age along with living with a chronic illness has given me a new found freedom one and  voice to help women of all ages deal with chronic illnesses particularly those with chronic neurological diseases such as PD. Having treated many women over the years as well as living with PD myself, over the last ten years, has made me realize the need for awareness and much needed dialogue in this vital aspect of  every woman’s life. because sadly until only a few decades ago, there was a misconception regarding women’s sexuality which  was promoted by men, I am sure ( some sort of ploy to keep women under control),  that women have a decrease libido compared to men. This of course is entirely false, although as in men there are some women who have greater sex drive than others.

Yet, despite the fact that when chronic illness strikes sex and intimacy are unwittingly place in the back burner for many of us, sexual expression and sexuality is still at the top of our lists. this is one of the factors we deem important when we think of quality of life. However,  it seems to me that for centuries women have gotten the short end of the deal in this department thus going on for years suffering both physically and emotionally from lack of  appropriate care.

Here are some tips to become a SEX Goddess again ( at least in our own minds!)Rita Hayworth 1941:

First, it is important to recognize that both men and women suffer from sexual problems when it comes to chronic disease like Parkinson’s. Although, some of the issues are inherently different we share many things in common such as fatigue, depression, hormonal changes, lack of energy, medication side effects, stress and anxiety all of which can put a kibosh to our libido. Therefore, it is imperative that you feel free to discuss these issues with your physician as soon as they arise and not make it a “door -effect” as I like to call it… I.E. “oh by the way doctor, I have this problem when I have intercourse,” as you are walking out the door of the examining room. of course we must also remember that like the infamous “birds and the bees” sexual prowess’s can be wide and varied depending on partner, experience (history of trauma, or abuse), culture, religion, etc.

For us women the reasons for sexual dysfunction- this refers to

  • lack or loss of sexual desire
  • anxiety during intercourse- muscle stiffness, loss of bladder control
  • pain during intercourse- recurrent urinary infections
  • dryness- this is one of the most common problems from autonomic dysfunction (decrease blood flow) ; hormonal changes
  • trouble achieving orgasm
  • vaginismus- muscle contract involuntarily preventing penetration

How to prevent Parkinson’s from hijacking your libido and sexual desire:

Having sexual problems may feel like an insurmountable task to overcome thus may be tempted to throw in the towel and give up and give into disease.  however, with lots of love, patience, and persistence you and your partner may begin to enjoy a healthy sexual interaction that does not always mean sexual intercourse in order to be satisfying and fulfilling. Sometimes SEX ( BIG and BOLD) is just s e x (barely present) yet equally rewarding.

Since vaginal dryness is a HUGE issue- try lubricants ( water based best) don’t be afraid to stop and use more if needed. Hormonal replacement topical or oral can also go a long way for this as well as help with some of the loss of libido issues.

Of course fatigue and poor energy can be a disastrous problem when trying to be at maximal arousal- thus try different times of the day or night when you are most awake and energetic- I guarantee you will sleep better and burn off a few calories in the process.

Incontinence- many of us with PD especially as disease advances may find ourselves dealing with this pesky and extremely embarrassing problem. Don’t hide or avoid intimacy altogether, instead talk to your partner and your doctor. Padding the bed with some towels or disposable urine pads like the ones used in hospital, which can be purchased at a medical supply store, can help ease the discomfort and allow you to relax.

Don’t neglect your relationship, find other ways to be intimate. I love when my husband massages my back especially since it is so stiff that I almost appreciate that as much or more depending on my mood than intercourse. spend time cuddling, or touching each other, bathing together. a single touch (hug) of 7-8 seconds can release as much natural neurotransmitters ( serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin) to make you happy.

Above all make time for one another aside from “caregiver/partner” and “patient.” This of course a lot of communication, which has to happen daily.

When all else fails or in conjunction to above  ( this will give best outcome) along with medications to help treat specific problems like infections, dryness, anxiety, incontinence, etc.; there are alternative treatments such as behavioral therapy for individuals and couples, sex therapy, acupuncture, yoga and meditation to name a few.

So go ahead embrace your sexuality and you like me may want to say

“I want it all!

I believe in love, lust, SEX, and romance

I don’t want everything to add up in perfectly neat equation

I want mess and chaos

I want someone to go crazy out of his mind for me

I want to feel passion, heat and madness.

I want it ALL!” (Mirror has two faces)