Introduction to Intimacy and Sexuality



couple laying on lawnSexuality is an important part of health and well-being. When individuals develop a chronic disability, they do not become asexual. As a caregiver, you may be the loved one’s life partner, in which case their sexual interest and ability affects you deeply and personally. Or you may be caring for an aging relative, a young adult or a friend, in which case your role in sexuality is different.

This module looks at the factors affecting interest in sexual expression among individuals with chronic disabilities, as well as the impact that chronic disabilities have on the ability to engage in sexual expression.

Interest in Sexual Expression

couple looking at each otherIndividuals with a chronic disability may maintain the same level of interest in sexual expression, may be less interested than before or may become more interested. Sexuality is unique to individuals and its expression is affected by a number of factors.

Reduced interest in sexual expression is sometimes referred to as sexual dysfunction and can stem from several different types of causes.

  • Primary sexual dysfunction is caused by physiological changes in the genital areas that make the sexual act difficult or less pleasurable.
  • Secondary sexual dysfunction is caused by general physical symptoms related to the chronic disability or its treatment, such as pain, fatigue, muscle tightness or spasms, cognitive difficulties or medication side effects.
  • Tertiary sexual dysfunction is psychological and/or emotional in origin and may relate to changes in body image, sexual confidence, depression or worries about the ability to satisfy one’s sexual partner.

Some disabilities reduce an individual’s ability to engage successfully in sexual intercourse and achieve orgasm without assistance. Of course, sexuality involves more than just the sex act. Many forms of sexual intimacy may continue to be desired and pleasurable.

If you are a caregiver for a life partner with MS, you may wish to view the 14-minute video “Sex and Intimacy” from the US National MS Society for more information on issues and solutions.