Sexuality and Parkinson’s Disease

Maintaining sexual intimacy in older age can often mean making adjustments, communicating openly with your partner and talking with your doctor about any physical or mental health problems but for adults with a movement disorder like Parkinson’s disease, there may be more complex issues to discuss.   A recent Michael J. Fox Foundation Webinar, Sex, Love and Parkinson’s took a deep dive into the topic with contributions from medical experts and radio broadcaster Larry Gifford, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2017 and shares his experiences through his podcast, “When Life Gives You Parkinson’s”.

Daniela Wittmann, a Certified Sex Therapist and Associate Professor of Urology at the University of Michigan offers suggestions about how to talk with your doctor about sexuality to improve overall health and well-being.  Making a list of questions can be helpful to achieve intimacy goals, but it may take time and self-advocacy to find a balance that works for both partners. 

Medications used to treat Parkinson’s can have sexual side effects that need to be addressed with your doctor but there are other issues such as facial masking or speech impairment that can make it difficult for people with PD to communicate affection to their partner.  Changes in sleep, depression, anxiety and fatigue, as well as body image and confidence issues, can also impact sexual intimacy.  

Scheduling intimacy around when medications are working best and using pillows, lubricants or other assistive devices may also help improve sex life for individuals with PD.  Working with a health care professional such as a sex therapist, a psychologist, relational or behavioral therapist may help couples discover what works for them.  

According to studies, as many as 80 percent of people with Parkinson’s experience some form of sexual dysfunction and the Fox Insight study suggests that 35 percent of participants with PD said they have taken medication for sexual dysfunction.  Aging and hormonal changes can also contribute to or worsen sexual changes common among people with PD. 

On the third Thursday of each month at 12 p.m. ET, the Michael J Fox Foundation will air live webinars to share information about various aspects of living with PD as well as medical advances.  Learn more here