Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects dopamine-producing (dopaminergic) neurons in the brain. [Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical that helps messages travel around the nervous system) that is important for bodily movement.]
Stiffness, tremors, and balance issues are common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Often, people with Parkinson’s disease experience sexual dysfunction. Some of the more frequent problems include:
- Low sex drive
- Difficulty reaching orgasm
- Poor lubrication in women (vaginal dryness)
- Painful intercourse
- Erectile dysfunction in men
Other issues related to Parkinson’s disease can also impact sexual relationships.
- Tremor and stiffness. These symptoms can make sex uncomfortable or difficult.
- Fatigue. A person with Parkinson’s may feel too tired for sex.
- Depression and anxiety. A person may miss doing some of the activities they used to or feel that their relationship has changed, especially if their partner is their primary caregiver. Also, some drugs used to treat depression have sexual side effects, like low libido.
- Body image concerns. A person may feel less attractive to their partner or self-conscious about bodily changes.
- Communication concerns. Parkinson’s may affect muscles in the face, making facial expressions hard to read.
- Hypersexuality. In some cases, Parkinson’s medication side effects lead to increased sexual interest and compulsive sexual behaviors.
Couples facing Parkinson’s disease can still have satisfying intimate relationships. They may just need to make some adjustments.
- Reconsider what it means to be intimate. Sex doesn’t have to be just intercourse. Lots of couples enjoy closeness through kissing, cuddling, and touching.
- Be flexible. You and your partner may need to experiment with different positions or have sex at different times of the day. This is the time to explore a variety of options.
- Keep communicating. Be open and honest about what you need or desire in your relationship. If you and your partner have trouble discussing sex, you might consider couples counseling. A trained therapist can help you work through those issues and any other relationship changes.
- Ask your doctor for help. Your doctor can likely suggest remedies for certain problems. For example, erectile dysfunction can be treated in many ways. And women experiencing vaginal dryness might find using a lubricant helpful. A doctor can also refer you to other specialists, including sex therapists.
American Parkinson Disease Association
Fulbright, Yvonne K., PhD, MS Ed.
“Parkinson’s and Sex”
“Parkinson’s Disease: Communication and Intimacy”
Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research
“Sexual & Reproductive Health”
“Intimacy and Parkinson’s”
“Intimacy Issues and Parkinson’s Disease 101”
(July 31, 2018)