Sexual relationships are an important part of life for many people. People of every age and physical ability can, and do, enjoy their sexuality, but it isn’t always easy to talk about, as it’s often a private part of life. If you’re worried someone may laugh or disapprove, it can make it hard to talk about sex. But there are professionals you can turn to for advice and support.
Speaking to healthcare professionals
You may feel uncomfortable talking to a healthcare professional about the issues you’re having, but remember, they’ll have spoken to many others with similar problems before. They’ll need to take your particular needs into account when talking to you, including your attitude towards sex and cultural influences. The medical profession is governed by strict privacy laws though, so anything you do share with a healthcare professional will remain totally confidential.
If you find it difficult to talk about, try writing your questions down and giving them to the person you’re seeing. You may want to attend appointments with your partner if you have one, so you can discuss the issues together. Ask your healthcare professional if they have any literature you can take away, so you can read it in your own time at home.
Support for your partner
Ideally, you should talk things through with your partner. This can sometimes be difficult, but it’s essential for your partner to get the support they need too. Parkinson’s nurses and Parkinson’s local advisers can see people with Parkinson’s and their partners independently to discuss any issues if you don’t feel you can talk to each other about things. See the end of this information to find out more.
If you’ve tried talking to each other about your relationship problems and you feel that you’re not getting anywhere, couples counselling may help. A trained couples counsellor can help you look at your problems differently and improve your communication, to help you overcome any issues you’re facing.
Counsellors can also work with individuals. This means you can go alone if you’re single or if your partner doesn’t want to attend. Some people prefer to talk through their feelings on their own, and find this very helpful.
If you think counselling may help, ask your GP if there are services available in your area, or contact your local Relate centre. They’ll advise you what they charge and how they may be able to help if payment is an issue.
If you’d prefer private counselling, you can get a list of local counsellors from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (see the end of this information for their contact details). If you see a private counsellor, make sure they’re trained in the appropriate area – relationships, couples or individuals.
Counselling and psychotherapy for sexual problems
For some people, counselling or psychotherapy can help them talk openly about relationship and sexual problems, so they can find ways of making changes.
There are several ways of helping people and your counsellor or psychotherapist should explain how they work and decide with you what you would like to focus on.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is useful when a person or couple’s beliefs about what is ‘normal’ are contributing to the sexual problem. Also, treatments focusing on relationship problems result in a better outcome than approaches that only focus on problems with the physical side.
A psychosexual therapist is trained in all aspects of sex and can help you understand the effects of medication and illness on sex. They often use a step-by-step approach to make realistic changes.
Many psychosexual therapists are also relationship therapists and can address both the practical problems you may be experiencing and help with any emotional or relationship difficulties.
You can choose to see someone on your own or as a couple. Your GP may be able to refer you to an NHS therapist, or you can see a specialist at your local Relate centre. A list of private therapists is available from the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (see the end of this information for contact details).
GP or Parkinson’s specialist
Your GP or specialist may be your first port of call. We continue to encourage professionals to discuss these issues with people with Parkinson’s and their partners, rather than putting the responsibility on you to raise the matter.
Parkinson’s nurses provide expert advice and support to people with Parkinson’s and those who care for them. They’re used to dealing with anxieties about sex and relationships.
They can also act as a liaison between other health and social care professionals to make sure your needs are met.
At your appointment
When you speak to a specialist in sexual problems, they should combine discussion about the difficulties you’re facing with a clinical examination, if necessary.
If you’ve been experiencing sexual problems since the onset of your Parkinson’s symptoms, this suggests they’re related. The professional examining you will also look for other underlying causes, which could include heart disease or medication history.
Many of the treatments for sexual problems are the same as for those without a neurological condition.
Difficulties surrounding sex for people with neurological conditions are common, but complex. Your treatment should be tailored to you as an individual, with the opportunity for education and counselling for you and your partner.
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