Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Coping with Numbness and Decreased Genital Sensation

Genital numbness how to cope…

Did you know that over 80% of men and women with MS are effected by sexual and intimacy problems? This is not surprising when you consider that one third of women in the general population cannot achieve orgasm with penetrative sex when there is no clitoral stimulation. One of the more pressing issues for both men and women with MS or other neurological disorders is a loss of sensation, not only in their limbs but also in their genital area. So how does one cope with this loss of sensation and maintain a healthy sexual relationship with their partner?

I have said it before and I will say it again; there is a lot more to an intimate relationship than sex. That being said, there are some things you can do by yourself or with a partner to keep your relationship on track when those numbness issues arise. I have gotten advice from several people on this topic and I would like to thank each of them for their input.

Some things to consider:

Talk to your doctor- This is easier said than done, but like your other MS symptoms you should be able to talk to your doctor or nurse about sexual problems you are having. Believe me, there is nothing you can say that they have not heard before, especially an MS specialist. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medications or change the dosage on your current medications that may be aggravating your sexual symptoms. Certain medications, especially anti-depressants are notorious for not only decreasing your sex drive but also decreasing you ability to achieve orgasm. Seizure medications that are often prescribed for hypersensitivity can also lead to numbness in genital areas. Sometimes it is just a matter of changing the time you take certain medications. Your doctor is an invaluable tool for your wellbeing and sexual health.

Toys, Vibrators, Clitoral Stimulators- There are so many sex toys on the market today, each designed for different purposes and needs. Vibrators work wonders for loss of sensation especially this meant for external stimulation such has clitoral stimulators. There has also been a boom in the industry for toys geared towards helping men achieve orgasm; from oral sex replicators to prostate massagers and vibrating rings. Toys come in so many shapes, sizes, colors, and materials that I can honestly say there is something for everybody out there. One that I highly recommend to almost everyone is to try a vibrating cock ring with a clit stimulator. It is a toy that is used together, the vibrations are an added stimulation for both you and your partner.

Lubricants- There are many types of lubricants on the market today. From water based, to oil based, scented, edible, or even warming gels. The latter have been shown to be effective for those who still respond who hot and cold even though there may be a loss of sensation or numbness. For those who suffer a loss of sensation or have a hard time achieving orgasm, lubricants can help reduce friction during intercourse making penetration more enjoyable.

Oral Sex- Some people, especially women find that oral sex is more pleasurable than penetration when they are experiencing loss of sensation or numbness due to increased focus on their outer genitals and clitoris. Mints and those Listerine strips make for great fun in the oral sex dept and help increase sensitivity. Some novelty companies go so far to sell mints specifically manufactured to be used during oral sex. Ice can also come in handy during oral sex.

Ice or Heat- Can be used to help increase sensitivity also. A lot of times, when there is numbness in an area there is still a sensation with hot and cold. Try alternating and see what works best for you. This is when I would recommend trying some of the liquid filled E-Glass toys that can be placed in the freezer or in hot water to change the temperature. There are also some amazing vibrators that include infrared heat, which give you both the heat and multi-speed vibration for added pleasure.

Electrical Stimulation- One of the newer toys that recently peaked my interest was one a friend inquired about called the Violet Wand. It is almost like a tesla ball for your sensitive areas. It looks quite interesting, but it is very expensive. There are much less expensive options out there from TENS type of units to electric anal plugs. These have proven to be very effective for a lot of people, but be advised there risks associated when you bring electricity into the bedroom. Be sure to read the risks and take the necessary precautions as advised by the manufacturer.

Kegel Exercises- Kegel Exercises work great for keeping your pelvic floor or PC muscles toned, and they are not just for women. Men can also benefit from toning their pelvic floor muscles. The muscle is similar in both men and women, stretching from the pubic bone to the tail bone and forming a hammock-like floor that supports the organs of the pelvis and contributes to the function of the sphincter muscles. Kegel exercises have multiple uses for men and women. They are most commonly recommended to help with bladder and bowel control. Keeping your PC muscles tones will also help alleviate menstrual cramps, and ease childbirth. Sex can be more enjoyable by both parties as the toned muscles will contract better during sex making it feel “tighter” for the man and also giving stronger contractions during orgasm for a woman. For men, Kegel exercises aid in achieving an erection and can also help prevent premature ejaculation, as well as helping to maintain prostate help. The exercises are easy to do and can be completed anywhere at anytime. I will go into more detail about the importance and proper way to exercise your Kegel muscles in my next article.

Body exploration- Just because you may be numb below the belt, that does not mean that there are not other places on your body which would be pleasurable to touch. The best way to do this is to explore one another’s body. A fun game would be to blindfold your partner and caress different areas of their body with different textures (like feathers or a hair brush). This may be a good time to play with heat and ice. Use your hands or mouth to explore one another. You find sensitive areas you may have forgotten about over the years. Relax and have fun.

Changing positions- Some positions give greater access to more sensitive areas of your body. One that was recommended was to try placing a pillow or wedge under your hips to elevate your genitals during intercourse. Another recommendation was to hang your head over the side of the bed (not really sure how that works to help achieve a better orgasm, but what the hay?). Sometimes all it takes is a quick flip or a tilt of the hips to reach that coveted orgasm that lurks behind the numb outer shell.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Electrical stimulation to treat Erectile Dysfunction?

I was caught up in an article earlier about electrical stimulation in various parts of the body. There are many claims about electrical stimulation(ES), but one in particular I was interested in finding more details about and I cannot seem to find any conclusive answers online.

I have seen products advertised with ES such as the belt that goes around your waist which supposedly tones your muscles and gives you great abs without working out, or the one that is made for women that does essentially the same thing to increase breast size. Some of you may remember the experiment with this particular device last summer. For those who don’t, I was asked to review this product which was a 6 week (twice a day) experiment. Although I did see an increase in firmness, there was no increase in size.

The newest one claims to have the same effect on men in the treatment of ED. The theory is, by applying ES the muscles of the penis are stimulated, or exercised therefore making them stronger and more sensitive to other forms of stimulation. I am wondering if this is theory rings any truth? I mean, in theory it sounds plausible. But in actuality, does it work? And does the result outweigh the risks?

“While it may be true that EMS does enhance muscle growth and recuperation, there is no clinical or therapeutic evidence that it causes muscle hypertrophy in normal individuals at this time. Electrical stimulators definitely get your muscles moving and you do feel as though you worked out. However, they do not provide the resistance that weights do. The electricity forces your muscle to contract and the part of you body attached to the muscle moves”(Rutgers). But with a lack of weight or resistance being added, it is unlikely that you will see any significant muscle mass from this therapy.

Obviously playing with electricity comes with risks: shocks, burns, infection, tissue damage, interference with heart function, to name a few. When I think of electrical stimulation, the first thought that pops into my head is the TENS Unit. “TENS” is an acronym for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. This unit works two ways. One, it interrupts the pain signal going to the brain from the effected area. Two, it also increases endorphins (the body’s natural pain killer). Which of course leads to question the validity of the second part of the claim; how does ES help increase sensitivity to other forms of stimulation on the penis?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Feeling attractive when you have MS

One of the most common complaints that I have heard from fellow MSers is “It is hard to feel pretty when you are having an attack”. And this is very true. Balance issues deny you the ability to wear those sexy high heeled shoes. The creepy crawly skin feeling makes wearing clothing unbearable and you can forget about the frilly lacy lingerie. You stumble around like you are drunk, for many of us, we are dependant on wheel chairs and walkers. The bruises that accompany the injections and the blown veins from the IVs don’t help us to feel anywhere close to “pretty”. A lot of days, spending time on hair and makeup robs us of the energy we need to complete other tasks, like getting dressed. The lack of sleep has left dark circles under our eyes, and the fatigue makes us want to crawl into a ball and sleep for days. MS tends to rob you of that sexual image you once portrayed.

When I brought up this issue with my neurologist she gave me an invaluable piece of advice: Ignore messages and stereotypes about beauty from television, magazines and other media sources and embrace your body for what it can do. My best advice is to try to take a day off for yourself whenever you can. There are going to be days, weeks, sometimes months when this is impossible. For me, I pick a day when my daughter is at her dad’s and my significant other is distracted with some other task (work, school, yard work) and I have the day for myself.

As much as I would love to spend the day at the spa, it is one of those luxuries that I simply cannot justify. Plus, for me I enjoy doing these things at home more than in the care of strangers, and if I want to take a nap, no one can stop me. I start by turning off my cell phone, stepping away form the computer and locking myself in my bathroom.

Start with a bubble bath. Amazingly simple, isn’t it? You may notice that you can no longer enjoy the steamy hot baths that once were. But a warm bath, light some candles, put on some soft music and add your favorite ingredients. For myself, I make my own bath salts which I keep in stock in different scents in my bathroom for this very occasion. Glass jar, 2 cups Epsom or sea salt, 4-5 drops of your favorite essential oil (I like lavender or sandalwood, sometimes I mix sage and citrus), and ½ cup dry milk powder. Mix it all together just as much or as little as you like, I also add a drop or two of food coloring which changes the color of your water and does not stain your tub! The result: Your skin feels great, you smell great and you are ready for the rest of the day…or a nap, but this is your day so do what makes you happy.

Next I like to move on to a pedicure. It is amazing how much prettier I feel with a new coat of polish on my toes. And I enjoy the shockingly bright colors on my toes for some reason, it lifts my spirits.

You see where I am going with this. No one feels pretty when they are stressed out. You need to take one day where you can put all of your problems into a box and leave it there for just that day. The problems are not going to go away, so put them all off for another day. This is easier said than done and it is going to take some practice. It is not selfish, you are not robbing anyone else of their needs, and I promise you the world will not cease to exist because you took a few hours off for yourself. Yoga, Tai Chi, Meditation, prayer, exercise, sex, focus on things that take your mind elsewhere, even if it is just zoning out in front of the television.

As far as the clothing and shoes, there are some days when we just have to admit it just isn’t going to work. But that should not stop you from feeling good about yourself. Those sexy high heel shoes you have sitting in the box or on the shelf that you no longer have the balance to wear? Put them on while you are laying in your bed. Maybe instead of that tight lacy lingerie you would be more comfortable in a silk robe. If clothing and lingerie are too cumbersome, I recommend having fun with body paints. They come in a vast range of colors or flavors. This is a joy you can share with your partner. Let them paint your body, or write silly messages on yourself for them to read. Have fun with it. There is a lot more intimacy in a relationship than just sex.

If you have the energy, put on your makeup, style your hair, shave your legs… all of those things you used to do when you had the luxury of doing them. The one thing you need to remember is not to over do it. Your day should not leave you exhausted and cranky. Some days you have to feel pretty from the comfort of your bed, other days you can climb mountains. Exercise when you can. This doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon, but even if you are physically disabled there are things you can do for yourself to get moving.

The one piece of advice I can offer to the significant others: Make your partner feel pretty, show them you appreciate them, kiss them like you mean it (even when they are still in their PJ’s at 4 in the afternoon, and they just don’t feel pretty). Do things together that you both enjoy even outside of the bedroom. And accept that sometimes, our bodies just won’t do what we want them to, and it is frustrating. There will be days when there is numbness, or performance issues. As I said earlier, intimacy comes in many forms, not just sex.

Take time to get to know your body. Learn what your likes and dislikes are, learn what is comfortable to you. For a vast majority of MSers, sensory changes are ever occurring; things that used to feel good may now be painful. Numbness changes everything. Your body may be changing everyday, and you need to pay attention to it. Don’t try to force yourself beyond your abilities, but instead rejoice in those abilities. When you learn to relax and let go of those stereotypes and embrace your own abilities, you will discover a whole new level of feeling attractive.

MS and Sex ** new series**

I have been asked to combine my two blogs. You see, I sell sex toys for a living and I have had a number of questions for both MSers and their significant others about sex and the lack thereof. I will admit that some days I feel like the impotent condom salesman because of the MS flares. Because I have MS, this does not mean that my life is over; and neither is my sex life. Though I have had to make some changes and bring in a few aids at times. Which is why I want so desperately to address the issues of the neurological, and psychological effects that MS has on your sex life and offer advice to overcome some of these obstacles.

I started on a mission to write this amazing article, and then I realized it was just entirely too long. So I have decided to address these issues one at a time. I am very excited about this new venture and hope you all can join me on this mission to inform and add suggestions. I would love some feedback on these articles and if you have any suggestions that I may have missed please feel free to comment. Also if you have any questions or issues that I may not have addressed, please feel free to email me privately or you may post a comment (warning, they are public).

I will do my best to answer your questions to the best of my ability. I am by no means an expert, but I do enjoy a good research challenge. And you will see a lot of the sexual issues addressed aren't necessarily MS specific.