While many people with epilepsy have happy, satisfying, sex lives it is not uncommon for people to experience difficulties in this area from time to time. Two common areas of sexual difficulty experienced by people with epilepsy include (1) a lack of sexual drive (hypo sexuality) and (2) erectile dysfunction.
Sexual difficulties may be due to the epilepsy itself, medications, other health conditions, anxiety and depression, or relationship difficulties. It may be difficult to discuss this subject, especially with the doctor. But, talking about fears and problems related to sex can help overcome these issues and improve your quality of life.
Will epilepsy affect my sex drive?
The desire for sex varies greatly from one person to the next. People with epilepsy are no exception. Studies indicate that problems with reduced sexual desire and/or arousal may affect a quarter to a third of people with epilepsy in their lifetime.
There are a number of factors which make people more vulnerable sexual difficulties:
- Poor seizure control (e.g., fears about having a seizure during sex)
- Side effects of antiepileptic medications
- Other health conditions (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, obesity)
- Low self-esteem, lack of confidence, concerns about body image
- Anxiety and depression
- Past negative sexual experiences
- Relationship difficulties with partner
- Other medications or medical conditions (e.g., anti-depressants)
- Excessive drug and alcohol use
- Erectile dysfunction
It is common for men with epilepsy to experience difficulties getting and maintaining an erection. In fact, it is estimated that almost one third of all men with epilepsy will experience this difficulty at some stage.
What to do if you are experiencing sexual difficulties?
For many people sexual dysfunction can interfere with their relationships and self-confidence as well as affect their emotional wellbeing. A first step if experiencing sexual difficulties is to talk about these openly with your partner and, if ongoing, your general practitioner.
Your general practitioner will be able to examine and assess all the different things that could be contributing to your difficulties and make treatment recommendations. There are numerous things that can contribute to sexual health difficulties and there are a range of medical and non-medical treatments available. Sometimes it can be helpful to get relationship or sexual health counselling via organisations such as Relationships Australia. Your GP will be able to discuss this with you.
Importantly, it is common for people to have some reservations about discussing their sexual difficulties with others. But, it is important to remember that sexual health is part of one’s overall health and health professionals are very used to talking about sexual health.
Are you planning a family?
Many women living with epilepsy have questions about starting a family. It is important to start the conversation with the doctor well before the event to enable enough time for the medications to be adjusted, aiming for maximum seizure control on minimal dose. In the event of an unexpected pregnancy, don’t panic, contact your doctor and do not stop your antiepileptic medications. The Seizure Smart: Women factsheet provides greater details on this and many other aspects of females living with epilepsy.
The pathway to parenthood universal, the experience unique. Kate, Megann and Rebecca, all young women living with epilepsy, share their stories of family planning, challenges of pregnancy and coping with the demands of motherhood in Pregnancy, Parenting and Epilepsy Epilepsy 360° Magazine.