Sexual Communication, Sexual Satisfaction, and Relationship Quality in People With Multiple Sclerosis

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Objective: This study sought to explore relationships between sexual satisfaction, sexual communication and relationship satisfaction in people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Specifically, sexual satisfaction was evaluated as a moderator between sexual communication and relationship satisfaction. Design: Individuals diagnosed with MS and being treated in a hospital-based MS clinic in the southeastern United States (n = 58) completed measures of sexual satisfaction, sexual communication, sexual dysfunction, relationship quality, depression, level of disability, and frequency of sex-related communication and behaviors in a cross-sectional survey design. Results: Sexual satisfaction moderated the relationship between quality of sexual communication and relationship quality, controlling for depression and frequency of sexual behavior and sexual communication. Directionality was examined in a 2nd regression analysis, in which the predictor and outcome variables were switched, which was also significant. Additionally, depression most strongly predicted relationship dissatisfaction. Conclusions: Findings help to establish sexual satisfaction as a moderator between sexual communication and relationship satisfaction, although directionality cannot be supported. Results also highlight the role of depression in overall relationship functioning and support the biopsychosocial model of care for treatment of sexual dysfunction in people living with MS. Impact and Implications Research has largely focused on primary and secondary sources of sexual dysfunction; however, the current work focuses on tertiary sources (e.g., psychological and relational factors), which have been shown to have a profound impact on sexual and relationship satisfaction. In addition to clarifying relationships between sexual communication and relationship satisfaction, findings highlight the significant role of depression in relationship dissatisfaction in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), supporting the need for routine assessment of depression in this population. Findings support the need for integrative, interdisciplinary care for the treatment of sexual dysfunction for those living with MS.


Originally published in Rehabilitation Psychology, 2018, Vol. 63, No. 2, 267–275.

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