Fibromyalgia affects women approximately three times more than men. Because of this, fibromyalgia is often an unexpected diagnosis when men are suffering from various symptoms of the condition (such as widespread pain, insomnia, chronic fatigue and the inability to focus and concentrate).
The disease can be especially challenging for men, due to a culture that encourages men not to acknowledge pain or illness and to “shake it off.”
Many men feel alone in having fibromyalgia; a guy might look around and notice that he is the only male in his fibromyalgia support group.
Many men can now look at celebrities such as Michael J. Fox (who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease) as men who are coming forward to openly and honestly discuss living with a chronic disease.
However, it can still be a challenge that much of the discussion around fibromyalgia centers around women.
This becomes even more of a challenge when men are looking for information on fibromyalgia symptoms that only affect males. An example of such a symptom is impotence, also known as erectile dysfunction.
This condition makes it difficult or impossible for a man to achieve or maintain an erection, which can impact his sexual performance. This can happen once in a while or be a chronic condition.
How Does Fibromyalgia Cause Impotence?
As with most fibromyalgia symptoms, researchers aren’t exactly sure how this disease causes impotence. A common theory about fibromyalgia is that it affects the brain in a way that causes it to create oversensitivity throughout the body.
This results in pain and stiffness in the joints, as well as headaches, pain in various internal organs, and oversensitivity to things such as bright lights, loud noises, scents and sensations like touch.
For a person dealing with fibromyalgia-related oversensitivity, something like a massage that most people would find pleasant may be too intense and incredibly painful.
How does this translate to erectile dysfunction? If a man is suffering with fibromyalgia and is oversensitive in his penile or testicular areas, this may cause distress and pain, rather than pleasant sensations, during attempted sexual arousal.
Another factor is that since fibromyalgia can cause intense fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, stress, anxiety and depression, these things can impact a man’s sex drive and create issues with erectile dysfunction.
Once the cycle has begun, anxiety about not being able to perform can further exacerbate the issue. Male impotence as a result of fibromyalgia is a combination of physiological and psychological factors that come together to create this cycle.
Another factor that comes into play with fibromyalgia and impotence is not the disease itself, but treatment for it. Since anxiety and depression are such common symptoms of fibromyalgia, doctors commonly prescribe antidepressants to help combat them. Common side effects of SSRI antidepressants are decreased sex drive, trouble reaching orgasm, and erectile dysfunction.
Other medications that are commonly prescribed for fibromyalgia-related pain (such as muscle relaxers) can be extremely sedating or can cause various gastrointestinal symptoms—neither of which is conducive to encouraging sexual activity.
Beyond Dysfunction: What Can Help
Sexual health is incredibly important, and if you are a man who is struggling with impotence as a side effect of your fibromyalgia, there are ways you can work to combat it.
One strategy is to change your thinking about yourself, your condition and your sexual and romantic interactions with your partner.
Acceptance is incredibly important; if you are having a fibromyalgia flare-up, setting expectations that you should be able to perform in a certain way is not going to be helpful. Be compassionate with yourself and be communicative with your partner about what’s going on.
Together, you will be able to figure out how (and when) to pursue intimacy, even if it’s not in the same way you did in the past (and even if it’s not physical—perhaps intimacy just means spending quiet time together alone).
On a personal level, there are several things you can do to—over time—work to ease and better control your fibromyalgia symptoms (which will, in turn, help improve sexual health).
Movement is key when combatting the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Many sufferers report increased pain and stiffness if they sit for long periods of time. Gentle exercise can help on many levels: it can help you maintain a healthy weight (as well as overall better physical health).
For fibromyalgia-specific symptoms, though, exercise can truly help. Exercising can help increase range of motion in joints that are prone to be stiff.
It can also build muscle strength. Because exercising releases endorphins, it improves mood and can help lessen anxiety and depression.
With fibromyalgia, it’s important to go gently into a new exercise program. Talk to you doctor first and get their approval. Just as no movement can cause pain and stiffness, exercise that is too strenuous can cause flare-ups, so start slowly and build up gradually.
Listen to your body and let it be your guide. Many fibromyalgia patients find that yoga or tai chi are good exercise strategies, as they combine breathing and gentle movement with stretching.
Just as important as working through the physical aspects of fibromyalgia is coping with the mental and emotional symptoms.
Anxiety, depression, mental fatigue and “fibro fog” (which can cause an inability to concentrate or remember things) can be distressing—and can exacerbate or cause impotence in men with fibromyalgia.
Many fibromyalgia patients find it helpful to begin a regular program of relaxation and meditation. Simple exercises can help you to slow and control your breathing or progressively relax the muscles throughout your body.
Finding a meditation or relaxation exercise that is easy for you to do daily (or even multiple times a day) can help relax tense muscles, as well as ease and calm a tired, anxious mind. This can, over time, help combat some of the factors that may be contributing to impotence.
Time and Patience
With impotence, as with any fibromyalgia symptom, the important thing is to be patient and compassionate with yourself. Every person is different; you may have to try various strategies to see what works for you.
Once you start on a treatment program, whether it is medications or exercise and meditation, it will take time for you to notice a difference.