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Are sexual problems common for people with kidney failure?

Emotional problems that can cause sexual difficulty

Many people in their lifetime suffer with some sort of emotional problems leading to sexual difficulties. The stability of a relationship prior to the onset of kidney failure can play a significant part in dealing with sexual difficulties of both men and women. Some common emotional problems are caused by people going through a grieving process due to loss of kidney function, independence, their job and place in the family. Change in body image, or not feeling a whole man or whole woman due to decreased sexual function. Dialysis can lead to lowered self esteem with anger and depression, also affecting sexual function.

Partners can feel powerless in a relationship because they do not know what to do to help the person with kidney failure, or if they receive a negative reaction when trying to help. The equal balance of the relationship may have changed, one seeing themselves as the carer and the other in a sick role. People need to talk about their fears and feelings. They also need to know that what they have said has been heard by the other person. Other hidden fears may also be present. For instance, some people may believe that kidney disease could be transferred during sex. This is not true.

Many kidney patients and their partners may want to have counselling, either by a psychologist or sexual counsellor. This can be very effective.

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Investigating sexual problems

In the past, many health professionals working with kidney patients have tended to avoid getting involved with their patients’ sexual problems. Even now, despite the more general interest and openness about sexual matters, people with kidney disease may still find that they have to raise the subject first.

Another possible reason why some doctors and nurses have avoided the subject of sexual problems has been a mistaken belief that the available treatments were unlikely to work. This view needs to be updated.

As with other aspects of kidney failure, there isn’t usually just one straightforward problem that can be easily corrected. Often there are several issues to look at and patience is required. Nevertheless, treatment is usually successful, provided both partners are keen to have a sex life and are willing to accept help. It may be possible to adjust medication, increase dialysis, improve haemoglobin or treat erectile problems.

2. Contraception

The National Kidney Federation cannot accept responsibility for information provided. The above is for guidance only. Patients are advised to seek further information from their own doctor.

NKF Controlled Document No. 202: Are sexual problems common for people with kidney failure? written: 15/12/2002 last reviewed: 13/03/2019