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Sex, men and epilepsy

Many men with epilepsy have normal sex lives and father healthy children.This information is to help those few men with epilepsy who may have problems. We hope it will:

  • Give you more information about epilepsy and sex
  • Make it easier for you to talk with your partner and professionals about epilepsy and sex

Other sources of information are listed at the end of this page.

Puberty

At puberty you begin to produce sex hormones which cause your body to change from a child to an adult. It usually starts between the ages of 10 and 15, but can start earlier or later.

Can puberty cause epilepsy?

No. Puberty itself doesn’t cause epilepsy, but some people start having seizures during their teenage years. This could be because they have an age-specific epilepsy or because of their changing hormones.

Some of the age-specific epilepsy syndromes are: juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, juvenile absence epilepsy and epilepsy with grand mal (tonic-clonic) seizures on awakening.

More information about epilepsy syndromes is available from Epilepsy Action.

Can changing hormones affect my epilepsy?

Yes. You might have your first seizures at this time, or if you have had epilepsy before puberty, your seizures could get worse. Alternatively, your seizures might go away around this time.

You might feel more stressed or anxious than usual during puberty. For some people, stress and anxiety trigger their seizures.

If you start having more seizures than usual at puberty, it’s worth talking to your family doctor, epilepsy specialist nurse or epilepsy specialist.

Epilepsy Action has more information about stress and possible seizure triggers.

Will having epilepsy affect my sex life?

Although not common, it could do. Any man might have problems with sex from time to time. This is known as sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction is more common in men with epilepsy than men without epilepsy. It includes loss of interest in sex, difficulty in getting and staying aroused (also called impotence), and problems with fertility.

Loss of interest in sex

  • Your own feelings about your epilepsy might make you lose interest in sex
  • Your concerns about how your partner feels about your epilepsy might make you lose interest in sex
  • You may be taking an epilepsy medicine that can cause you to have less interest in sex (see chart below)
  • You may have lower testosterone levels than usual (see Epilepsy and testosterone below)

Difficulty in getting and staying aroused

  • You may be taking an epilepsy medicine that can cause impotence (see chart below)
  • You may have lower testosterone levels than usual (see Epilepsy and testosterone below)

Epilepsy and testosterone (the male sex hormone)

Your body produces the male hormone testosterone. Testosterone is responsible for many things that affect your sex life. These include your interest in having sex, your ability to have sex and your fertility. If you have low testosterone levels, this may cause you to have problems with your sex life.

Any man can have low testosterone levels. But there are also three reasons why having epilepsy may make your testosterone levels lower than usual:

  • When you have seizures, this might lower the amount of testosterone in your body
  • Your testosterone levels are particularly likely to be low if you have a type of epilepsy called temporal lobe epilepsy
  • Some epilepsy medicines make your liver work harder than usual. This can have the effect of reducing the amount of testosterone in your body. Epilepsy medicines that make your liver work harder than usual include carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, phenobarbital, phenytoin, primidone and topiramate

More information about temporal lobe epilepsy is available from Epilepsy Action.

Which epilepsy medicines cause sexual dysfunction?

These epilepsy medicines have been described as being linked with sexual dysfunction:

CarbamazepinePhenytoin
ClobozamPregabalin
ClonazepamPrimidone
GabapentinSodium valproate
OxcarbazepineTopirimate
Phenobarbital 

If you are taking any of these epilepsy medicines and have concerns about your sex life, speak to your family doctor, epilepsy specialist nurse or epilepsy specialist.

NHS Choices has more information about the causes of sexual dysfunction.

Fertility (fathering a baby)

Some research suggests that men with epilepsy may not be as fertile as men who don’t have epilepsy. This can make it more difficult to father a baby.

Ways in which epilepsy may affect your fertility

  • You may be taking an epilepsy medicine that can reduce the amount of sperm you produce or affect the quality of it. Carbamazepine may cause this side-effect. There is also a small amount of evidence to suggest sodium valproate may affect how much sperm you produce
  • You may have lower testosterone levels than usual (see Epilepsy and testosterone above)

Other causes of sexual dysfunction that can affect any man, whether he has epilepsy or not, are tiredness, illness, alcohol and having a long-term medical condition.

Treating fertility problems

If you are trying for a baby and your partner is taking a long time to get pregnant, speak to your family doctor. There could be many reasons for this, related to either you or your partner.

If your family doctor thinks that your epilepsy or epilepsy medicines are a possible cause, they’ll usually refer you to an epilepsy specialist. The specialist may make changes to your epilepsy medicine, to see if that helps.

If you are concerned about the quality or quantity of your sperm, speak to your doctor. It is easy for them to do a test to check your sperm.

Treating sexual problems

If you have any worries about your sex drive, or your ability to have sex, you are not alone. It’s really worth talking to your family doctor. They will look for ways to help you. For most men with sexual problems, a treatment can be found. Your family doctor may:

  • Consider any emotional causes, then recommend sex therapy, psychotherapy or relationship counselling
  • Consider any physical causes that are not related to epilepsy, then suggest suitable treatment

If your family doctor thinks your sexual problems might be connected to your epilepsy or epilepsy medicines, they will usually refer you to an epilepsy specialist. Your epilepsy specialist might:

  • Suggest changing to a different epilepsy medicine that is not known to cause sexual problems. These include lamotrigine and levetiracetam
  • Suggest trying a different medicine as well as your epilepsy medicine

Fathers with epilepsy

Lots of fathers with epilepsy have told us they worry about not being able to care for their young children, so we have put together some tips that might help.

Looking after yourself

Try to get enough sleep. In the early days, many parents are deprived of sleep, with their babies waking up in the night for feeds. Lack of sleep can be a trigger for some people’s seizures. And, for some people, so can missed meals. So, having a plan of action could be really useful.

Looking after your baby

  • Only give your baby a bath when there is somebody else with you. This is because, if you had a seizure, the baby would be at risk of drowning. A safer alternative is to do a ‘top and tail’ wash. This is where you wash the child with water from a shallow bowl. If they can move around, make sure the bowl of water is out of their reach
  • When bottle feeding your baby, sit on the floor, preferably on a thick rug, with your back well supported. This way, if you had a seizure, the baby would not have far to fall and would not land on a hard surface
  • Try to avoid walking around with your baby in your arms, at times when you are more likely to have a seizure. For example, this might be first thing in the morning, or during the night when you are tired. Instead, use a pushchair or car seat to move them. This is particularly useful if you have unexpected myoclonic jerks, because of the risk of throwing a child in the air

Epilepsy Action has more tips to keep you and your baby safe

For further information

For relationship issues you could contact:

Relate
Tel: 0300 100 1234
Website: relate.org.uk

MESMAC
Tel: 0113 244 4209
Website:mesmac.co.uk

For friendship and dating you could contact one of these organisations:

Outsiders club
Tel: 020 7354 8291
Website: outsiders.org.uk

You’re able (online community)
Website: youreable.com

For more information on sexuality, impotence and fertility:

Sexual Advice Association
Tel: 0207 486 7262
Website: sda.uk.net

Family Planning Association
Tel: 0845 122 8690
Website: fpa.org.uk

Institute of Psychosexual Medicine
Tel: 020 7580 0631
Website: ipm.org.uk

Outsiders Sex and Disability Helpline
Tel: 0707 499 3527
Website: outsiders.org.uk/contact

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. See Men, epilepsy and sex.

Code: 
F074.02

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr John Paul Leach, consultant neurologist, Southern General Hospital, Glasgow for his contribution.
Dr John Paul Leach has declared no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated October 2015
    To be reviewed October 2018

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