Epilepsy and Relationships

By Lisa Kiarie

Epilepsy is one of the highly misunderstood conditions in society. Individuals with epilepsy often go through difficult times. The one question is always consistent; what is epilepsy? Although many times people have thought it to be a cultural misfortune of some sort where the affected party is possessed by evil spirits, epilepsy is a chronic disorder that causes unprovoked, recurrent seizures. A seizure is a sudden rush of electrical activity in the brain.

There are two main types of seizures. Generalized seizures affect the whole brain. Focal, or partial seizures, affect just one part of the brain. A mild seizure may be difficult to recognize. It can last a few seconds during which you lack awareness. Stronger seizures can cause spasms and uncontrollable muscle twitches, and can last a few seconds to several minutes. During a stronger seizure, some people become confused or lose consciousness. Afterward you may have no memory of it happening.

Although having seizures affects a person physically, the condition has deeper impacted when it comes to relationships. Epilepsy may affect relationships for some people, and problems with sex are common for both men and women with epilepsy. There are various ways to manage these problems and find support.

It is definite that seizures are frightening and shocking but supporting each other is the key to seeing that a relationship flourish. Support may come in the simplest of ways such prompting them to take medication, or sharing in activities that helps to keep them safe. In most cases this has proven helpful but some individuals may feel that this affects their independence.

New Relationships and experiences

A new relationship is always exciting but at times scary especially for a person living with epilepsy. Due to the stigmatization by society, individuals are often fearful to share their conditions with their partners. The way people may have reacted in the past may also influence their decision and affect their confidence.

While some are not too keen on sharing their condition, others find that sharing and talking about their condition puts them in a better position to strive. They may feel like talking about it gets them closer to their partners but for others it feels like an intruder that flips things from their balance. It becomes upsetting for them to talk about or feel that your partner may not want to talk about it as they have heard it all before hence creating a wedge between the two individuals. When this happens, it is then advisable to get couples counselling once agreed upon by both parties.

Intimacy and Epilepsy

Whether or not an individual is sexually active these issues are an important part of a person’s life. Although not many people with epilepsy have sexual related issues, some do feel that this condition is a true menace to their stagnant sexual life. This may vary from low self-esteem to constant fighting with their partner as there is miscommunication when it comes to that area.

How might epilepsy affect intimacy (medical and physical factors)

Based on research it has been found that over a half of the men and a third of the women that are epileptics have problems with intimacy. The most common problem amongst the men was a reduced sexual interest and difficulties keeping an erection while for the women was a low sexual desire as well as difficulties in getting to orgasm and painful sexual experiences. This is most common for individuals with temporal lobe epilepsy.  This could be because the areas that control these functions are disrupted by epilepsy because in some cases certain hormones are needed to increase sexual desires and arousal and, in some cases, epilepsy affects these hormones. 

How you feel

Different Anti- Epileptic Drugs (AEDs) make you feel different ways. Some can reduce the hormone levels while others affect how hormones are broken down in your body. some side effects of anti-epileptic drugs are fatigue, depression, tiredness, insomnia, nerve damage in some cases and low interest in sex.

In general, how you feel greatly affects how you go about your day-to-day activities. If living with epilepsy makes you feel angry, anxious, and vulnerable, then most probably one’s intimate life is to be negatively affected. Some people may fear having a seizure during intimacy especially if their seizures are triggered by physical attributes such as excitement, or fast breathing.

This is why it is very crucial to talk to your partner about what to do if a seizure was to happen so as to help the both of manage the fear. The physical and emotional impact of seizures may affect intimacy as well as mental wellness due to the need of time to recover after seizures both physically and mentally.

Who can you talk to?

By sharing with your neurologist, they would be able to give you guidance on whether there are intimacy problems that may be directly related to your epilepsy. Although it may be difficult to talk about the problem or how you feel, it could be treatable or linked to other medical conditions that are important to identify and manage.

Always remember you are not disabled you are simply abled differently.


Lisa Kiarie is a senior student currently studying Bachelor of Arts in International Relations with a concentration in Peace and Conflict at the United States International University - Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. She is the founder and CEO of the upcoming epilepsy foundation LKEF as well as a mental health advocate. As an epileptic, Lisa is passionate about raising awareness for epilepsy so as to provide the necessary resources needed to equip and cushion future generations on how to treat, manage and eradicate the neurological condition while overcoming the stigma around it. She can be reached at lisanyambura.kiarie@gmail.com