Sexual dysfunction, depression and anxiety in individuals with MS

Rebekah Davenport

Rebekah Allison Davenport

University of Melbourne

| Better treatments | Social And Applied Research | Scholarship | 2022 | Investigator Led Research |


Sexual dysfunction, depression and anxiety are common symptoms for people living with MS, and are more prevalent in MS relative to both the general population and other chronic disease populations. Recent findings emphasise the complex and multifactorial nature of sexual dysfunction in MS and suggest that the attribution of sexual dysfunction to disease factors (e.g., disability, location or number of demyelinating lesions) may be overestimated. Sexual dysfunction, depression and anxiety are clinically significant as they have a range of complications. Sexual dysfunction can affect fertility and decrease general and sexual quality of life. Depression and anxiety have been shown to predict self-harm and suicidal ideation in MS, along with a host of negative prognostic factors such as increased hospitalisation, relapses, pain, fatigue and low adherence to disease-modifying treatments.

Despite evidence of sexual dysfunction, depression and anxiety significantly impacting people with MS, the psychological factors contributing to the development and continuation of these symptoms are unknown. This research study aims to identify modifiable psychological factors that contribute to sexual dysfunction, depression and anxiety in MS.  

Following a systematic review of the literature, this study will develop the first models of sexual dysfunction, depression and anxiety in MS. A ‘Model of Sexual Dysfunction’ and a ‘Transdiagnostic Model of Depression and Anxiety’ will be tested longitudinally and examined primarily in an MS sample, but will also be compared across other disease populations (i.e. endometriosis, cancer) to isolate important factors in MS. Findings from this research will address significant gaps in our understanding and inform directions for research and clinical practice. This will highlight important targets for psychological interventions that reduce the effects of sexual dysfunction, depression and anxiety in MS.

Progress to Date

In the past year, Ms Rebekah Davenport has made significant progress in studies on depression, anxiety, and cognitive factors in individuals with MS. Firstly, she has conducted a comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis, examining the relationship between cognitive factors and depression/anxiety in individuals with MS. Her findings suggest that depression and anxiety share common core factors, whilst also having distinct traits and cognitive aspects. A manuscript based on this study has been submitted for publication in a scientific journal. 

She has also completed data collection for three longitudinal studies involving individuals with MS and related conditions. The collected data, comprising over 360 baseline data points and follow-up data at different time points, will be analysed to explore the relationships between cognitive factors, depression, anxiety, and sexual functioning. The results of these studies will be submitted for publication shortly. 

In addition to these research accomplishments, Ms Davenport has presented this work at various conferences, including the National Pelvic Pain Conference and the Australian Association for Cognitive and Behaviour Therapy National Conference.  


Davenport R.A., Krug I., & Kiropoulos, L. (2022). A Model of Sexual Dysfunction in Individuals with Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis Journal 28(1), 1-224. 

Updated: 31 March 2023

Updated: 14 February, 2022

Stages of the research process

Fundamental laboratory

Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 10+ years

Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.

Lab to clinic timeline: 5+ years
Clinical Studies
and Clinical Trials

Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 1-5 years

Grant Awarded

  • Postgraduate Scholarship

Total Funding

  • $105,000


  • 3 years

Funding Partner

  • Melbourne Angels
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Sexual dysfunction, depression and anxiety in individuals with MS