It’s true. Sex is a whole lot different after a spinal cord injury (SCI). Some get so upset they stop having sex altogether, BUT the vast majority opt not to close the door on their sexuality after their injuries. It’s too vital of an aspect of being human. Sex is so much more than nerve endings; it's about intimacy, closeness and realness.
We want to challenge any pre-conceived notions you may have had about sex and SCI. Sex can be fulfilling post-injury, and it is possible to feel sexy again. Everything is just going to be a lot different. Here are tips direct from real-life SCI survivors.
The Physical Changes
For women, their sensation and ability to lubricate changes the most. For the men, they have to deal with a bit more: Erection issues, ejaculation issues (many cannot ejaculate) and a lack of sensation. Viagra, Cialis and Levitra help many paras and quads achieve an erection, but not all. For those who are not helped by these drugs, a penis pump is a common alternative.
Banish the ‘One-Sided’ Pleasure Fear
Despite what some AB partners or even you, the newly-injured person, may think, it’s not one-sided when it comes to pleasure after SCI. Many SCI folks quickly discover there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had in the sex department. They find new ways to make things fun and exciting, they become better at different things in bed and many couples (especially while in rehab) utilize sex therapists if they are available.
Also, stick with what you liked before because you are still going to respond to the same things. Make sure you have enough foreplay too to enhance the sensations of the SCI partner. Orgasms become much more psychological post-injury as well, but if you communicate about what feels good and discover where your new erogenous zones are (scars, the face, neck, the line on body where injury stops/begins) physical orgasms from new areas can be achieved.
Also, try experimenting with good and bad touch and try to touch using different body parts (like the tongue or toes) to touch your partner. And sex in the shower can especially feel good because of the enhanced temps and sensation variations.
Feel Sexy Again
The best way to feel sexy again is to relearn how to love yourself. You need to use positive psychology and focus on your positive attributes. Focus on what you still love about yourself, and you will slowly begin to feel sexy again.
Also, if you're comfortable with yourself and your disability, this is sexy. Humor and confidence are also helpful in learning how to feel sexy again. Don't be afraid to goof around with people sitting on your lap as well (this is always a good conversation opener).
Communication is Everything
To achieve great sex after a spinal cord injury, you will absolutely need a high level of communication with your partner to get there. Try to communicate both your needs and wants to your partner, especially if you are the paralyzed counterpart. It’s up to you to let your partner know what you like, so experimentation is key.
Trial & Error: Everyone is Doing It
If you were a couple before the injury, continue hugging and touching like before. It can be easy to put sex and intimacy on the sidelines when an injury occurs, but this can be problematic long-term. If you have a partner and your injury is new, don't worry about having sex right away, but remember that trial and error will be the most important thing will you do when you decide to start having sex again.
Find an Open-Minded Partner
Finding a person who sees past your wheelchair and sees you for your soul is what you now need, but finding these individuals can be tricky. To find awesome people who see past the wheelchair, try to combat shyness and try to be the person who approaches people first. While people may find you attractive, your disability might make them unsure of what to do so making the first move is a good rule of thumb. Also, while struggling to find a good partner may be hard, it does help weed out the close-minded people of the world.
When you’re paralyzed, finding the right position is key when having sex. It can hurt the self-esteem when you can't do certain positions anymore. Try experimenting with different pillows, propping up in bed or even staying in your wheelchair while having sex to stabilize your balance.
Sex is different for everyone, and we know the loss you’re feeling can be profound. Just remember, while your injury has taken a lot of from you, you can limit how much it affects your sex life with a positive attitude and a hopeful outlook, and that is a truly amazing thing.
How have you rediscovered sex post-injury?
Written by Tiffiny CarlsonSince 1998, Tiffiny Carlson has been a prolific commentator on all things SCI in a number of prominent magazines, blogs and websites. Hailing from Minnesota, she was the SCI Columnist for New Mobility Magazine for 13 years and she currently works as the Executive Director of SPINALpedia, one of the leading websites for people with SCI to share videos and stories. She has been a C5-6 quadriplegic since a diving accident 24 years ago. Tiffiny has also been a fierce advocate for SCI research. In 2016, the Morton Paralysis Fund honored her for her work. While all SCI topics interest her, dating, love and the business of relationships have always been where her passion lies the most.
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