Intimacy plays an essential role in how we feel about ourselves and how we relate to others. As I explore this sensitive, yet very natural subject, I want to include some real life conversations I have had with newly injured women and curious friends.
I was asked by a woman who was newly injured, “I'm paralyzed from the waist down. I've been going out with an incredible boyfriend. One of the downsides of my injury is that everything from the waist down has less sensation. I communicate with my boyfriend well. I am considering intimacy for the first time after injury. I’m nervous. What can you tell me about sex after injury?”
Too often these questions are answered by doctors, even from well-meaning, but not so well-informed, sex educators. Often the highlighted parts of this conversation are all about the things you supposedly can no longer do--based on injury. This information is valuable. But I want to address this concern with “real-life” answers and not just the medical aspects of sex. Sexuality is one of those things where we must consider the whole person. It is true that injury changes some of the ways the body perceives feeling. But based on my personal experience, different isn't a bad thing. Changes after injury create a need for exploring new ways that intimacy can be felt. The body has so many places where nerve endings are highly sensitive. After injury, my ears and the nape of the neck became hyper-sensitive.
My first advice for someone newly injured is to explore. Any part of your body that you enjoy having touched can become a part to include in your sex life. Begin by talking openly about the places where full-sensation is still intact and have your partner focus on that, then explore together. Sexuality is NOT only expressed through physical touch but is also experienced through emotional closeness. Spinal Cord Injury (and the lack of full-sensation) adds a new meaning to “emotional closeness”. Often times, it is natural just to focus on the physical part of sex. But the emotional component of intimacy far exceeds the physical touch. Without emotional intimacy, relationships will flounder. It’s that simple, yet that complicated.
Key things to consider after spinal cord injury:
- Give yourself permission to have time to yourself. Discover your NEW body and how it works.
- Feel confident in talking about sexuality with your partner. Talk about what is good and teach each other to know how to communicate sexual desires openly.
- Ask others with similar levels of injury. You may find that many with Spinal Cord Injuries have the same questions you have and have tips that can improve your sexual health.
- Address urology issues prior to sex. Also, ask urologist about urinary tract infections in regards to sexual activity. In woman, this may be a concern but one that can successfully be managed.
- You may find that you appreciate closeness, kissing, touching, hugging, and confidence more than you did before injury.
The take away here is that sex is possible after spinal cord injury. You can continue to be sexually active and sex should be considered an important part of life.
Ask questions and enjoy.
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The opinions and experiences presented herein are for informational use only. Individual results may vary depending on your condition. Always consult with your health care professional. This individual has been compensated by Bard Medical for the time and effort in preparing this article for BARD’s further use and distribution. BMD/BMDA/1216/0351