Sexual intercourse can still be enjoyed greatly after a spinal cord injury, but it might require some experimentation and assistive devices.
An SCI changes your life in many ways, and sexuality is no exception. The most obvious limitation that needs to be taken into account is how your body reacts physically to sexual activity. It is like a journey of rediscovering your body, which should be celebrated, respected and enjoyed.
There are some devices (also referred to as sex toys) that can assist in this journey and make it more enjoyable. Some devices are specifically designed to assist people with limited mobility or hand function, while others are traditional toys used in creative ways.
Occupational therapists can be very helpful in adapting or modifying equipment to suit someone’s unique needs. An example of such a modification is the universal cuff, which is usually given to people with limited hand function during their initial rehabilitation to assist with holding various objects. It can be used to hold a vibrator or dildo (an object, usually made of latex or silicone, that is used for sexual penetration), and can also be modified with an extender for the purpose of penetrating a partner or oneself.
Vibrators are among the most common and versatile devices available and can be adapted in many creative ways. They can be used for stimulation all over the body, but especially in areas with limited sensation. Some vibrators can be attached to one’s tongue or finger to assist in foreplay and do not require active grasp or wrist strength. A vibrator applied beneath the penis of a male with an SCI can assist him in reaching orgasm and ejaculation.
Some people prefer to use a harness as an assistive device for intercourse. A harness is strapped onto the body and allows for a dildo to be attached. Such a dildo can also be detached from the harness and used as a hand-held sexual device. When considering a harness, always keep safety in mind. It is important to ensure that the straps fit snugly, but they should not restrict circulation or irritate the surface of the skin.
The final group of devices assists with positioning for intercourse. There are numerous products available that facilitate comfortable positioning and natural fluid motion with minimal upper-body movement. Basic soft-core foam cushions in various shapes and sizes can be used for positioning during a range of sexual activities.
Your wheelchair is often overlooked as an assistive device – it can be used to achieve positions that might not be possible otherwise.
The most important aspect of any of these suggestions is to have an open mind. Be creative and curious in your search to find what works for you and your partner. It is only by trying new things that you will rediscover your sexuality.
Danie Breedt is a passionate scholar-practitioner in the field of psychology. He divides his time between training future psychologists, research and clinical practice. Danie works from an integrative interactional approach in therapy dealing with a wide range of emotional difficulties. He is currently working as a psychologist at numerous physical rehabilitation hospitals across Gauteng for Charis Psychological Services where he does supportive counselling as well as sexual education for patients with disabilities. Column courtesy of Charis Psychological Services.