It is important for every human to be able to express their sexuality through intimacy, but for people with disabilities this might be more difficult. Here are a few suggestions for resolving some common concerns
Sexuality beyond the aim of reproduction is a major concern for people with SCI. The enjoyment of sex and intimacy is a natural part of being human, regardless of any injury or other disability. The difficulty is often that people don’t know where to start when it comes to addressing their concerns. Here are a few solutions to common concerns.
The first and most important suggestion, regardless of the particular concern, is communication. Many people find it difficult to talk about their concerns related to sexuality. It is a very personal topic, and most are afraid of what others might think of them if they discuss their difficulties.
The truth is that there are numerous professionals who would be more than willing to assist you, but they can only do so if you ask. Similarly, communication with a partner is vital to a healthy relationship. What may feel like a major issue is often not such a big problem once you are able to talk about it with someone you trust.
In order to resolve a problem effectively, it helps to define it: for example, are you worried about sexual desire, arousal difficulties, orgasmic issues, ejaculatory issues, fertility or sexual pain? Defining the problem helps you to narrow who can help you with it and what can be done. It is important to distinguish between problems that were present before the SCI and complaints that are related to the injury or subsequent medication.
Consult with a medical doctors to ascertain which difficulties are related to SCI or medication. Although each SCI is different, there are challenges that are more common when the injury is on a certain level. Learning about your specific injury and knowing what you can expect could be helpful in this regard.
For concerns relating to fertility, pregnancy and childbirth, it is recommended that you consult a specialist. Because of the unique challenges of an SCI, it would be best to do some homework to find a specialist who is experienced in working with SCI patients. Your doctor should be able to provide you with suggestions for specialists who meet this criterion.
The final group of professionals who can also be of assistance deals with the emotional and social aspects of sexuality. Consider seeing a psychologist or counsellor who has extensive knowledge of sexuality and SCI regarding these concerns. More often than you would think, the physical or medical concerns that people experience are owing to emotional and relational difficulties.
Problems with sexuality can often be linked to unresolved emotional distress and if it is not resolved, the problems may persist. Emotional causes are found in many common complaints, such as arousal, ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, pain and inability to achieve orgasm.
This might be difficult to recognise yourself, but one indication of unresolved emotional difficulties is when doctors can’t seem to find a medical reason for your complaint and prescribed medication isn’t helping. The feedback from people close to us are also valuable, as they can sometimes recognise the emotional struggle before we become aware of it ourselves.
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.