Identity and Sexuality: A journey after spinal cord injury

A spinal cord injury can profoundly transform our self-perception and identity related to sexuality. A journey of self-discovery is needed to regain confidence

Danie Breedt
By Danie Breedt
4 Min Read

A spinal cord injury can profoundly transform our self-perception and identity related to sexuality. A journey of self-discovery is needed to regain confidence

Intimacy and sexuality are significant pillars of human relationships, crucial for emotional bonding and physical expression. Yet, the aftermath of a spinal cord injury (SCI) can cast a shadow over these dimensions, necessitating a journey of rediscovery for both the individual with the injury and their partner. There exists an intricate interplay of identity and sexuality in the context of SCI, psychological factors that extend beyond the physical challenges.

An SCI is not merely a physical alteration; it causes a profound transformation in self- perception and identity related to sexuality. It disrupts beliefs about yourself and triggers an internal journey filled with questions about self-worth, attractiveness, and desirability as it relates to one’s sexual self.

This change demands the shedding of old beliefs about your identity and embracing who one has become post-injury. It’s about looking beyond limitations of your body, recognising what makes you unique, and redefining what sexuality means within this new context. The process often requires a revitalised sense of self-empowerment and sexual identity.

As identity transforms, so does sexuality. Individuals grappling with this shift often find themselves navigating uncharted territory when it comes to sexual intimacy. SCI can alter physical function and sensation, challenging how you use to express yourself sexually. This transition calls for exploration and adaptation in the realm of intimacy, alone and with a partner.

Partners too may need to navigate this landscape, balancing their roles as caregivers and lovers while exploring new paths to physical and emotional connection. In the same way that you are getting reacquainted with your body, your partner will go through a similar journey, rediscovering your sexual identity and their identity in relation to yours.

The journey of rediscovering one’s sexual identity after an SCI is fraught with emotional ups and downs, moments of self-doubt, and empowering breakthroughs. This is not intended to scare you off from the process but rather to encourage you that some struggling along the way is normal. A light-hearted approach could be helpful in this regard to remove some of the pressure to perform.

Beyond the internal journey, individuals with SCIs often face external societal challenges as well. Prejudices and stigma can add a layer of complexity to the journey of sexual identity transformation. Society’s attitudes and biases about disability can affect self- esteem and body image, exacerbating the challenges individuals face.

Addressing these external challenges requires collective efforts to promote understanding, empathy, and inclusion.

It demands challenging and changing stereotypes about sexuality and disability, educating society about the realities of SCI. By addressing these societal influences, individuals can regain a sense of belonging and acceptance, fostering a more positive sexual self-perception in the face of prejudices.

In conclusion, the journey of reclaiming one’s sexual identity after a SCI is an intricate and deeply significant process. It transcends the physical and psychological challenges, delving into the realm of sexuality. This journey reshapes how individuals perceive their sexual selves and how they engage in intimate relationships.

The challenges of this transformation are undeniably daunting, yet the result is a testament to the remarkable capacity of individuals to adapt, grow, and redefine what it means to experience sexuality and intimacy.

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Danie Breedt
By Danie Breedt Psychologist
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.
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