Even with the loss of sensation that accompanies spinal cord injuries, it is still possible to experience arousal. It only requires a little rewiring of your brain
It is often said that “the brain is the most important sex organ”. This is literally true, and often a neglected aspect of sexuality – especially in spinal cord injuries (SCIs). Multiple brain regions are involved in sexual responses, ranging from centres in the hindbrain that regulate basic functions such as breathing, to areas in the frontal cortex that control more advance cognitive processes such as creativity and imagination. Interestingly, there is no single area that controls sexual function. Control is distributed throughout many areas of the brain and spinal cord.
There is an important feedback loop from your genitals to your brain that is activated when noticing sexual arousal in your body. As your mind recognises the sexual signals, it in turn further increases the body’s arousal reaction. This process is of course interrupted with the lack of sensation some experience after a SCI. Since there are many areas in the brain working together in this process, we can rewire this process by changing what is interpreted as sexual arousal by the brain.
Non-genital pleasuring is a method that can be used to achieve this. Start by having your partner undress and lying face down. Beginning at their neck, slowly caress or kiss from head to toe. Then, have them turn over and repeat on the other side. Avoid touching the nipples or any part of the genitals. Concentrate on how good touching your partner feels and notice any areas that you enjoy more than others. Then, trade places and do the same for your partner. Do not have intercourse for the first few times, rather, relax and enjoy the intimacy.
An important part of this exercise is to talk about your experience of it afterwards. Share with your partner what it was like in both roles and what parts of it you enjoyed. Through repeating this exercise you both learn about each other’s sexual preferences and are able to communicate desire and arousal more clearly.
Learning about what you enjoy sexually will be helpful to your partner, but is equally important for your own brain. As you repeat this exercise, the arousal feedback loop mentioned earlier is rewired. Over time your brain learns to interpret caressing or kissing of specific areas in the same way that genital stimulation was before. This process is called neural plasticity. It is the brain’s ability to physically form new pathways that carry these messages to and from your brain.