It is important not to allow a spinal cord injury (SCI) to prevent a healthy sexual relationship
Sexuality, at its core, refers to a relationship between two people. This means that both parties bring something to the partnership. Focusing on one side of the relationship can never give a full picture, but it is important to understand both sides to understand the relationship. When one of the two parties have suffered a SCI, it can easily become the focal point of (or the perceived obstacle to) a fulfilling sexual relationship. The difficulty is finding the balance.
The first danger is seeing a SCI as more than it is. There are many misconceptions about SCI. These assumptions are often made by people who have never been affected by such injuries personally or through someone they know. People in wheelchairs are often met with sympathy. There is a belief that the person’s life is over and that the loss is so big that they will not be able to live fully in any aspect of their lives, including sexuality. This is also a common experience of people who suffered recent SCI.
The second danger is seeing a SCI as less than it is. The main aim of rehabilitation is to move past the point of feeling hopeless to finding new ways of doing things that you were able to do before.
When it comes to sex and sexuality, making a SCI more or less than it is could create unnecessary difficulties in relationships. If you haven’t dealt with this major change emotionally, you could get stuck, feeling hopeless and not seek the necessary help. On the other hand, avoiding sex and intimacy altogether is denying yourself a fundamental human need. The balance between these two extremes comes through communication.
First, it is important to talk to a psychologist or sexologist to help you deal with your current situation on a physical as well as an emotional level. A professional will be able to explain various options to assist you to experience a fulfilling sexual relationship. Second, communication with your partner is vital. Acknowledge the fact that a SCI brings new challenges and then take them head-on, together.
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.