A relationship changes when a partner sustains a spinal cord injury (SCI), but with effective communication, it can be as strong as ever
Couples often experience a change in roles after one partner has experienced an SCI. This can be emotionally challenging. It is quite common to experience a sense of loss because of roles and activities that one might not be able to fulfil any longer. This is where effective communication
Talking openly about fears and anxiety that you experience due to changing roles can ease some of these emotional difficulties. At times, it is possible to do the things you used to do, but it just means finding new ways of doing it. In other situations, it might be necessary to adopt new roles. If, for example, you were the person who usually initiated sexual activities, you might still be able to fulfil this role, but you might have to be creative in doing it.
You could discuss with your partner different ways of letting him/her know that you are interested sexually and if there is anything you’d like to do or try. It is quite common for the partner of a person with an SCI to approach the subject of sex cautiously. The partner could be concerned about causing pain or discomfort.
Again, communication is paramount, as information such as what you enjoy or what makes you uncomfortable assists your partner in understanding your needs. Due to the loss of sensation in certain areas of your body and increased sensation in other parts, erogenous zones change. This creates an opportunity to discover new ways of experiencing sexual pleasure together.
Sexual experiences are different, but that doesn’t mean that you can no longer be sexual and experience intimacy. When it comes to sex, the physical side is often overemphasised while the role of the brain is underestimated. The brain is the most important sex organ and a crucial component in meaningful sexual relationships.
Preparation, both physically and mentally, is just as important as the act of having sex. While this stage might take longer for someone with an SCI, it can be incorporated as part of the foreplay. For example, texting your partner throughout the day could stimulate the mental side, while showering together could be a physical turn-on. The only limit is your own creativity.
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.