Wheelchair users might feel that they will never have intimacy or sex with a partner again. Sexual rehabilitation is just as important as physical rehabilitation.
For a person newly affected by a spinal cord injury (SCI), life is all about surviving the current crisis. As the initial trauma eases and the storm of medical complications subsides, the focus typically moves to living with the injury. This is what physical and sexual rehab is all about – making the most of what you have left.
After discharge, SCI patients can feel as though they’re moving from one crisis to the next as they try to incorporate normal life into their routine with their injury. The same happens with sex and intimate relationships: the cry of “will I ever be able to have sex again?” often occurs quite early after being diagnosed with a SCI. Other causes of anxiety might be a lack of intimacy or the challenge of building a new romantic relationship.
People with SCI can sometimes feel left out and isolated. This is dangerous to their emotional wellbeing and has the tendency to snowball. When you are isolated for long periods, it is easy to stop pursuing relationships and become even more alone. This cycle can prevent people with disabilities from experiencing intimacy and satisfying their sexual needs.
They also sometimes have to make life-changing decisions – just like everyone. For example, it might be time to end a relationship that is unfulfilling or to move out of a parental home. Support is invaluable in these situations. However, there are two difficulties. The first is that there is often no support available to guide patients during this stage with emotional support and relevant information. The second difficulty is that patients are often unaware that there are even such services available. Either way, people often don’t receive the assistance they need and are left to figure it out for themselves.
Finding support in the form of education and emotional support for sexual difficulties could mean the difference between having a sexually satisfying relationship and having some of our most important intimacy needs left unfulfilled. Seeking professional assistance for a sexuality-related crisis should be on the top of the list for ourselves as well as the ones we care for.
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.