While it might require some time and a few adaptations, women with an SCI can still enjoy their sexuality. It all starts with knowing how your body has changed
For women with SCIs, sexuality remains an important part of daily life. It often takes time for a newly injured woman to become comfortable with her body and resume natural feelings of sexuality. Healthy adjustment begins with knowing the facts around the impact of SCI on sexual issues.
There are not many physiological changes after an injury that prevent women from engaging in sex. The most common challenge is decreased vaginal lubrication, likely the result of an interruption in normal nerve signals from the brain to the genital area.
Lubrication generally results in easier penetration and more pleasurable sexual activity. A possible inexpensive solution to the problem is to use a water-based lubricant such as K-Y Jelly. An oil-based lubrication is not recommended as it can cause infections.
Depending on the completeness and level of injury, there may be changes in surface sensation and the ability to contract muscles. If that is the case, try different sexual positions or activities than those favoured prior to the injury. Talking to your partner about your needs and your interest in trying new things can go a long way towards improving intimacy in a relationship.
Because of possible changes in sensation, it could take longer for an orgasm to occur, or sex might just feel different. The majority of women with SCIs are still able to experience orgasms but they may require more stimulation to do so. Using a vibrator may help with stimulation for women with an injury below the T6 level.
Certain medication could also hinder the process. It may be helpful to speak with your doctor about adjusting medication to minimise the potential impact.
When it comes to sexuality, the difficulties faced by women with SCIs tend to be more emotional and relational than physical. Regardless of SCI, everyone wants to have meaningful relationships and feel desired by their partners. Being comfortable in your own skin and coming to terms with how your body has changed after the SCI will influence your desire to engage in sexual activity.
When the emotional aspects are addressed, you will likely feel more comfortable to explore, express and enjoy all aspects of sexuality regardless of the level of injury. All relationships take hard work, dedication and commitment from both partners. This implies that the solution to overcoming emotional difficulties is a team effort.
Women with SCIs need to help their partners understand the effects of an injury on all aspects relating to sexuality, as well as their personal concerns. This is a great way to build physical and emotional intimacy while simultaneously overcoming barriers to meaningful relationships.
A proactive approach is recommended to prevent potential relational problems resulting from intimacy challenges and manage areas of concern effectively. Sometimes professional assistance can be helpful when it feels as if you’re not making progress in resolving issues related to sexuality. Sexologists, urologists and gynaecologists who are knowledgeable on issues related to sexual and reproductive health for women with an SCI could offer the necessary information and assistance.
Dr Danie Breedt is a passionate scholar-practitioner in the field of psychology. He divides his time between training, research and clinical practice. Danie works from an integrative interactional approach in psychotherapy, dealing with a wide range of emotional difficulties and sexual rehabilitation for patients with disabilities. He is the co-owner of Charis Psychological Services, a psychology practice that specialises in physical rehabilitation across South Africa.