While some aspects of the healing process following a spinal injury will plateau, sexual rehabilitation can take years as the most important sex organ is retrained
Once the condition of someone with an SCI has stabilised, motor and sensory healing tends to plateau with no further improvement expected. However, sexual recovery continues for years as it entails so much more than just physical aspects. Most of the progress occurs in the most important sex organ of all: the brain.
We can rewire our brains to interpret new areas as sexual by repetitive positive feedback from areas other than those that may have been the jackpot before (for example, our genitals, where we may no longer have feeling).
The first step is to map areas of your body that bring pleasant sensations. Common areas include the ears, neck, chest and the area of transition to injury. Combining touch with erotic thoughts and experiences can lead to a different association with those parts. Subsequently, these areas become responsive to sexual stimulation over time.
The formerly non-sexual body part can be turned into an erotic zone through repetition of this exercise. This does, however, take a lot of practice and patience. When you continue to practise this in the presence of mental sexual arousal, you will slowly start to experience changes.
This process is a form of mindfulness that allows acceptance of what your body has (as opposed to what it doesn’t have), and therefore, maximising its potential. In order to sustain motivation for this process, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate any changes you notice, as it is a gradual transition.
There is a simple exercise called “body mapping” that can be used to explore your sexuality on your own. Position yourself comfortably sitting or lying down and, with your eyes closed, take your hand or a feather and begin to explore your body. Start at a point, such as your face, and slowly move to different areas, like the ears and the neck.
At each area, become aware of the sensations you experience. Continue down your entire body while thinking positive and erotic thoughts. Be attentive to the areas that are most sensitive. Which have the potential to feel like a sexual stimulus if you relaxed into the moment and became mentally aroused?
Also, notice the parts of your body that are neutral or negative to touch. These parts are not a source of pleasure and can be avoided in future. Keep your breathing deep and slow, stay in the moment and do not criticise or judge yourself – instead, try to elevate the sensual feeling in your brain.
When you feel yourself getting more aroused, your breathing and heart rate may increase. During arousal you may even feel an increase in abdominal and lower body spasming. This is a normal reaction. Repeat the exercise often to strengthen the connection between your body and your mind.
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.