Sex and Disabilities Not Mutually Exclusive

IMAGE The general attitude toward people in wheelchairs is that sexual activity is impossible. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because sex is never entirely genital, it can certainly be enjoyed by a person who is disabled or physically handicapped. In fact, some people with spinal cord injuries say that they are able to have an orgasm. They report areas of the body above the injury that become hypersensitive and, when stimulated, result in sexual arousal and sometimes orgasm.One common misconception following a spinal cord injury is that a single man or woman will never find a life partner, or that an existing partner will leave a relationship due to the complications of an injury. This is not the case.It is important to remember that the inability to move does not imply the inability to please your partner or to be pleased. The absence of sensation does not mean that there is an absence of feeling. A disabled person still feels desire even though the genitals may no longer function. The ability to enjoy intimacy and closeness persists even though the ability to perform may not. Couples can still enjoy a loving, close, and intimate relationship although it may be different from the one shared prior to the disability.

Physical Changes to Expect

If the disability is the result of a neurologic lesion, such as a spinal cord injury, women might expect to have changes in sensations in the vaginal area, which might cause them to become either less or more sensitive. Vaginal dryness caused by reduced lubrication may also be a problem. Men may have difficulty or an inability to get an erection, and may notice less sensation in the penis. They may also note difficulty with ejaculation.Depending on how much of the spinal column is involved, spasticity might cause cramping of the adductor muscles of the thighs, making them difficult to separate. Pain syndromes can make response unpredictable, making what once felt stimulating now feel painful. Bladder or bowel incontinence can cause embarrassment and anxiety, and an indwelling catheter may lessen sexual interest. In addition, weakness, fatigue, and breathing difficulties can also be barriers to sex as it used to be.

Psychological Factors

Less easy to document are the psychological factors. Stress, depression, and grief are all barriers to decreased interest and often create performance anxiety. The pressures of not being able to work or of being seen as a burden also take their toll on a couple's sex life. You may also feel that a disability has changed the way you look, or that you have lost your independence or your ability to play the traditional role in your relationship. All of these factors may cause you to give up on sex. But help is close at hand.

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