Sexuality after a spinal cord injury

backpain patient visiting doctor in clinic

After suffering a spinal cord injury, you can expect to face a wide variety of lifestyle changes. Some are immediate, others are afterthoughts. One of the top afterthoughts, after adapting to physical limitations and going through the recovery process, is sexuality. 

It’s essential to remember that sexuality involves more than just the act of sex. Intimacy between partners, ideas of body image, and desires all fall under this term. Here’s how a spinal cord injury impacts sexuality and how to handle those changes.

Injury and Sexual Function

Your body relies on your spine to send messages to all of your major systems. Those most impacted fall below the site of the injury. If your spinal injury was in your mid back, for instance, everything below would be severely impacted from your digestive system to your toes. 

With changes in sensations to these areas, your reproductive organs will function differently. Men might have difficulty maintaining an erection, while women will experience changes in their menstrual cycle. Both might have difficulty achieving orgasm. For women, the ability to have children may be impacted as well. 

Injury and Sexual Ability

Since your systems no longer function the same, your ability to have intercourse changes. Neither men nor women lose the desire to have sex, but the ability to perform as usual changes. Experiencing pleasure from genital stimulation may no longer be the same or cease to exist. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sexual encounters, however. There are dozens of erogenous zones throughout the body that bring pleasure when stimulated. Couples have to work together to find a new routine that works for the injured party. 

As for orgasms, men and women may experience changes. Men often experience a decreased sensation and retrograde ejaculation, when semen shoots backwards into the bladder. Women often require lubrication, as the body no longer produces enough of its own. Focusing on various erogenous zones, even with ED in men, can lead both partners to still enjoy their experiences. 

Perceptions of the Body

For men, changes in sexual ability often lead to stress and feelings of inferiority. They may worry that they are unable to satisfy their partner or experience frustration over their ability to maintain an erection. Changes in desire also decrease the ability to stimulate their sexual appetites through visual, aural, and mental arousal. 

For women, a lack of sensation can make sex less enjoyable. This can lead to a negative self-image and a loss of desire altogether. Vaginal irritation from a lack of lubrication can also make women feel as if their body is no longer desirable. None of these assertions are true, especially with other erogenous zones and lubrication in play. 

Partners must practice open communication to maintain positive images of themselves. Therapy can also be highly beneficial. Speak with a lawyer for people with spinal cord injuries to see if a therapist can be covered as part of your compensation. 

Autonomic Dysreflexia

Commonly called AD, autonomic dysreflexia is a sudden rise in blood pressure from stimulation below the injury site. Rough stimulation, vibrators, and orgasms can all cause this phenomenon. Men may experience AD from testicular inflammation, while women’s menstruation can cause this condition. 

The injured party must stop all sexual activity immediately if they experience AD. Removing tight clothing or other restrictive components is also vital. If your blood pressure continues to rise afterward, call 911 immediately. 

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