Living With a Spinal Cord Injury - Intimacy and Fertility
All spinal cord injuries are different. How
they affect intimacy and sexual function—and how people will react to the
change—varies. Because of this, you need to make your own observations and
evaluate your experiences to understand your changes in sexual function and how
to best deal with them.
After a spinal cord injury (SCI), how you look and what you are able to do
changes. An SCI may also affect how your sexual organs work. These
changes often result in frustration, anger, and disappointment, all of which
can strain a relationship. People with SCIs may wonder if they will be able to
maintain the relationship they are in or develop new ones.
But being intimate means more than just
having sex. Your interests, ideas, and behavior play a greater role in defining you than your
appearance or your ability to have sex. A
relationship depends on many things, including shared interests, how you
deal with personal likes and dislikes, and how you treat each
The most important thing in a relationship is how well
you communicate. Talk to your partner. Be
honest about how the SCI has affected your sexual function and how
you feel about it. Always keep in mind that people with SCIs can
have relationships and marry, have an active sex life, and have
Desire and sexual arousal
Usually, men and women are
sexually aroused through two pathways: direct stimulation of the genitals or
other erotic area or through thinking, hearing, or seeing
something sexually arousing. In men, this usually causes an erection, and in women it causes lubrication of the
vagina and swelling of the clitoris. An SCI can affect
either of these pathways and may change a person's physical response to arousal. Most people
remain interested in sexual activity after an SCI, although the level of
interest may decrease.
Many men with an SCI resume
sexual activity within about 1 year of the injury. Men who are able to
have an erection may find that the erection isn't rigid enough or doesn't
last long enough for sexual activity. Some have retrograde ejaculation, in which semen goes into
the bladder instead of out through the penis.
Women may have some, or complete, loss of
vaginal sensation and muscle control. Both men and women can achieve orgasm,
although it may not be as intense as before the SCI.
Your sex life will probably be
different after your spinal cord injury, but sexual intimacy is still possible and encouraged.
Your rehabilitation center may have a counselor or other health professional
who specializes in sexual health after an SCI. He or she may be able to help
you and your partner with these issues.