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Disabled Still Have Sex Lives

Though people think a disability will end your sex life, nothing is further from the truth. Don't be a prisoner of sexual myths: Indulge your senses.
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Try "Outercourse" continued...

From giving and receiving touch in areas of the body like the cheek, the neck, or the back of the hand to using scent -- candles and aromatherapy -- or music, Whipple suggests using all the senses for erotic pleasure.

"Different sounds, scents, and sights can bring us pleasure. For example, maybe you like peeling grapes and feeding them to your partner." She calls these alternative options -- paths to sexual pleasure that don't involve the exchange of bodily fluids -- "outercourse."

Outercourse isn't the only option. Many people who have, through spinal cord injury or other neurological disorders, lost all feeling or sensation in their genital areas can still experience orgasm as a result of genital stimulation, Whipple says. She's done a wide range of laboratory studies involving women with spinal cord injuries, and they report having orgasm from genital stimulation, feeling it above the level of their injury. "They report that it feels just like the orgasm they had before their injury, except they feel it only in part of their body," Whipple says.

Pleasure Bypasses Spinal Cord

In one study, 16 women with various levels of complete spinal cord injury (below vertebra T-6, meaning that they were paraplegic, not quadriplegic) were compared with five women who had no spinal cord injury. Each used a specially designed tool to stimulate themselves in vaginal and cervical areas as well as in other parts of their body above the level of their injuries where they felt especially sensitive.

"Only one of the non-spinal-cord-injury women had an orgasm, while three of the women with [spinal cord injury] had an orgasm in the laboratory," Whipple says. "One had six orgasms during the experiment. One had never had any sexual stimulation in the two years since her injury, and these were her first."

If there's no "feeling" below the waist, then what explains these sensations? Whipple notes that a nerve bundle called the sensory vagus bypasses the spinal cord, carrying nerve impulses directly from the genitals to the brain. So even if the spinal cord is damaged, "pleasure" messages can be carried through the sensory vagus from the genitals to the brain, triggering the experience of orgasm.

Whipple and her colleagues even confirmed this theory by doing PET scans of women with complete spinal cord injury. These tests showed that an area of their brains that is connected to the genitals through the sensory vagus was indeed receiving signals.

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