When injury affects your sex life

When someone has become a paraplegic from a recent injury they may have a very difficult time with sexual relationships, with the injured partner feeling very inadequate and possibly even resisting the idea of having sex. But there are ways of approaching this, and the first thing is to take the pressure off.

Remember you are both going through an adjustment period together. You both need to allow time for whatever your process needs to be. Asking questions is a good start - getting informed is definitely part of the process.

Given your partner’s resistance, there is obviously some grieving involved, too. A change in sexual function is a real loss, and feelings have to be allowed to run their course. But have faith that it’s a temporary process. You can get through it to a renewed and satisfying sexual relationship.

It’s typical of this time for people to be stuck in certain beliefs about the impact of a recent disability on their sexuality. These are beliefs that turn out not to be true, and so they unnecessarily extend the grieving process. Your partner - and you - might need to reconsider any or all of the following:
Are you wanting sex to be the same as it was before? The desire to resurrect the same style of sex, the same kinds of sensations and the same acts is just a trap. It guarantees that you’re going to keep responding with a sense of loss rather than a spirit of exploration. And it denies the possibility that there is another style of sex you can find together that will be intimate and fun and loving. You both need, at least, to be willing to consider that this is possible. Can you let go of what you think sex is supposed to be and consider what it can be?

Which leads to the next belief, that there are no acceptable alternatives. Kissing, touching, oral stimulation, fantasy and taking more visual pleasure in watching your partner are not compromises. These “alternatives” have more erotic potential than many people ever explore. Here’s your chance. Is your partner fixed on notions of what it is to “be a man”? Now that he can’t “perform” in some of the same positions he was used to, now that he isn’t having the sensations he used to have - perhaps not experiencing orgasm or ejaculation in the same ways he used to - he may feel that his very masculine identity is threatened. The role he thinks he’s supposed to play as a lover may seem out of reach. The more deeply invested he might be in this belief, the more difficult it will be for him to redefine himself as a lover. It’s that very redefinition that paves the road to success, and many people have proven many times over that it’s possible.

It’s easy to imagine that the disappointment one feels with reduced sensation and not being able to engage in the typical “sex techniques” will always come up during lovemaking. Why try if it only means having to face wanting it to be different and it’s going to feel that way forever? Believing that this feeling of disappointment will always occur during sex is a horribly effective stopper to even getting in there to find out what’s possible. Those who have proven it many times over learned that enjoying what’s possible far outweighs the disappointment around what isn’t. The disappointment becomes mini mal, if not irrelevant.

Insecurity about maintaining erection and not being able to judge the status of the erection during intercourse is another source of great stress for some men with paraplegia. If he hasn’t already, your partner should visit his urologist to discuss options for achieving a lasting erection so that you can have dependable intercourse.

Consider the options. Either you give up on sex entirely, or you engage the process from the perspective that you want to have a sex life, that you want to express this innate part of what you are. Show each other that you love each other any which way you can.

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