Spinal Cord Injury has been a part of my life for almost 44 years! I hesitate in sharing that, it may make me seem outdated and un-relatable. However, the unique perspective allows me to look back and see progress. I also get a chance to see areas where progress still needs to be made. I can’t help but question, is sex still taboo as it relates to disability? Does society deny sexuality that I (and others with disability) possess?
These questions can only be answered by having open and honest conversations that include AB’s (able-bodies) and disabled counterparts. Personally, my sexual journey started with a deep understanding of the difference between intimacy and sex.
In its simplest form, intimacy means deeply knowing another person and feeling deeply known. (Intimacy is often confused with sex.) Intimacy fosters warmth, closeness, and trust. Most people long for intimacy but not everyone finds it. Why? Because this form of closeness can be scary. It requires acceptance and vulnerability. Being vulnerable allows your partner to see the real you and allows partners to support each other’s weaknesses and celebrate each other’s strengths.
Sex is a physical act. It doesn’t necessarily carry with it an emotional connection or feelings of attachment. Ultimately, we crave intimacy within sex, but intimacy and sex are two different acts.
How does SCI impact intimacy and sex?
I can’t imagine what intimacy or sex is like outside of my injury. Why? Well, since I was injured at four- obviously, my sexuality was not on the radar. My journey, as it relates to intimacy, is filled with the mental pictures that society provided in the mid 80’s-90’s- just imagine NO REPRESENTATION and complete ableism!
Misconceptions often include(d) that a person with a disability doesn’t need/want sex or can’t have ‘real sex’. This idea still exists that disability equals asexual.
[Asexual: a person who has no sexual feelings or desires, or who is not sexually attracted to anyone.]
When I gave birth to my children, it was a stamp of liberation for me. Pregnancy was PROOF that I was sexual and could be a woman that freely acted upon and carried out my sexual and intimate desires. Somehow, I thought that would shut down the haters- the naysayers that didn’t view me as a strong, independent, SEXY woman.
As the saying goes, ‘haters are always going to hate’ -that holds more truth today than it did years ago- probably because I have the years of experience to know that some people will never change and that social barriers are harder to breakdown than any other barrier. The best way I personally can combat this is to keep sharing my journey- and keep enjoying my intimacy and having sex (with my husband of course)!
My message to society is simple- don’t make the assumption that because I use a wheelchair I don’t have sex. People with disabilities are sexual beings – just like anyone else. Sexuality and disability seem to be unconnected; terms that seem at odds with one another. In my life, I am simply a woman, who enjoys being emotionally satisfied in intimacy and sex.
My tips for discovering (and enjoying) intimacy after injury:
As a person with a spinal cord injury (SCI) discovering intimacy requires the courage to be vulnerable- sharing all parts of injury.
- Discover your NEW body and how it works.
- Feel confident in talking about the good and bad parts of SCI with your partner.
- You may find that you appreciate closeness, kissing, touching, hugging, and confidence more than prior injury.
Spinal cord injury and sexual expression can co-exsit!
My injury has made me more mindful of erotic capabilities that extend beyond traditional intercourse. Spinal Cord Injury puts the focus on what is substantial in sexuality rather than what is superficial. I consider this a sexual gift!
I must feel comfortable in communicating this to my partner with my specific sexual pleasure points. If I fall into a negative mental trap or out of touch with my partner, here are a few things that have helped me:
- Remind yourself that sexuality is an integral part of the human experience and can provide wholeness after injury.
- Like anyone else, you have a right to it.
- It is your personal responsibility to navigate your sexual journey.
Let’s keep the dialogue open and encourage healthy relationships.