Thanks to depictions of quadriplegic and paraplegic sex lives on scripted shows such as Friday Night Lights and reality series Push Girls, the general public is more educated than ever before about the effect spinal cord injuries (SCI) have on intimate relations. But there are still popular misconceptions and myths in need of a good debunking, hence this list of paraplegic sex facts and quadriplegic sex facts.
There are facts about the sex lives of paraplegics and quadriplegics a lot of people just never think about. Dealing with incontinence and catheters in the bedroom, for example, is not something you see in popular depictions of life with SCI. The intimate mechanics of paraplegic and quadriplegic sex aren’t well-known, either. Read on for 10 facts about SCI sex that Hollywood, and pop culture in general, rarely – if ever – mentions.
Yes, Orgasms Are Still Possible
Experiences vary greatly depending on the extent of the injuries, but both men and women with spinal cord injuries (SCI) experience orgasms. For men, the sensation has been described in many ways: a “primarily emotional event,” a general relaxation of the muscles, or a “pleasant” sensation in the pelvis. The majority of women with SCI report they still have orgasms, and the sensation is similar to how it was prior to injury. It may, however, take longer than it did before, require more stimulation than before. Oh darn.
The “Stuffing” Technique, Just What It Sounds Like
According to experts at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, paraplegic heterosexual males, with practice, can have intercourse with women using the so-called “stuffing” technique, which is exactly like it sounds: using his fingers, the man tucks his flaccid penis inside his partner’s vagina. When she thrusts her hips, the muscles of her vagina “suck” the flaccid penis inside her, providing a pleasant sensation akin to penetration. This can cause a reflex erection – erections achieved through stimulation – leading to a more traditional sexual experience.
Sensitivity in Less Traditional Erogenous Zones Can Be Heightened
Both men and women with SCI report that less “traditional” erogenous zones provide sexual arousal. Heightened “tactile sexual response,” for example, has been reported around the ears, eyelids, and neck.
Angela Rockwood, from Sundance Channel documentary series Push Girls, confirms this: “You gotta think of sensation. For quadriplegics, the breast up is very heightened and sensitive, so I like a lot of kissing around the neck.”
Fellow Push Girl Auti Angel agrees: “It’s like when people become visually impaired and their smells and other senses become heightened. It’s like that with us – we just lost sensation in a different area.”
Special Sex Furniture Is Available
The IntimateRider is a special sex chair that reportedly “does the thrusting for you” if you’re a man with an SCI. With a retail price of $365, the Intimate Rider isn’t cheap, but it does promise to “unleash your intimacy in a way that was not possible before – the way you deserve!” Doesn’t sound like something you can really put a price on.
The chair works by translating the movement of your upper torso into a swinging motion, sort of like a glider. As the slightly-NSFW video shows, you can also splurge for the IntimateRider Romance Set ($515), which omes with an IntimateRider-compatible cot called the RiderMate for your partner.
Men with Spinal Cord Injuries Can Wear Catheters During Intercourse
A scene you never saw on Friday Night Lights was Jason Street explaining his catheter to his potential romantic partners.
Experts say men with spinal cord injuries can wear catheters during intercourse, but there are a few caveats. The catheter needs to be anchored, using tape or a condom, but only when/if an erection is achieved. Extra lubrication may also be required with this set-up.
Paralyzed women needn’t worry, as experts at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation wryly note: “[Catheters] can be left in during sexual intercourse because, unknown to many men and even women, the urethra (urinary opening) is separate from the vagina.”
It is advised, however, that women tape the catheter tube to their thigh.
Urinary and Fecal Incontinence Can Be a Problem
Catheters, of course, can be removed prior to sexual activity for individuals with SCI, but experts advise “it is wise to empty the bladder before beginning.” For good measure, it is recommended to “keep a urinal receptacle near the bed.”
Urinary or fecal incontinence brought on by sexual stimulation is cited as a “major fear” of many people with SCI. Experts recommend having towels handy, limiting fluid intake, keeping to a “careful” diet, and gentle thrusting. Communication between couples, however, is considered the most important means of preventing embarrassment or humiliation.
As with Erections, Natural Vaginal Lubrication Can Be Achieved
Much like men with SCI and erections, vaginal lubrication can be achieved in women with SCI through so-called “reflexogenic or psychogenic factors.” In common parlance, this is known as “getting wet” or “moist.” Reflexogenic lubrication occurs through manual stimulation, while psychogenic lubrication, as the name implies, means it arose through emotional or mental means, i.e., your imagination.
Female SCI patients with “incomplete” injuries (only partial damage to the spinal cord) are more likely to achieve vaginal lubrication, much like male SCI patients and erections. Experts recommend water-soluble lubricant if natural lubrication cannot be achieved.
Penile Implants Are a ‘Last Resort’
Penile vacuum devices exist to help “maintain penile tumescence” in men with SCI, but experts saymany people – especially younger couples – consider them “un-natural and cumbersome.”
A popular “last resort” method is a penile implant, which is considered to be a highly effective means of restoring, somewhat, former sexual functions. There are two types: a “bendable” implant that consists of two plastic rods placed in the erection chambers of the penis, and an “inflatable” implant, which fills surgically implanted chambers in the penis with saline, on-demand.
The bendable type has one major downside: it gives you a permanent erection. This, experts note, “can be embarrassing at a gym, the beach or when wearing tight clothing.”
“Electroejaculation,” an Impregnation Option
Jason Street on Friday Night Lights may have gotten his one-night-stand pregnant, but typically, men with SCI looking to impregnate partners experience difficulty producing the necessary semen. Experts cite “erectile dysfunction, ejaculatory dysfunction, poor semen quality or a combination” as factors.
There are, however, techniques to help assist impregnation. These include manual stimulation, “penile vibratory stimulation,” or, the “least preferred” but most effective: “electrojejaculation.” This involvesinserting a probe into the rectum and applying a current so “an erection, potentially followed by ejaculation, is produced.”
Viagra May Help Men and Women with SCI
Men with SCI who are able to achieve reflex erections can use Viagra to achieve “further rigidity,” to sustain their erections longer. Experts say it should, however, be prescribed with caution, considering many men with SCI also have a low baseline blood pressure.
Interestingly, women with SCI can also use Viagra to increase vaginal lubrication and help treat sexual dysfunction. This application, however, is considered to be of “limited value.” A study conducted in 2000, for example, showed Viagra may “partially reverse” sexual dysfunction in women with SCI, but the effects “were most evident under conditions of optimal stimulation.”