Physical changes after SCI

Relationships

Physical changes after SCI

Image from The Big Draw 2009
Image from The Big Draw 2009

Someone with an SCI may find it difficult to feel attractive and desirable to their partner especially if they feel sensitive and uncomfortable about changes to their body, bowel and bladder function and mobility.

Men may be worried about their sexual performance, their ability to have an erection and their fertility. Both men and women, if they are single, may wonder whether they will ever attract another person.


These are all natural fears, but hopefully we can dispel some of the issues here:

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  • After an SCI, men can have a psychogenic erection when a message is sent from the brain, such as having sexual thoughts or seeing or hearing something stimulating or arousing. A reflex erection (which is involuntary) occurs when there is direct physical contact to the penis or other erogenous areas such as the ears, nipples, or neck. The ability to ejaculate decreases dramatically after a spinal cord injury, as does the quality of sperm. But it is still possible for males with an SCI to experience orgasm, especially when concentrating on their partner’s arousal.
  • Women may take longer to resume natural feelings of sexuality, although there are fewer physiological changes to their bodies. They may also have doubts and concerns about falling in love, marrying, having children or keeping their partner attracted to them.
  • During sexual activity, changes to their body may be about lubrication, surface sensation and taking longer to achieve an orgasm. Fertility is not usually compromised, although after an SCI there may be a delay in re-establishing their menstrual cycle.