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Talking Sex

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News November 2013

For most people sex remains an important part of their lives in the years after injury.

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It’s safe to say that sex has always been an essential part of life. It’s something we enjoy, look forward to and find time to fit into our busy lives. Some of us even schedule a time for sex on a weekend or at the end of a busy day.

Having sex is not something most people just leave to chance. This is also true after spinal-cord injury, (SCI). Although it may take some time to figure it out after injury, for most people sex remains an important part of their lives in the years after injury.

In spite of its importance, talking honestly about sex with our partners remains a challenge for many. It seems to be easier to talk about sex man-to-man or woman-to-woman.

It’s not just that we get embarrassed with the topic, men and women tend to focus on different aspects of sex. We don’t speak the same language when it comes to talking about sex.

Face Differences

Men often focus on the physical aspects of sex. It’s a nuts-and-bolts approach.

We’re into the mechanics of sex, fixating on issues like positions, erections, orgasm and pleasure. For us men, if it’s not done in the “correct” way, we feel like a failure. Unfortunately, performance is a big deal for most men and many tend not to be the “touchy-feely” type.

Women have their own priorities and it’s not the mechanics. For most women, sex is about closeness, emotions, intimacy and sharing. Which position is used is far less important than feeling cared for.

Connecting in a loving way is typically more important than the intensity of an orgasm or the rigidity of an erection. It seems men and women are wired differently and start on different pages.

Express Yourself

In spite of our differences, sex requires a certain amount of honest communication.

For example, in a new relationship you may have to ask about STDs or whether it’s necessary to use a condom. The same is true with spinal-cord injury. After SCI, you may have to explain how things work now and what your partner can expect.

You may also talk about how your partner can be helpful and what kind of assistance he or she can provide. These conversations don’t have to go on for hours, but they’re important. If you have an SCI then it’s up to you to break the ice.

Keep these tips in mind when opening conversation about sex, they might help in those difficult moments when you’re trying to figure out what to say or how to say it.

Be honest: The most important thing to remember is to be honest when talking about sex. Don’t hesitate to share your insecurities or your anxieties. Put your ego aside and let your true feelings come through. This isn’t a time to be defensive or to appear as if you have it all together — it’s a time to be clear, open and honest.

Be personal: Express your needs from a personal perspective. Talk from the first person using words like “I” and “my.” Talking about yourself will put your partner at ease and will keep the conversation intimate.  

Timing is everything: Don’t wait until the very last moment to explain how your body works and what your partner can do to provide some assistance. SCI can be intimidating to someone who isn’t familiar with it. Conversations about sex and SCI are more natural when they unfold gradually over time. Sharing a little bit about your sexual needs and desires is best when the two of you are feeling close and emotionally connected.

Pay attention to your partner: Watch your partner’s verbal and nonverbal responses closely. Take his or her feelings into consideration and be open to any questions that they may have. Be sensitive to their reactions and pace a conversation according to their willingness and openness to hear the information that you are communicating.

Talk during sex: Don’t be afraid to say things like “that feels nice,” or “I like it when you touch me here.” Suggest different things to try and let your partner know when you’re enjoying something. Be careful not to tell him or her that they’re doing something wrong or sound like you are shouting out orders in bed.

Find a balance between talking about mechanics and feelings: Although it’s important to explain things like positions, sensation and bladder accidents, don’t forget to leave time to talk about your feelings. Share some positive feelings with your partner and share your feelings about the relationship. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and let your guard down.

Tell your partner that sex after SCI is a new experience for you too, and that you may not have all the answers or solutions. This will be a time of discovery for both of you. Enjoy the journey together.   

Keep the Spark Alive

Good sex is a goal and it takes some time, work and communication to get there.

Sex isn’t going to be perfect every time and some sexual encounters are going to be more enjoyable than others. By communicating with your partner about sex, there is a greater chance things will go smoothly and be pleasurable. Let your guard down and express yourself!

For more information, contact Stanley Ducharme at ducharme@bu.edu.

 

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