Sexuality is an important part of quality of life. Adults living with a long-term condition, such as a spinal cord injury, may face some challenges with sexual functioning. These challenges may also impact their satisfaction with their sex life. We wanted to find out:
We mailed surveys to adults who had a spinal cord injury, post-polio syndrome or muscular dystrophy. We asked if they had any problems with sexual activity, like difficulty with lubrication or achieving an erection. We asked how satisfied they were with their sex lives and about other conditions that they may feel may affect their sexual satisfaction, such as pain, fatigue or depression. Last, we asked how often they used sexual aids such as lubricants and vibrators. A total of 368 participants answered our questions.
Adults with a spinal cord injury were less satisfied with their sex life than those with muscular dystrophy or post-polio syndrome. More than half of the women said they had difficulty becoming lubricated. Given that, lubricants were the most common type of aid used. More than half of our participants used them. Very few men said they used a vacuum erection device or injection in order to achieve an erection. Those who said they were having trouble with sexual function also said they were less satisfied with their sex lives. In addition, women were less likely to be satisfied if they were feeling depressed. This was not true for men.
There are some important findings from this study. First, many of our participants were involved in sexual activity. This highlights the need to study sexual satisfaction and function in adults with long-term conditions. Second, more research is needed to understand other factors that may affect sexual satisfaction, such as poor sleep. Third, if you’re feeling down, it is important to seek help. Low mood may impact many areas of your life, including sexual satisfaction. If you haven’t already, ask your health care provider to refer you to a physician, psychologist, counselor, or other professional who can help you improve your sexual satisfaction, including information about using aids for sexual activity. There are many safe and effective ways to enhance your functioning and satisfaction.
Smith AE, Molton IR, McMullen K, Jensen MP. "Brief Report: Sexual Function, Satisfaction and use of Aids for Sexual Activity in Middle-Aged Adults with Long-Term Physical Disability." Topics in Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation. 2015;21(3):227-232.
Amanda Smith is a research scientist in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington. Dr. Ivan Molton is a clinical rehabilitation psychologist and associate professor at the University of Washington.