New Paper: The Importance of Sexual Function, Satisfaction and Use of Aids for Sexual Activity

What is this research about?

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:

  • What problems do they experience and how common are those problems?
  • Are people satisfied with their sex lives?
  • Do they use any aids for sexual activity?
  • Do other conditions, like fatigue or depression, affect their sexual satisfaction?
  • Is the impact of other conditions different for men and women?

What did the researchers do?

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.

What did the researchers find?

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.

How can you use this research?

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.

What you need to know:

  • Though a long-term condition may affect your sexual function, it is still possible to have fulfilling physical and emotional relationships.
  • A professional counselor can provide information about sexual health.  They can also help you find an aid for sexual activity that is right for you.
  • Low mood may affect your satisfaction with your sex life.  If you’re feeling down, help is available.
  • Resource: Sexuality for Women with Spinal Cord Injury
  • Resource: Sexual Health for Men with Spinal Cord Injury
  • Resource: Intimacy and Post-Polio
  • Upcoming: Factsheet on Sexuality and Aging with a Physical Disability\

Original Research Article:

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.

About the Researchers:

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.