Every advertisement I see, from magazines to billboards, promoting anything from clothing to bottled water, the models selling the products are effortlessly thin where they need to be, thick where they should be and perfectly groomed. It’s no wonder when we look in the mirror, we are so critical about our own self image.
I’m a huge believer in the importance for our self image to stay well groomed and put together. How can we feel good about our self image if what we see in the mirror is disheveled? What the media brings to us does not exist. Even the ultra-sexy girl with the shiny hair blowing in the wind as she drinks her what ever brand of bottled water she is advertising will tell you that.
We put a tremendous amount of pressure on our self image to be something that doesn’t exist. I think we do this because we believe it’s what the person next to us finds attractive in body image. But if we think about it rationally, we know what one person finds attractive may be very different than the next person. If we all found exactly the same body image attractive, someone would have figured out complete human cloning a long time ago.
When you sustain a spinal cord injury (SCI), your self image takes a hit. Especially when it comes to self image and sex. Not being too critical on our self image is hard but throw paralysis into the mix and then get a mirror. Now you’re talking self image.
Before I go any further, let me just say this: PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES HAVE SEX. I know sex is a hot topic, but it astounds me the majority of able-bodied society believe people with disabilities can’t have sex or do not desire sex. And by sex I mean intimacy, intercourse and all that’s in between.
If anything, it heightens the desire for intimacy. With the right person, which is extremely important, intimacy is a nurturing, physically invigorating, emotionally healing, self image lifting experience. Let’s be real…who doesn’t feel great after sex?!
Feeling great about yourself before you get to sex may be the challenging part, especially if you have a disability. Our self image plays a huge role here. And when I say self image, not only the outside; our self image on the inside is just as important.
Positive self image builds confidence. Once we have confidence, we will feel worthy and deserving of experiencing the joy of intimacy with another person. Our confidence shines through us and is visible to others.
When you’re disabled and you are working on improving self image, stop comparing yourself to others, especially when it comes to sex. All you will see are the physical things you cannot do. Instead, make a list of your positive qualities and capabilities. Are you thoughtful, fun, kind?
When you are ready to experience sex, the best thing to do is be honest with your partner about the different ways your body may perform than a person without a disability. Honesty is always the best policy, and a healthy self image will carry you far in communicating.
Everybody with a spinal cord injury functions different sexually. About 80-90% of people living with SCI experience some type of sexual change. Men may have trouble achieving or sustaining an erection or loss of sensation. Women may also have loss of sensation or a lessening of lubrication.
As far as the actual paralysis goes, here’s my solution… If you can’t move your body in a certain position, ask your partner to do it for you. They won’t mind. This will boost their self image!
Our bodies are amazing and compensate in one area for loss in another. 50% of people with SCI report achieving orgasm regardless of the severity of their injury. How is this possible if you can’t feel or move anything from the neck down?
Welcome to “pleasure mapping.” With SCI, our body gives us erogenous zones in areas of our head, neck, ears, hair and face. These are “extra-genital” areas, and finding them is called pleasure mapping.
Everyone has a different map, and you create yours by exploring with your partner. Enjoy the exploring process… It’s the best homework you’ll ever be given! And it’s a fantastic improving self image exercise!
Depending on your level of disability, you may not be independent using the bathroom and should make sure to take care of your needs prior to. Not a very sexy topic, I know, but it’s a reality with disability and sex.
Living with a disability is challenging. Disabled or not, we should do anything we can to make life full of fun, exhilarating experiences. Having a powerful self image improves our confidence to do so, and as Mark Twain said, “To succeed in life you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”