It is normal for young people to have a ton of questions about sex and sexuality. This chapter will discuss some of the sexual health issues that are specific to young people with a spinal cord injury, including: rights to adequate sexual health education, healthy relationships and resources. Most of the information found in the other chapters of our website will also apply to you – so don’t forget to check those out too!
Young people with disabilities don’t need sexual health education
Youth with spinal cord injuries or other disabilities are sexual, just like everyone else! When you have access to good information and education, it can lower your risk for sexual health problems, help you maintain healthy relationships and actually help you to just feel good about yourself!
Congratulations on being here, and educating yourself on a subject that can sometimes….feel a little weird. Sexual health education is an important part of growing up and transitioning into adulthood. When you understand your body, know your rights, and have an idea of what makes up a healthy relationship, it’s easier to feel confident, communicate your needs, and have them respected.
What’s Different Now?
Your life experiences and knowledge about sexual health will vary depending on your age, who you are as a person, and when you developed your disability. Although it’s common for young people to get sex education from a teacher, nurse, or doctor, we know informal sex education that happens when friends hang out and talk is also important. Some young people with SCI, especially in the time right after their injury, may find it more difficult to spend time with friends, and friends probably aren’t familiar with how sex could be different with SCI.
Parents and caregivers of young people with SCI are others who could be a good source of sexual health education. It’s common for parents of youth with a disability to be more protective than parents of youth without a disability. They may wrongly assume that providing you with sexual health education could actually increase risky behaviours. Research confirms good sexual health education actually helps protect youth from STI’s, unwanted pregnancy, and assault.
Sexual assault is a potential risk for anyone in the community, and unfortunately, having any type of disability could increase your risk for multiple reasons. We will talk more about ways to stay safe in the next section. Check out the personal safety videos on amaze.org as they are…amazing!
Body Image & Self Esteem
Becoming comfortable and confident in your body is a natural process of growing up. It’s also normal to not be happy with how you view your body at some point in your life. Our bodies are always changing, and many of these changes are happening during your teenage years. Having a spinal cord injury during your teenage years may seem like a double whammy! Learning about how your body works with a spinal cord injury and getting used to all the changes that come along with that, and then adding puberty on top of it all, can be a lot to deal with.
Research shows it! Youth with physical disabilities are sexually active at similar rates to youth without physical disabilities.
Wager, M., Neuspiel, D. & Coupey, S. (1986). Sexual behaviour of chronically ill adolescents: evidence of unmet needs. Pediatric Research, 20,158a.; Suris, J-C., Resnick, M.D., Cassuto,N. & Blum, R.W.M. (1996). Sexual behaviour of adolescents with chronic disease and disability. Journal of Adolescent Health, 19, 124-131.
What Can I Do About It?
If you are here, then you have already taken the first step. Seeking information and learning all you can about how your body works, will help to boost your confidence in all areas of your life, including sexual health.
Sexual health education provided to you at school still applies to you, even if some things might work a bit differently. You should be included in any sexual health education your peers are receiving in school. You should also expect that doctors, nurses or other healthcare providers can address any specific questions you may have, as well as offer sexual health education and advice when needed.
If it seems the adults around you are clueless, refer them to the Resources For Adults section on this page.
It’s important to stay active and social. As we mentioned, being with friends helps you build skills that support sexual health. It can seem scary to put yourself out there, most people are afraid of the big R – rejection; this video gives some good tips on dealing with the rejection that happens to everyone.
Familiarize yourself with the idea of giving and receiving consent.
- Saying ‘NO” can sometimes be hard to do, self-assertiveness is a communication skill that can help you get your thoughts, feelings and choices clearly known. Check out this awesome info sheet to help get you started on practicing this super power!
- Avoid drugs or alcohol, you have probably heard this by now, but these can negatively impact your decision making skills. Your ability to communicate and stay within your boundaries can also be affected.
- Keep friends and family in the loop about any plans to go on a date – where you’re going, who you’re going with and when you plan to be home.
- Consider group dates, there is safety in numbers.
What Do I Need to Know?
Here our five of the most common questions people with spinal cord injuries ask about sex:
Can I still have sex?
YES! Your ability to engage in sexual activity is still possible; however you may experience changes to erections, vaginal lubrication, genital sensation and mobility. For more, see Sexuality 201.
Am I still able to have children?
YES! In general, you are still fertile after SCI, even though some aspects of sex might work differently for you and your mobility is affected. This means that it’s just as important that you have a method of contraception and use it if you are sexually active. Our Contraception chapter discusses these methods in more detail.
In general, a women’s ability to get pregnant is not affected by spinal cord injury. There are some things to consider before pregnancy though, see the Female Fertility and Pregnancy chapter for more information. For men, ejaculation may be effected after injury, but sperm is still being made and there are procedures available to assist proper functioning. Check out more in our Male Fertility chapter.
Will anyone want to date me?
YES! But this may depend on how dateable you were before your injury.
Will people still think I’m attractive?
YES! Confidence is attractive. The first step is remembering you are still a desirable person. Spinal cord injury is unfamiliar for most people, and that can cause some uncertainty, but you are still the person you were before your injury. Remember that many of the same characteristics that people are attracted to about you don’t go away after SCI, but there might be more things you need to look after to feel attractive. It’s important to pay attention to your own bodily hygiene which includes basics like washing regularly to take care of unpleasant body odour and sweat, but also working on good management of your bowel and bladder care so your clothes and body are clean and fresh.
There are many things that young people are attracted to that involve dressing and looking a certain way which can be tough especially when you are recently injured. It might not be as easy at first to dress the way you want to, but working toward presenting yourself in a way that makes you feel confident each day goes a long way.
Will my partner leave me?
There is no simple answer here. How your relationship will sustain itself is dependant on how well it was doing before your injury or accident and on how well you cope and communicate during stressful times. Check out the Relationships and Information for Partners chapters for more information about this topic.
This is your life! Take part in gathering information, and use that information to help develop your sense of self. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Who Can Help Me?
Peers, family, health care providers, teachers, care attendants….
Exploring your sexual health after injury takes time — the first step is to ask questions. Get your answers, and go from there! Thinking about all the changes after a spinal cord injury can be overwhelming. Most young people and even adults, find this topic hard to talk about, but the more you know, the more confident you can become!
BC Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Helpline for Children is a toll free helpline staffed by social workers who can provide help and answer questions regarding reports of child abuse or neglect.
- Phone: 310-1234 (no area code required), 24 hours every day, to report a person under 19 who needs protection to the Ministry of Children and Family Development
- TTD (Telephone Device for the Deaf): 1-866-660-0505
General websites on Youth and Sexuality
Kid’s Health – sexual health page – each article has an audio option.
Options for Sexual Health – clinics located across BC.
Disability-Specific Articles on Youth and Sexuality
Precocious Puberty (PDF Brochure) – Spinal Bifida Association
Sex and Spinal Bifida (PDF)
Fitting In When Your Body Does Not – Raya Aljadir, Disability Horizons
Overcoming Barriers: Dating, Sex Can Be Daunting – Global News
Disabled Sex Yes – s. e. smith, Scarleteen
Sex and Disability, Starting the Conversation – Robin Mandell, Scarleteen
No Big Deal, Sex and Disability – Clare Sainsbury, Scarleteen
Consent is Sexy: Sexual Autonomy and Disability – s. e. smith, Scarleteen
Body and Sexuality Disconnects with Disability – Robin Mandell, Scarleteen
What Including & Learning From Disability Can Teach Everyone About Sex – Heather Corinna, Scarleteen
What About Sex and Dating: Chase – Facing Disability
What About Sex and Dating: Angela – Facing Disability
What Sex Advice and Information Was Most Helpful? – Facing Disability
Sex With Disabilities? – Laci Green & Olivia, Youtube
Amaze.Org – Sex ed videos made simple and accessible for youth.
Resources for the Adults in Your Life
Sexuality and Your Child (PDF) – by Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children
Intro to Sex Education for Individuals Who Are Deaf-Blind (PDF) – US Department of Education
Teaching Sexual Health.ca – Resource page for parents
Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education (PDF) – Public Health Agency of Canada
Q and A: Sex Ed for Youth with Physical Disabilities – Government of Canada
Tips for Talking to Kids About Sex/Sexuality – Planned Parenthood
Intro to Sexuality & Youth with Disabilities – Taking About Sexuality in Canadian Communities (TASCC)
Sexual Health Education for Young People with Disabilities for Educators (PDF) – Advocates for Youth