I am a 26-year old T8 paraplegic female and I have recently started dating again. Will I be able to feel any sensation during intercourse?

To understand your sexuality as a person with a disability, it is important to remember that there is a whole lot more to you as a person than just your ability to have intercourse. Your personality, mutual trust and respect, your loving nature expressed by reciprocal touch, caress and massage are as just as important.

However, your disability does present you with challenges when it comes to physical expression of your sexuality. Restricted mobility and loss of sensation in erogenous zones are but a few of the hurdles you need to overcome.

Perhaps we need to look at some of the terminology that describes sexuality and then explore new, different and exciting ways to a fulfilling love life for you and your future partner? An orgasm (from Greek orgasmos ‘swelling organ’) is the peak of the plateau phase of the sexual response cycle, characterised by an intense sensation of pleasure. Experienced by both males and females, orgasm is controlled by the involuntary, or autonomic limbic system, and is accompanied by quick cycles of muscle contraction in the lower pelvic muscles, which surround the primary sexual organs and the anus. Orgasms are often associated with other involuntary action, including muscular spasms in multiple areas of the body, a general euphoric sensation, and body movements and vocalisations are expressed.

An orgasm is achieved by the stimulation of erogenous zones using fingers, the mouth or tongue and by the use of sensual vibrators or erotic electro stimulation. The arousal process can be aided by using as many of the senses as possible (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) and enhanced by psychogenic erotic messaging of fantasy and role-playing.

Erogenous zones are areas of the human body that have heightened sensitivity and when they are stimulated produce erotic sensation or sexual excitement. These zones rank differently in importance from person to person and the most popular ones apart from the genitals themselves are: ears and earlobes, the mouth, the neck, breasts and nipples, navel, buttocks, inner thighs and loins, feet and toes.

As a T8 paraplegic, you won’t have sensation in your pubic area and this would then exclude most of the erogenous zones from your navel to your toes, including the clitoris and the U-spot (a small patch of sensitive erectile tissue above and on either side of the urethral opening).

However, there is some good news that has recently come to light and has been scientifically proven.

Research by Barry R. Komisaruk & Beverley Whipple has shown that women with spinal cord injury (even when they cannot feel the stimulus in their genitals), can have an orgasmic response in the brain in the same area as women without spinal cord injury. The reason for this is that the vagus nerve provides a genital (vaginal-cervical) sensory pathway that bypasses the spinal cord, projecting directly to the brain, and thus can provide genital sensation despite interruption of the spinal cord at any level.
There are also several reports from women who have no feeling on the external area of their genitals, who experience intact and satisfactory stimulation from the G-spot (Grafenberg Spot - a small highly sensitive area located 5-8cm inside the vagina, on the front or upper wall.)

Another area that has recently been identified is the A-spot (Anterior Fornix Erogenous zone) located just above the cervix at the innermost point of the vagina. This is a patch of sensitive tissue described as the ‘female degenerated prostate’. In other words, it is the female equivalent of the male prostate, just as the clitoris is the female equivalent of the male penis. Direct stimulation of the A-spot can produce powerful orgasmic contractions.

The cervix situated at the back of the vaginal passage has been reported to become more sensitive to stimulation in females with spinal cord injury. The cervix and its connection to the brain via the vagus nerve by implication, then can become the ‘orgasmic epicenter’ -despite the fact that there is no sensation on the external genitalia.

This information will open a new world of knowledge and experience to you and your future partner. Instead of the dread of disappointment you can now look forward to on an exciting journey of discovery as you explore new areas of sensation in your own body to pleasure you both. I often find able-bodied couples in consultation complaining of their sex life being boring and lackluster. We then discover that they do not know where and how their own erogenous zones work, nor those of their partner! Very often it is not necessary to broaden your sex life by risky sexual behavior and downright dangerous sex toys. Instead, just learn how your own body (and your partner’s body) work naturally.

The best way to find out what works for you, once you are ready to start this exciting journey, is to make time and a place available to you and your partner in a relaxing atmosphere. Live in the moment and start your journey, using the information you now have, to discover that special place (or places!) that turn you and your partner on.