In thinking about sex after spinal cord injuries, it’s important to take several disabled steps back from the dominant and limited narratives of what sex is. We’ve all been taught that sex is a specific act or two, and we’ve been taught to consume rather than consider the bodies of other people. Something that injured folks are all up against is the fact that society desexualizes us and assumes that disability and sexuality cannot coexist even/especially in this limited definition. Trying to honor and own our sexuality in these contexts is inherently difficult. I think we can start by trying to discover & rediscover the feelings and intimacy that we crave, the things that we want to happen to our bodies, and the things that we want to do to other peoples bodies. We can fantasize and we can figure out the sensations that we want to experience, and continually learn about all the ways that we still like to feel pleasure.
In many ways it’s tricky for me to share my specific voice and experiences of touch and sexuality- I do have sensation, and I can feel touch, pressure, pleasure & pain throughout my whole body. I know that every spinal cord injury is different & for a lot of folks, having sensation below the injury is not part of their experience of their body, and there are also plenty of people with spinal cord injuries who have a lot more movement and sensation than me. I also didn’t simply regain my connection with my sexuality. Post-injury, I slowly developed a new connection that is different and deeper in so many ways than my relationship to sexuality was before my injury. I think this is largely due to the fact that I had to start paying a lot more attention to my body and my needs after becoming disabled. It also became more important to me than ever to on my sexuality, since my healthcare providers, as well as my network of family and friends at the time, actively tried to discourage me from thinking about this aspect of myself.
I’ve learned a lot about myself and my body and I’ve done a lot of this learning alongside people with different types of injuries and different disabilities in general. I wanted to share some of the things that have felt helpful for me in feeling my embodiment in all of its complexity. I do believe that regardless of injury level/type we all maintain a holistic and spiritual connection with every inch of our bodies, every pore, and every muscle, whether we fire it voluntarily or not. and I believe our bodies know more than we give them credit for.
I offer a poem:
“What happened to you?”
There are so many things
“Can you feel that?”
“Can you have sex?”
Which type of sex
I have a spirit
But can you feel that?
First let’s talk
First let’s touch
And first let’s stretch
And then we’ll open
To think about sex
Sex is connection is pleasure is kisses
Sex is a tongue
Is the back of the throat and the backs of the minds
Is the back of a lover that rises and falls
Is breath that synchronized slowly to yours
Sex is a toy and pinching your chest
Sex is a mood you can bring to the room.
Sex must not be lost or taken
So let us change our words
Sex is a spirit sunk into your skin
Sex is whatever your body can do
Sex is desire and gratification
Healing or scary
Or nothing at all to a body
Sex can be whispered to ears through the phone
Sex can be painful
Sex can be love
Sex can be felt in the body you have
And bodies will change
And sex can evolve
And yes I can feel it
Carrie Sarah Kaufman is a queer, physically disabled, white, anti-zionist Jewish kitchen witch, artist, writer and aspiring sexuality professional. She is passionate about pleasure based sex education. Her practice is about reconnecting with her wholeness and body, and supporting others to do so, at their own pace. She has been a peer mentor to other disabled people and to people navigating sobriety and trauma. She coordinates her own PA care 24/7 and is a mama to a growing collection of over 50 healthy plants, despite having no use of her thumbs at all but just a very green heart. As a consultant, CK is available to discuss any of her creative work as well as to help organizations assess and improve the accessibility of their spaces and programs, increasing their capacity to work with people with disabilities.