Dating after Spinal Cord Injury
Even with spinal injuries, patients want to be close to and even be intimate with other people. Yet, they wonder if they can ever be seen as attractive to anyone else. Sexual activity is possible in people with spinal cord injuries. A spinal cord injured patient is no different than anyone else when it comes to wanting relationships with others. If love is in the air, it doesn’t matter if one or both members of the couple spend much of their time in a wheelchair.
Even though wheelchairs are common enough, people often stare at those who must use them and often feel that they have a lesser intellect when compared to able-bodied individuals. These kinds of issues make it very nerve-wracking for those paralyzed people who just want to get out and have fun. People new to the wheelchair scene feel inadequate and don’t want to ask others for help. Nevertheless, they want to be more than just friends with some people they feel attracted to.
The lucky few believe their chairs are the perfect icebreaker and don’t feel as self-conscious about being in a wheelchair as others. Some people think they are more attractive to others when they have a wheelchair. They tend to be more outgoing and approachable than others who have two feet to stand on.
Those people who always feel as though they must be the one who is the most cared for in a relationship are usually not those who would find themselves attracted to a person in a wheelchair. Others fear that they will be stared at if they are associated with a person in a wheelchair. They might not want to deal with the ‘extra hassle’ of dealing with a disabled person in their life. When a personal care attendant must attend every ‘romantic’ dinner between the two dating people, it can put a damper on flirting, conversation, and sexuality between the members of the couple. Finding Someone with SimilaritiesThis makes many people who use wheelchairs want to stick with other people in a wheelchair, feeling that they will be more comfortable with ‘their own kind.’ They feel as though there is better understanding and camaraderie between couples when both are in a chair. The person who uses a wheelchair is also trying to avoid those able-bodied people who feel they must always take care of someone. These are just as hard to live with as people who only want to be cared for.
A doubly disabled couple often feels as though their partner is more sensitive to their issues and needs; they feel better about sharing their limitations with someone else with similar limitations. Sometimes, it can be embarrassing in intimate moments when two personal care attendants must be present to position a sexual couple before sexual activity.
It shouldn’t matter if one person or the other is disabled if they find the affection, commitment to one another, and shared values that are the essential things in a relationship.
Unfortunately, it almost always falls on the disabled person to help others learn how to look past the disability and see them for who they really are. It takes courage on the part of the handicapped person, who may have to make the first move or be the first one to be flirtatious with the able-bodied person they are attracted to. Having a Positive Self-EsteemIt is possible for a disabled person to re-think who they are now that they are in a wheelchair and come to believe that they can and will find someone who will love them for the person inside—not the person they see in a wheelchair. These are the same disabled people who have successfully reintegrated into society and are well on their way to having positive self-esteem and image of themselves. It takes personal confidence in yourself to put your assets out there, looking for someone who will care for them on equal terms.
Those who try to cover up and deny their disability inevitably fail at relationships over and over again. For example, trying to get by on crutches can make you taller, but it can be even more embarrassing than being in a wheelchair if you fall for any reason.
While there will be moments of despair and loss because of the disability, eventually, the disabled person will begin to redevelop a new body image and will be able to develop healthy relationships with others. They learn to dress better and keep up genuine and neat appearances so that others will look past the wheelchair and see them for the attractive person he or she now believes is there. Having Other QualitiesHaving a sense of humor and taking the first move can really be disarming and attractive to others. Your best bet is to try and meet people at churches, bus stops, work, school, or even restaurants and grocery stores. The newly disabled person should try and put themselves out there as soon as they feel comfortable. Where to Meet PeopleDoing volunteer work, community education, or church-related activities can help you meet people who can become your friends or lovers. Many people meet and find relationships with those who are in rehab with them. There are even social groups for people with disabilities that you can belong to meet people who understand what you are going through. Meeting people on the internet is an option for those who are really shy or ready to reveal their paralysis yet to those they meet. There are even websites specifically designed for people who have disabilities to meet online with others who share disability as an interest.
The best advice is to be honest, and genuine with others you meet. If you can be yourself and keep the person interested in you and not in the chair, you will go a long way toward meeting the right kind of person to have a relationship with.
Editor's Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy. [cha 5.25.21]