Hand on Wheelchair

Sex, Lies & Paralysis

For people living with paralysis, walking again is their primary concern — right? For some people, yes. But in a survey, people living with paralysis noted walking again was only their 5th highest priority. Number one? Sex. And thanks to a new experiment, it’s now possible for more people.

You may remember a while back, we told you about the research happening at the University of Louisville in which electrical stimulators were implanted in the spines of a few willing participants with paralysis. The experiment made big news because the users were experiencing voluntary movement in the affected limbs. But as it turns out, this device had some other (ahem) benefits. All four men who had the stimulators implanted — all of whom had experienced some level of sexual dysfunction since their injury — said their sex lives returned to normal thanks to the device. From CNN:

Kent Stephenson’s friends were happy he was happy, but they expressed disappointment that the experimental stimulator didn’t also get Stephenson walking again.

“I told them that not walking isn’t such a big deal; wheelchairs are so advanced these days,” he said. “But not being able to have sex is a big deal.”

This discovery has sparked a much-needed conversation on the priority areas of spinal cord research. From CNN:

While it’s often assumed that walking again is the ultimate goal for people using wheelchairs, many of the people in those wheelchairs argue that what doctors call “secondary conditions” such as sexual function and bowel and bladder control are just as important, if not more so, and should be given a higher research priority.

Organizations like the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation are answering this call. The Reeve Foundation is looking for ways to advance research for issues such as bowel and bladder control and sexual function. While these are known as “secondary conditions,” the Reeve Foundation’s President and CEO Peter Wilderotter aptly notes: “These aren’t secondary conditions if you’re living with them.”

We would love to hear from you! Let us know what you think about this new experiment, and what so-called “secondary conditions” you would like to see as the focus of research. 

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