8.2. Relationships & Dating
Content in this section is intended for adult (age 18+) educational purposes. United Spinal Association bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content. Information about a therapy, service, product, or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice or directives from your healthcare provider. There is always a risk with any type of sexual activity, speak with your healthcare provider about options to maximize your safety.
Navigating relationships can be complicated, regardless of spinal cord injury/spinal cord disorder (SCI/D). Intimacy and relationships are important aspects of our wellbeing. After SCI/D, you may find that you have questions about your current or future relationships. Changes in your roles and routines can lead to some frustration and stress for couples as they begin to adjust to SCI. It’s important to remember that adjustment is a journey, and each person adjusts to SCI/D in their own way and timeframe. Life-long learning and open and honest communication are keys to developing and maintaining healthy relationships. Making time for your partner is important, as is allowing space and time for your partner.
If possible, explore options for personal care and caregivers from someone other than your romantic partner. Utilizing outside help enables the separation between caregiving and intimacy.
The following resources discuss some considerations while navigating relationships following SCI.
- Developed by Spinal Cord Injury BC (SCI BC), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people with spinal cord injuries and related disabilities, adjust, adapt, and thrive. Content includes resources of articles, websites, books, and videos addressing common questions and concerns related to changes in relationships after spinal cord injury. This can include role changes, managing conflict, communication, and coping with life-changing events. (2019)
FacingDisability.com offers a collection of personal experience videos from individuals impacted by SCI/D available to the public regarding a variety of topics.
New Mobility Articles
- How to Keep the Flame Burning (2020/02)
- Inter-Abled Couples: Challenges and Joys (2015/10)
- Sex, Wheels & Relationships (2013/02)
- Sex, Wheels & Relationships (2012/02)
- Committed Couples (2001/02)
Dating in the 21st Century can be a complicated endeavor, encompassing a combination of being comfortable marketing yourself and being somewhat tech-savvy. Many intimate relationships these days are formed online through dating apps, allowing the user to meet people virtually in a safe, low-stakes setting. You can disclose as much or as little as you want to about yourself, which can benefit the user meeting their privacy/comfort needs and putting them in control of how they want the world to view them and ultimately how they see themselves. Online dating opens up a world of possibilities for wheelchair users as you do not need to be in a particular physical space to meet potential partners. Also, you will have more opportunities to meet people when you participate in social activities.
When thinking about dating, you want to consider:
- What do you want when it comes to dating or relationships?
- The type of dating strategies you have tried (e.g., going to bars, online dating, matchmaking, speed dating, blind dates, set up by friends). What did or didn’t you like about each type of strategy?
- Talking with friends and family about methods they tried when dating.
- You increase your opportunities to meet people by making yourself available, such as by participating in social activities or online dating. Do you participate in any social activities? Are you a member of any group or organization?
Dating Safety Tips
- When meeting someone for the first time, choose a public space that is known to you in order to ensure safety. Communicate with your friends and family to let them know where you are going and with whom. Keep your cell phone charged, on, and accessible during the date.
- Do not overshare personal information. For example, instead of stating the specific location of your work, talk about your work in a general field. This information can be saved for later in the relationship timeline.
- Trust your intuition. If something doesn't feel right or makes you uncomfortable, you do not have to stick around. Being honest with yourself and others is crucial to building healthy relationships.
Utilizing apps to find an accessible restaurant or meeting place for your date has recently gotten easier.
the Google Maps app, under ‘Settings’ and ‘Accessibility settings’ the user can
show if places have accessible features (entrances, seating, restrooms, and
Maps Wheelchair Accessible Places (2020)
- iAccess provides a ranking of world-accessibility apps, which can help you find wheelchair-accessible locations/services.
Facingdisability.com: Sex & Dating. Video segments offered by people living with SCI, discussing their personal experiences with dating and sex after SCI.
New Mobility Articles
- New Mobility Guide to Online Dating (2019/02)
- Tips for Mentioning Disability on Dating Apps (2017/05)
- What Should You Really Put In That Dating Profile? (2013/11)
Preparation prior to sexual intimacy can help you feel more comfortable and confident. Planning out your intimate moments may take some adjustments mentally and physically. Mainstream media has portrayed and simplified intimacy and sexual relations as a somewhat spur of the moment, tearing clothes off, kind of scenario. In the real world, it is not that straightforward, and there are some variables to take into consideration. After an SCI/D, sexual relations and intimacy may require a little more finesse. While the spontaneity may have changed, the overall experience can be just as pleasurable!
Preparing for intimacy can be integrated into your routine. Whether it includes adding protective layers or sheets on the bed, putting on music to set the mood, setting up toys, pillows and positioning aids, or taking care of hygiene (bowel and bladder routines), all preparation before sexual activity can lead to increased confidence. For more discussion on bowel and bladder considerations and sexuality please see section 8.3 Medical Considerations within this chapter.
*References found on page 8.6 Resources and References within this chapter.