Ask Sex Coach Leigh: Injury and performance

Question: Hi, I have been married for nine years, and ten years ago I got hurt on the job. I pinched my spinal cord and I can’t perform like I did before I got hurt. I tried pills, but I still have trouble and my wife does most of the work when we do have sex. I don’t think she wants to have much sex because it’s so much work. I take time to pleasure her with toys that I bought, but I don’t know if she’s also pleasuring herself. I don’t receive much pleasure because it takes a lot for me to get an erection and I can tell she is getting tired, so often I fake an orgasm. I just don’t feel like a man, and I’m looking for some advice so I can be what I once was.

Hi lovely! I’m so sorry about your injury, and how it has impacted your sexual functioning. I’m happy to give you some suggestions for increasing pleasure, but first I want to talk about communication. You seem to be making some assumptions about your wife’s experience: that sex is too much work for her, that she doesn’t want to do it very often, that she gets tired, that she may or may not be self-pleasuring. I don’t have the answers here, but the good news is that she does.

Can the two of you sit down for a state of the union conversation? Some questions to ask: How do you feel about our sex life? What parts of our sexual interactions do you enjoy? What parts are challenging? Are your needs being met? How can I help better meet them? Are you taking time for solo pleasure?

When you ask her these questions, you should answer them, too. You mentioned that you’re not getting much pleasure from sex and that you often fake orgasms, so you should definitely let her know what DOES get you going. Folks often fake orgasms to protect the feelings of their partners, but that comes from a very goal-oriented view of sex. If we see sex as a series of actions that must culminate in orgasm, it can be easy to get discouraged by things like erection difficulty or “taking too long,” or feel like we have failed if both people don’t come. Heterosexual men often feel like they are responsible for both their orgasm and their partner’s orgasm. Can you reframe sex as shared physical intimacy, where the goal is not orgasm, but joyful, pleasurable sensations for both of you?

It sounds like your injury has made it difficult, but not impossible, to sustain an erection and perform the more physical aspects of sex. Try to include things that relax your body, like taking a bath together or trading massages. Make sure that the positions you try are comfortable for you, and if they’re not, be willing to make adaptations. Consider less physical activities, like watching porn together, dirty talk, or role play. Remember that other factors can affect your erections, such as age, medications, testosterone levels, and stress, so make sure that you are regularly seeing a doctor and maintaining healthy habits around sleep, diet, and exercise.

You didn’t mention limited mobility or loss of sensation, but if that is the case, you can still have an enjoyable sex life. It can be helpful to consider other erogenous zones in your sexual activities, like lips, neck, nipples, and ears. You are already using sex toys, which is awesome. I’m not sure what you’ve tried, but there are all kinds of items on the market to assist folks with various disabilities in having more comfortable and pleasurable sex.

I hope that you and your wife have a conversation that sparks a whole new chapter in your sex life. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to have sex. And your worth as a (hu)man is measured not in how many erections or orgasms you have, but in how you live your life and treat others. You clearly care about your wife and her pleasure, so I think you’re going to do just fine.

If you have a sex or relationship question you would like me to answer (anonymously), please contact me.

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