Trusted for 23+ Years
Sex Toys For Spinal Cord Injuries
Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert
Sexual Intimacy Is Possible
Paralysis can be localized or generalized, partial or complete, as well as temporary or permanent. Depending on these variables, you may utilize a variety of sex toys for mobility issues and use various sexual techniques. Many paralyzed people use sex toys to achieve orgasms, increase blood circulation and make intimacy possible.
Talk To Your Doctor
It is crucial to remember that you absolutely must speak with your physician(s) about what type of sexual activity is safe, as well as the specific sex toys you wish to use. Not understanding what your specific injury requires regarding your care can damage your health and may even be life-threatening.
An example of the dangers that can be experienced is autonomic dysreflexia (AD). Knowing the signs is essential as it can interfere with sexual activity for those with spinal cord injuries (SCI) and result in acute, uncontrolled hypertension. This can be potentially dangerous, and it can be lethal in some rare cases. It typically occurs in those with spinal cord injuries above the T6 level. Symptoms include a change in heart rate, excessive sweating, high blood pressure, headaches, facial flushing, changes in vision, and nasal congestion.
Spasticity occurs in 65–78% of people with chronic spinal cord injury. This is when muscles become stiff or tighten, preventing normal movement. It can interfere with sexual activity, especially when the genitals are being stimulated. If this occurs, you should stop sexual activity until the spasticity resides. Not doing so can increase the chances of autonomic dysreflexia occurring.
Erections In Paralyzed Men
Paralysis that affects the genitals can be challenging but does not necessarily mean that orgasm is impossible. There are two types of erections, psychogenic and reflex. Psychogenic erections are those achieved from sexual thoughts which travel from the brain down the spinal cord and are relayed to the penis, which creates an erection. Reflex ejaculations are achieved from direct stimulation to the penis, prostate, and other erotic areas such as the ears, nipples, or neck. This type of erection is involuntary and can occur without sexual or stimulating thoughts.
The more feeling a man has with his injury, the more likely he can have psychogenic erections. Those with more complete injuries are much less likely to have these types of erections. However, this does not rule out reflex ejaculations as many paralyzed men can have a reflex erection with physical stimulation if the S2–S4 pathway is not damaged.
Considerations For Sex Toys
Mobility & Motor Control
Your level of mobility and motor control with an SPI will determine what type of sex toys you may be able to use. It will determine if you can hold a sex toy or need one that is hands-free. You will also need to decide whether you require that a partner or caretaker help you place a sex toy so that you can use it hands-free.
Another issue to consider when selecting a sex toy with a spinal cord injury will be fatigue. Considerations about whether a sex toy is hands-free, how much it weighs, and how easy it is to operate will affect how well it can be enjoyed.
Special Disabled Sex Toys
Most people think that there are sex toys designed for disabled people; however, most of the sex toys sold are those for non-disabled people. Finding a sex toy for a disabled person typically comes down to finding specific features that make them better for those with disabilities.
Vibrators For Those With Spinal Cord Injuries
According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine, vibrators can be helpful to both men and women who have a spinal cord injury. Vibrators with amplitudes of 2.5 mm and frequencies of 100 Hz were most likely to yield erections in men. These may also be helpful for women who wish to stimulate themselves vaginally to increase blood flow and maintain healthy vaginal functioning (see our Vibrator Guide for more information).
There are medical vibrators that a physician can prescribe for men, but these often cost over $400.00. These medical vibrators typically provide stimulation to the head of the penis. However, many vibrators for men provide similar stimulation, so you may wish to discuss with your physician if a medical vibrator is really worth the cost for your condition or if you can simply opt for a typical male vibrator.
Electroejaculation (Erotic Electrostimulation) can be used to stimulate the genitals and should be reviewed with a physician before attempting. Be aware that autonomic dysreflexia can occur with this form of sexual stimulation, just like vibration. It is more often used in men who have a spinal cord injury who are not responsive to penile vibratory stimulation. Typically, an electric probe (electroejaculator) is inserted into the rectum to stimulate the prostate. This can more easily allow for a reflex erection and aid in ejaculation. If this is done to conceive a child, it is typically performed an in vitro fertilization (IVF) lab while the male patient is premedicated to adjust the pH of their urine so that sperm can better survive in the bladder. If enough sperm can be collected in the ejaculate, they are washed and processed by an in vitro fertilization (IVF) lab and then used for intrauterine insemination (IUI).
Catheter, Hot Towels & Penis Rings
Some physicians use catheter manipulation while applying hot towels to the penis and using a penis ring at the base of the shaft to help a man with an SPI to achieve an erection.
The Stuffing Technique
When a penis is too flaccid to insert into a vagina, it can be sexually satisfying for what is referred to as the stuffing technique to be performed. Placing the penis inside the vagina while utilizing perineal training exercises can improve gaining a partial to a full erection once inside the vagina. It can also be stimulated through prostate massage while using a prostate massager.
Penis Pumps & Penis Rings
Using a penis pump to pull blood into the penis and then placing a penis ring on the base of the penis to hold the blood inside is another way to achieve an erection for sexual activity.
Pharmaceutical drugs that are phosphodiesterase inhibitors such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra), and avanafil (Stendra)can be helpful. In addition, an intracavernous injection into the penis such as the drugs Caverject, Edex, and Prostin VR also have good results.
See more through our Erectile Dysfunction Sex Toys Guide
Because there can be decreased vaginal lubrication for those with spinal cord injuries, using a healthy lubricant can be essential. Doing so can prevent damage to sensitive vaginal tissue and increase pleasure. Using a water-based lubricant is ideal as it does not interfere with latex condoms or silicone sex toys.
Finding the right positions for sexual stimulation will help prevent spasms, pain, and discomfort. Issues with limited hip extension, abduction, and rotation of limps can make genital stimulation and penetration challenging. When choosing positions, care must be taken to protect bones, skin, and the respiratory system.
Considering the weight of a partner can come into play if pressure is applied to a disabled partner as it can cause issues with too much pressure on the respiratory system, skin, and limbs, causing damage. Laying side-by-side where no pressure is applied to a partner can reduce the possibility of harm.
Using slings and straps can also be supportive. While we do carry slings and straps that fall under BDSM play, some can also come in handy when supporting one's body. Just make sure you discuss this with your doctor before applying this type of technique. See our Bedroom Gear for related sexual products.
Using a range-of-motion exercise regimen as well as medications can assist with this. In addition, employing firm, sexual position pillows can also help. Please discuss these with your physician to review whether certain positions would be ideal for your specific health conditions. See our sexual position pillows for more information about these.
Skin protection should always be considered when exploring sexual stimulation to ensure that wounds and pressure sores are not experienced. If using a sex toy, the skin should be inspected for redness inflammation. Using ample lubricant as well as materials that do not cause friction should be considered. Silicone can cause drag on the skin, so using extra lubrication when using a silicone sex toy may be helpful. Examples of safe sex toy materials that do not have much drag are metal, glass, and ABS plastic.
Challenging emotions such as depression and anxiety surrounding spinal cord injuries can be quite important to address, especially as one transitions from a spinal cord injury crisis to adapting to life afterward and exploring sexuality again.
The demands of living a quality life when disabled can feel overwhelming, and seeking out holistic healthcare through medical, alternative medicine, and mental health counseling can help make optimal improvements.
For more information about sexual counseling, please see our Sexual Counseling Guide.
Acupuncture may work for various complications related to spinal cord injuries such as pain management, motor, and sensory dysfunction, pressure ulcers, spasticity, neurogenic bowel and bladder, and osteoporosis. Learn more about acupuncture through our Sex Guide To Acupuncture.
Make sure you have realistic strategies as they are essential to addressing sexual health obstacles while enhancing pleasure and intimacy. Take things slowly, know that it is ok if one thing does not work as other options may, and it may simply take time to find your comfort zone while balancing your health and pleasure.
Know that you are not alone, that there are many people you can lean in on, especially with online support groups. Just make sure to always protect your health by consulting with your doctor. If you cannot have comfortable conversations with your physician, find a new one. You need to be able to discuss sexual health issues with your doctor to ensure that you are protecting yourself while providing yourself with an essential part of being human. For more information on talking to your doctor about sex, please see our How To Talk To Your Doctor About Sex Guide.
Inspirational Customer Stories
Over the years, we have worked with many disabled people to help them achieve a healthy sex life. Below are a few examples of how we work with customers.
We received a call from a courageous young man named Mike, who has paraplegia. He wanted to know about safe oral sex and other aspects of sexuality. I have to say that when he called, I was very keen on the fact that he was nervous through his shaky voice and his hesitancy to even ask for advice on this subject.
We ended up speaking for quite some time. By the end of the conversation, he had admitted to being very nervous when he had first called but was now much more at ease and felt like he had been able to explore his questions satisfactorily and was relieved that he had nothing to worry about.
At the end of our conversation, I told him that I was happy that he called for a few reasons. First, I was, of course, glad that I was able to provide him with information that he may find helpful. Secondly, I was pleased that he called because it reminded me of how many people there are that struggle to make the best of sex while working through obstacles of physical disabilities and how much courage it takes for them even to try. So many physically healthy adults struggle with sexuality; throw in a physical disability, and your sex life can be genuinely challenging. I wanted to share my discussion with Mike for those of you with disabilities if you are with someone who has one and those who are perfectly healthy as the basics of these issues apply to everyone.
Learning To Explore
Mike is like many people who are hesitant to ask questions regarding their sexuality and want to learn more about the beautiful part of who they are. Some may question why Mike would bother exploring his sexuality because he is paralyzed from the waist down. Yet, Mike and I agree on a critical aspect of sex: desire, passion, pleasure all originate and end in the mind. Intimacy with ourselves and/or a partner is so much more than our genitals.
Thus, I say the real question is not why should he bother, but why shouldn't he? Don't those who have disabilities still deserve to have intimacy, physical touch, and visual stimulation? Don't we all deserve to experience everything that our senses allow us to?
Through Harlow's monkey experiments in 1969, the need for touch in humans was proven. In turn, it showed that those that don't receive physical contact develop attachment disorders and develop a failure to thrive. Our body responds to touch even if we cannot feel it. Our mind responds to the idea of being touched, and our heart certainly craves loving gestures. So, the reality is that even if a part of the body is not functioning at full capacity, there is no reason why anyone should think that someone does not need attention physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Mike was able to have intimacy with his wife using a variety of sensual items, from massage oils to vibrators that they could use together. Through his courage in reaching out, he was able to find support and resources to help him achieve the intimacy he deserves.
I asked Mike what he thought was essential to convey about his situation, and he told me the following:
- You don't have to have orgasms to have great sexual experiences.
- The desire and satisfaction of sex are in your mind, and there is so much to enjoy even when working with the challenges of a disability.
- Just because one has sex with a person who has a disability does not necessarily mean that the person with the disability is being used. The person who has a disability is still a sexual human being and has their own needs.
- Even watching someone masturbate is a sexual intimacy that can be incredibly satisfying.
- The psychological aspect of receiving attention from another person in itself is comforting, pleasurable, and something that all people crave on some level.
Sexual Victories Despite The Odds
Another customer called wanting to help her paraplegic boyfriend in hopes that he would ejaculate for the first time. He had never been able to sustain an erection long enough to ejaculate and was unsure if he could.
I am happy to say that the first time she put the wand vibrator to his penis, he maintained an erection and ejaculated for the first time through sexual stimulation. Of course, there is a lack of sensation or none at all in situations like this, but the happiness that he conveyed of being able to achieve this, to see his body be able to perform sexually and have his girlfriend experience that with him was beyond amazing for both of them and made them feel intimacy on a whole new level.
When we openly discuss our vulnerabilities with others, it allows us all the opportunity to feel interconnected. It will enable us to know that we are not alone, have worth, and give us compassion for ourselves and others.
We want to provide as many resources as possible for those with disabilities. If there is something that you would like to see that we do not currently offer, feel free to let us know. We are humbly open to any feedback you have and want to help you enhance your sex life in any way we can.
For more helpful information about sex and disabilities, please see our related guides: