“Real love requires conscious intention, energy, work, and time.”
Renowned Sexologist, Dr. Mitchell Steven Tepper has researched how to tap deeply connected and profound love, both with your partner and also with yourself.
Tips for keeping love alive whether or not you have a disability:
- Trust fully
- Share openly and honestly, without fear of reprisal
- Spend time together
- Allow room for each other to grow and change
- Respect each other
- Accept your partner for who they are
- Risk being vulnerable with them
- Pay sexual attention to them
Discovering sexuality through partnership
Dr. Tepper shares a story of a man with a spinal cord injury describing his experience with his partner. “The intensity is through my connectedness with my partner,” he shares. “It’s about being aligned in this. I find that I have the ability to be aware of my partner’s responses and those are arousing for me.” Even if he is not full able to feel or experience sex in the same way as before, he still relies on sharing the experience of his partner.
“I think a lot of sexual response just comes from the sheer energies that come out of just being with a person.”
Dr. Tepper’s research has concluded that the best sexual experiences are tied to trust and emotional safety, which lead to a deeper sexual connection, more pleasure, and even orgasm. A sexual experience may be different post-spinal cord injury, but that doesn't mean it can't be satisfying.
Common benefits for couples exploring sexuality:
- The excitement gained from pleasing or satisfying a partner
- Feelings of connectedness or complementary sexual energies
- Identifying sex as an intimate expression of love, rather than as just a pleasurable release
Emotional connectedness is the foundation of intimacy
Finding that partner with whom you can share emotional depth can be a challenge, but it’s definitely worth pursuing these deeper connections. “The daily presence of other people still doesn’t guarantee the absence of all emotional emptiness,” Dr. Tepper explains.
“We all yearn to connect on a more intimate, spiritual level. Interpersonal connection helps us feel valuable, desirable, lovable, and whole.”
“Being in love, and feeling connected to others, makes us less focused on our own problems,” he shares. “For many people in a state of post-injury recovery, feelings of anger, frustration, jealousy, loneliness, low self-worth, and loss of control can suppress their ability to move forward…Such suppression only leads to even greater isolation.” We are social beings by nature, so sharing your life with someone on a variety of fronts leaves the potential for a more balanced life. Keep an open mind to who attracts you and who might be able to be a suitable partner. “Lasting attraction is made of numerous other defining qualities and virtues that have nothing to do with outward appearances or physical abilities,” Dr. Tepper explains. “Intelligence, personality, humor, creativity, kindness, goodness, integrity, spirit, and deeply reflective thought can all be catalysts of intimate connection.”
“We all know that self-esteem can take a beating when a disability conveys an image that falls short of what society considers most attractive or desirable,” Dr. Tepper explains, but being on a journey to build self-esteem does not mean you can’t be a successful partner. “The sexual success you can achieve with a partner can boost the other aspects of self-esteem,” he shares. “If you want to have sexual self-esteem and confidence, you need to directly address the sexual component of your life. You can’t set that part on the shelf while you only work on the other important aspects.” It’s important to independently establish your self-esteem with regards to sexuality, as it it’s own area within the realm of self-confidence. “If you want to experience your sexuality in a satisfying and enjoyable way you need to invest time and energy into sexual healing,” he shares.
“Desire is not just about what your body wants…it’s about what your heart wants, what your soul needs, and what your gut says. You desire to be accepted and unconditionally loved by someone who recognizes you as a sexual person.”
When you fulfill this desire for an intimate connection, physically, emotionally and spiritually, “you feel energized, revitalized and fully alive, as a valuable person who matters.”
For people who have experienced serious injury who are in a process of understanding their bodies, don’t give up! “The participants in my research improved over time by believing that more was possible, that sexuality was their responsibility, by learning more about their SCI bodies, by introducing fantasy, and by embracing the disability and rejecting sexist/ableist ideals of sexual expression.” Otherwise, don’t get discouraged! Having a deep connection with an intimate partner will help you discover what parts of your body are responsive (there’s even potential in areas without physical sensation or function). Understanding one’s sexuality is a journey for all- a disability, whether born with it or acquired, is no reason to not explore.
Share this with someone who is embarking on their own journey of sexual discovery and looking for a life partner!