Sex Despite Disability: New Products Offer Hope

Intimacy possible again for many people with disabiities thanks to new products.

ByABC News
December 7, 2010, 4:18 PM

Dec. 10, 2010— -- Brian Chavez's life changed forever on a spring day in 2005 when he fell six stories from a building and suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving him a paraplegic.

"I was physically unable to do a lot of things for that first year," said Chavez, now 38. In addition to being unable to walk and perform everyday tasks as easily as he was able to before his injury, Chavez also had to face another harsh reality.

"I was thinking I was never going to be able to have sex again," he said.

After a lot of experimentation with a variety of different positions and sexual aids, Chavez discovered one product that helped make sex easier and more pleasurable: the IntimateRider, a swing chair designed to help with motion and positioning during sex.

Chavez, who has a girlfriend, says being able to have sex has been "liberating." Other people with disabilities as well as experts who work with them say products like the IntimateRider do much more than just make sex easier. By making the physical act possible, these products can also improve a person's psychological well-being by strengthening relationships and raising self-esteem.

"Anything that improves intimate life together is good for a relationship," said Stanley Ducharme, a psychologist and sex therapist at the Center for Sexual Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. "If you don't have a good intimate life with your partner, it's very easy to drift apart and there's probably going to be some difficulty."

Ducharme also said that maintaining a relationship can be especially challenging for those with disabilities.

"Just keeping a relationship is a major issue. Often, they require a lot of care and that adds a lot of stress."

"The line between caregiver and partner/lover can get blurred, and many times people who are in a demanding caregiving role see his or her partner as something other than a sexual partner, or may be too tired physically or emotionally for sex," said Kelly Ace, a private consultant who is also affiliated with The Sexual Health Network, an organization that provides information and resources on sexuality.