Sexual health after spinal cord injury: a longitudinal study.

OBJECTIVES: To clarify sexuality issues after spinal cord injury (SCI) and to identify the appropriate timing of sexual health interventions.

DESIGN: Longitudinal analysis of the survey responses of persons with SCI at 4 intervals between initial inpatient rehabilitation and 18 months postdischarge.

SETTING: Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems inpatient center and home-based setting.

PATIENTS: A volunteer sample of 40 individuals (32 men, 8 women) from a consecutive population of persons with recent SCI admitted for initial inpatient rehabilitation.

INTERVENTIONS: Not applicable.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Responses to the Sexual Health Needs Survey.

RESULTS: By 6 months postdischarge, individuals in the study group had made the significant changes in sexual activity and sexual interest that they would achieve during the study period. The respondents’ greatest concerns remained their partners’ and their own sexual satisfaction. A more realistic recognition of decline in their sexual activity, function, and interest corresponded with more requests for sexual health interventions during the interval from inpatient rehabilitation and 6 months postdischarge.

CONCLUSIONS: The interval between inpatient rehabilitation to 6 months postdischarge appeared to be the critical period for function and realization about sexuality. Readily accessible sexual health interventions at about 6 months after inpatient rehabilitation and the inclusion of sexual partners in the intervention process appear warranted.