Sexual responsiveness in women with spinal cord injuries: differential effects of anxiety-eliciting stimulation.

Sexual dysfunction is a common problem in women after spinal cord injuries (SCIs). Recently, the use of anxiety-provoking stimulation has been explored as a means of improving sexual responses in able-bodied sexually functional and dysfunctional women. In this laboratory-based study, we assessed the sexual and autonomic responses of women with SCIs with varying degrees of preservation of sympathetic innervation to their genitals to respond to anxiety-provoking audiovisual (AV) stimulation. Subjects were 45 women with SCIs and 11 able-bodied women. For purposes of analysis, SCI subjects were grouped on the basis of the degree of preservation of sensation in the T11-L2 dermatomes. Results revealed that women with low sensory scores in these dermatomes achieved higher vaginal pulse amplitude (VPA) responses to audiovisual erotic stimulation after anxiety preexposure than after neutral preexposure; however, women with SCIs and the greatest degree of preservation of sensory function in the T11-L2 dermatomes, as well as able-bodied controls, did not. Moreover, these same 2 groups of subjects had a decrease in VPA responses during baseline periods in which an anxiety-provoking video sequence was shown, but not during the neutral sequence. It is concluded that these findings are due to the proximity of sensory and autonomic neurologic elements in the spinal cord. Moreover, they demonstrate the differential effects of sympathetic stimulation on genital sexual arousal.