Sex has so many layers of importance in our lives. Sometimes it’s the thing we want more than anything, other times we could care less. And then there’s all sorts of pressures from society about when its important and when it isn’t. Do you guys remember when sex first came up for you after B.J. was injured?
B.J.: When I first woke up in the hospital I was 102 pounds. I had lost 70 pounds and my legs were amputated below the knee, and I had burns on my arms and legs and the small of my back and flash burns on my face and my head. In the hospital it was more [about] being loved on by my wife, holding my hand, and I think that fulfilled the needs I had at the time. It’s kind of weird but it was more of a mothering instinct, I guess, because when you get injured you kind of get set back and you have to rely on people to do stuff for you until you’re able to do it on your own. So I just wanted to heal and get out of here. I really didn’t give sex much thought until I actually left the hospital and was able to get into the house where my wife and kids were staying with me. I think the pain has a lot to do with it. I had a couple catheters that got ripped out, so really it wasn’t until I started getting healthier -- and then I thought how am I going to get back into the normal routine of doing what everyone else is doing?
Abby: For me it was probably when he went to the step-down unit. He was in ICU for a long time and sex wasn’t a thing, but, of course, he was overseas for close to a year before that. So you go that long without it and you can’t wait until they come home. Sex was not the first thing on my mind but when he got to the step-down unit we were like, can we even have sex? Can we do this? And then we discovered that it hurt him, because of his skin being burnt and being stretched -- so I think I was ready way before him.
What were some of the biggest obstacles for the two of you once you wanted to start up being sexual together?
Abby: I think one of them was: Will it work?! Every time he’d become erect or I would try to fondle him in anyway he’d say it hurt. And it’s driving me crazy because, for him, me providing care in the hospital was like a mom, but for me it was the feeling that I love you and care for you but I still have a sexual desire for you, I’m really horny over here, so I want us figure out what’s going on. We ended up figuring it out over time. I asked one of the nurses is this something that can be normal? And they said yeah, it may just take some time.
I think the next biggest challenge for me was where am I going to position my own self. Amputees, and especially double amputees, have a lot more positions, but they also lose a lot of positions and leverage. As partners you discover that no, you can’t go in that position because if I tip you just a little you’re going to fall over and it’s going to hurt you. I was also scared to use any area down by where his feet should be because I thought maybe that would remind him his legs were there. But I think that was about the newness of it -- because now I’m not so scared, now I’m like “yeah! I’ve got way more room to work with now!” Over time, we’ve learned that we can do a lot of things other people can’t do.
B.J.: I can remember joking back in ’03 when I first got injured when we were discovering that yes, you lose the leverage and this and this, but you can fit in many different positions when you’re shorter! So I joked around that I’m going to write a book on the "Many Positions of Amputees" just to try and lighten the sense everyone around you has about sexuality. Sexuality is something that everyone goes through challenging times with, but you get through it and it’s still a part of maybe not your everyday life, but it’s a part of your everyday thoughts.
One big thing is for the wounded service member is making sure both partners are ready and that you have the communication open between the two of you, to make sure both partners are getting satisfaction, not just physically because the mental aspect is bigger, I think, when you’re injured because you look at yourself and think am I actually doing this right? Am I satisfying my partner? A big issue for me early on was the psychological part of it. At the time I wasn’t ready because sex was physically hurting me but at the same time I didn’t want to disappoint my wife, whose sex drive was off the wall!
Abby: Thanks babe! I think that our ability to be patent and wait until we were both ready started a long time before his injury. I think that started when he left the country. If you love someone and that’s the person you want to spend your time with, then you wait.
Did you notice any differences in the way you thought about sex once you started having it again?
B.J.: When you start having sex for the first time you do lose focus because you’re thinking through your head, how am I going to make this work so I can give her the satisfaction that she’s trying to get, and at the same time not trying to disappoint your partner as a person with a disability going through the process for the first time or even the tenth time.
It definitely takes a while to get through the mental aspects of how can I do this without disappointing my partner, and how can I do this to where we both benefit from it. It’s more psychological, just trying to get through that.
Abby: Also, I think just doing it for the first time is a whole new experience. It’s not like the first time you’ve ever had sex, but it’s the first time you’re having sex with someone who is looking at themselves differently, and I think that has a lot to do with it. My concerns were more about was I going to hurt him, can I do this or that. But to me it came off as if he was having a new experience and I think every injured person is new.