I know that in the U.S., the VA system has some great professionals who specialize in sex and disability. But I’ve also heard that sexuality isn’t integrated enough across services. What kind of help or support did you guys get from health care providers in terms of sex?
Abby: We didn’t really get any support, I don’t think sex was touched on at all when we were in the hospital. I don’t even think physical therapy touched on it, which is kind of upsetting now that I think about it. Even when we asked about him hurting and should it be looked at, they just said it’s probably because he hadn’t had an erection in such a long time and the catheters. They had all the medical reasons that were why. But even after I asked that question, I don’t think anyone ever said anything.
B.J.: The mental health professional that I was sent to for a TBI (traumatic brain injury) test, always asked the sexuality questions, and I didn’t really put two plus two together. They ask more about being addicted to things like sex. There’s one guy and it’s one of the first questions he asked. He asks if you have more of an urge or is your sexual drive gone. I never gave it much thought other than thinking the guy was kind of weird.
So where did you start, and where do you suggest other people start figuring out where sex is going to fit into their lives, and how?
Abby: I think you have to start with your partner. That’s the first and foremost person you’re going to be worrying about in the bedroom anyway. And you have to ask for help. Most people don’t bring sex up because they’re just as nervous as you are about it. Health care professionals should be able to talk to you about that stuff. I would ask questions like are there any complications I’m going to face? Is there anything you can help me to get me where I need to be? Do you see anything [about] my injuries that maybe could cause a problem or warrant a reason that I should change the way my sex life is now? They should be able to tell you.
B.J.: But at the same time, you yourself can only be the one to limit yourself. If the doctor says you may not be able to, well, you may not be able to the “traditional” way, but there’s other ways and other means.
Abby: It’s true, there is always a way to find a way around something someone has told you that you might not be able to do again. We’ve definitely found that.
I think B.J. and I were open with each other and he trusted me. He told me sex hurt and that he wasn’t ready yet and I trusted his instincts and said if you’re not ready than I’m not going to push you. So I think the more open and honest you are with your partner and the more you learn to trust each other the easier it comes.
You’ve mentioned communication a few times. How important do you think talking about sex is to the fact that you guys have a healthy sexual relationship?
B.J.: I think if you’re going to be with someone sexually, hopefully you’ll want to be with them for at least a little while, and if you’re going to be with someone for a while, or the rest of your life, you’re going to have to be able to talk about sex.
Abby: I think that when you trust someone enough to get to the point where you’re going to have sex or be in a sexual relationship with, I think you should be able to trust that partner and tell them everything you feel. And I think if you don’t have that, you shouldn’t be having sex with that person.
Some people get a little nervous, and I can understand that. B.J. is not the most open guy about a lot of things. Sex and death, which are some of my favorite topics, are his least favorite. But I feel like I can always tell him something.
Being pregnant with a double amputee you run into a lot of different sex challenges. Where for most people being pregnant is just one challenge or being a double amputee is a challenge now we’re facing both and so I think now we talk a lot more in the bedroom about what’s going to work, or how we have to switch sides. I think if other people could do that it would be a lot easier for them. But they have to make sure they can do that with their partner.
People who haven’t ever had a disability usually have so many expectations of what that’s going to be like. Did you guys have that, and how did you deal with it?
B.J.: One of my good friends who was with me in the hospital who Abby talked to a lot before I woke up was a one-leg amputee, and one of his biggest things was how was he going to get a girlfriend. He was really down on himself about it. His whole mental thought was, look I’m 22 years old, I’m not married, I don’t have a girlfriend, I’m in the hospital, I’m a burn patient, I’m an amputee, whose going to want to go out with me? Today he’s married with a kid, he’s a stay at home dad.
You really have to get over the mindset. Disabilities in today’s world are looked at differently than they were 5 or 10 years ago. They’re more visible, not only from this war. You hear on the news stuff that many years ago you wouldn’t even think of hearing in a conversation with someone in your town. It’s more out there.
Abby: Everyone gets so concerned with how you do this or how you do that and assume things won’t be so great. But really they are. My husband's and my sex life is great. I think the problem is one that society has. I think they end up with the problem, where they’re trying to compare their sex lives to yours, so mine has to be better than yours, my relationship has to be stronger because I can walk around or I have this “normalcy” about us. And really I think that makes people less fortunate than us because we’re very aware of what we have. Ever since B.J.’s injury, not because he lost his legs, but because we thought we almost lost him, our relationship is stronger. There are still challenges to come but I think as long as we stick by each other and face them together, we’ll be fine.