Should individuals with TBI disclose their injury to their sexual partners?
[Glenn Parkinson] The extent to which someone would disclose any kind of challenges they have with their sexual health,
whether it's functional, in terms of having an orgasm, having an erection—
any of that—is variable.
Again, it really depends upon the person's comfort level,
and it has, in my mind, more to do with intimacy—
how comfortable someone feels being intimate with someone.
A colleague of mine—I thought it was appropriate in military context, but also very visual—
talked about intimacy as the ability when you walk in the door to take off your armor.
You can just leave it at the door, and then you can be your own self.
You can be whomever you are.
Some people aren't even able to do that when they're in bed with someone.
They still keep that armor on.
So I think if it is going to alleviate someone's anxiety to be up front with someone,
so that they can focus more on the interaction
instead of worrying about whether it's going to happen,
then I think it is really important for them to disclose.
I don't think it's necessary.
I think there's so much, in terms of safe sex, and there's so much discussion
about sex, and how it's going to be, and barriers, and all that kind of stuff anyway,
that I think, in terms of the injury piece,
I think that's probably a very personal decision for each individual person.
I think the most important thing is for the person to have those conversations
with themself, with the provider, with someone,
so they can figure out how they feel about it.
I think it's always good to disclose to someone,
particularly if you're going to be that intimate with them,
but sometimes people just want to have sex to have sex.
There are also a lot of people who say that—when they've been injured,
they have so many losses in their life,
that sex is the one thing that makes them feel good.
It's the one time they feel pain free.
They feel kind of outside of themselves in a healthy way,
not in a dissociative sort of way.
It's the one thing in their life that's pleasurable,
and so it's really important in my mind to protect that for them,
so that they have that kind of haven for themselves.
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Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Erica Queen, BrainLine.
Glenn W. Parkinson, MSW, MA, Glenn Parkinson, MSW, MA works as the psychotherapist on the Traumatic Brain Injury service at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. She works with active duty and retired military personnel and their families specializing in combat-related injuries.
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