Changing and adapting - David's story
In his darkest moments, David Eastham felt sex and relationships weren’t open to him as a SCI man. Here he shares how he overcame those fears…
When David began enjoying nights out again after his spinal cord injury, he feared letting things get too far with women he met.
If attention came my way I’d respond, but in the back of my mind I’d be thinking, I can’t take this any further because I didn’t want them coming back to my place and explaining all the stuff about bowels, bladder and sexual function.
Although happy to enjoy a bit of flirting, fears around how things would progress took over, battering an already fragile confidence.
David remembers feeling wary of putting himself out there in case of rejection.
“If attention came my way I’d respond,” David says, “But in the back of my mind I’d be thinking, ‘I can’t take this any further because I didn’t want them coming back to my place and explaining all the stuff about bowels, bladder and sexual function.
“I’d have felt like I was trapping someone – they didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for. It was easier just not to let things go that far.”
David, from Manchester, was 20 years old when he was injured at T8 following a hit and run accident during a summer break in Thailand in 2015.
He has little memory of what happened. Alongside his spinal injury, he sustained a catalogue of other injuries and needed friends to piece together many of the events leading up to and following the accident.
After returning from Thailand, David spent several weeks in hospital before moving to the specialist spinal unit at Southport where a complete injury was eventually confirmed.
While processing this news, several thoughts were uppermost in David’s mind, not least of all, would he be able to have sex again?
I was only 20 and I’d started seeing someone. I was told it was possible but with the lack of sexual function, I’d just need to use things like Viagra. It didn’t work. I kept my fingers crossed every day that sensation would return
“It was one of the first questions I asked,” he remembers, “I was only 20 and I’d started seeing someone. I was told it was possible but with the lack of sexual function, I’d just need to use things like Viagra. It didn’t work. I kept my fingers crossed every day that sensation would return.
“Things didn’t work out with her and that really knocked my confidence.”
David used dating apps and had a few other sexual encounters which mostly left him feeling vulnerable, serving as a painful reminder of a life he felt was now closed to him. Mentally, he began drawing a line through the idea of ever having a sexual, loving relationship again.
Then, while out with friends one night he met an old family friend, Helen, and they exchanged numbers. After a first date of dinner and drinks, it proved the beginning of something pretty special.
“We’ve been together over three years now. It was a slow build up, we had a couple of dates and really talked. Things moved at the right pace for me. It was like being a virgin again,” says David. “I knew sex wouldn’t be the same so I was a bit hesitant. You worry about not being able to get it up or different things going wrong. I didn’t want to let her down.”
You have to adapt and change things. We’re quite open – things go wrong but you laugh and learn
For David, now 27, and one of SIA’s support network coordinators, what’s worked has been openness and talking. Accepting things might be different but that they can still be fulfilling and satisfying and sharing advice and tips with other SCI men has helped too.
“You have to adapt and change things. We’re quite open – things go wrong but you laugh and learn,” says David. “We discuss what we do and don’t like. I use a penile injection now which is stronger and more effective than Viagra; it’s maybe not the most romantic thing, but you adapt. You use what’s available – your hands, mouth. It works – we’re very happy and have a good sex life.”
The chance to become a parent in the future was also on David’s mind after his accident. Alongside affecting sexual function, most men with a complete injury lose the ability to ejaculate. Concerned about the impact on his fertility, he took the opportunity to have sperm frozen. And now in a trusting, loving relationship, David and Helen feel ready to explore their options with IVF.
So, what advice does David have for newly injured men about sex and relationships after SCI?
“Talk to someone who understands,” he says. “I wish I’d spoken about stuff sooner. I repressed it and when I had these bad sexual experiences, I’d have a cry and bury it again. But it builds up and then it starts to eat you up inside.”
The SCI Powder Room on Facebook. This is a female-only, private group covering personal, sensitive and female-related topics.
Sex and the Spine – easily accessible and trusted resources on sexual well-being from professional experts.
Spokz – Online shop offering products aimed at enhancing sexual wellbeing for disabled people
Sexual Health and Disability Alliance (SHADA) are involved in the positive promotion of sex for disabled people. This link provides a list of numerous sex-related resources
If you would like to discuss any of the issues mentioned above with someone like David who has lived experience of SCI visit our support page to find the contact for your area. Alternatively you can ring our support line on 0800 980 0501 or request a call from one of our SCI specialist nurses.