Sex after injury or illness – part 2

November 3 2016

"Don't make sex so difficult". Dorthe Forsell is a sex therapist at the Neurology Department at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. In the second and final part of the interview, she wishes that more people could take a more relaxed and playful approach to sex.


Redefining the sexuality

In her job as a sex therapist at the Neurology Department at Sahlgrenska Hospital, Dorthe Forsell meets many people who must redefine their sexuality after an injury or illness, to discover what works for them and what they like.

A great deal may change in your social life after a diagnosis. A part of your personal identity in the past has now changed. You have to give up movement patterns, habits and hobbies, due to this new situation.

Dorthe Forsell wants to expand upon the term "sex". It can be a mental release, as well as physical. It can also include other activities and erogenous zones, such as the ears, neck or arms. The sexual repertoire can be expanded upon. In fact, no other person can decide what sex is for you. Pleasure is very individual.

Sex can occasionally be an overwhelming physical experience, at times emotional, other times intensely sensual. All at once, or different each time, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes mind-blowing, in fact. Sometimes not. And that is how it should be.


Dorthe Forsell cautions against the norms which we far too often allow to be contradictory. Perceptions of what sex is and should be, or perceptions of what the partner prefers and wants. Perceptions that may not correspond to reality at all.

"Talk more with each other," advises Dorthe Forsell. "Listen to your partner. Be open about what you want and long for."

She encourages her patients to prioritize sex, give it a place in their thoughts and actions.

"Ask yourself how you prioritize various activities. For example, housework versus sex. If all of your time is spent on keeping the home nice – well, perhaps you don't have much drive for a cuddle with your partner. You have to WANT sex for something to happen."

Dorthe's advice to her patients

  • Get to know your body after the injury/illness.
  • Pursue your desire.
  • Trust yourself.
  • Talk with your partner.
  • Schedule sex into your life.
  • Play with each other.
  • Just do it!

"Start with the person who has the lower sex drive," she adds. "Sex should always be without conditions, and on both partners' terms".


Many people crave contact. Contact may fall by the wayside due to the hectic, goal-oriented life we live today. Contact is important. Contact releases the so-called "feel good" hormone (oxytocin). We feel that we are seen and acknowledged. A number of people choose not to have sex. However, not many people choose to avoid contact.

If you do not have a partner, or want do explore your carnality, massage may be a form of contact. Getting a scalp massage could be a nice experience. Swimming is another pleasurable activity because the entire body is surrounded by the soft water. The same applies to a bubbling bath, filled with fragrant oils.

"Men and women often describe sexual experiences differently. However, surveys show that most people want to achieve the same thing," concludes Dorthe Forsell. "People want closeness, intimacy and satisfaction".

Perhaps the real feeling cannot be put into words. Words like ecstasy, mind-blowing and fantastic raise performance expectations. Many people have trouble recognizing themselves in such words. It may be enough to be happy, feel good, like it and enjoy it? There is nothing wrong with that – the movies just do not portray that as often…


Don't forget to read the first part of this blog post!

To read more about how the sexuality changes after a spinal cord injury, please download Dorthe Forsell's paper: Sexuality after a spinal cord injury (SCI). 

 Download the paper

About Dorthe Forsell:

Dorthe Forsell is a nurse and a sex counselor, and works in the Neurology department, Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden. She also lecturers for patients and healthcare professionals. 

Topics: Relationships and family life, Intimacy