disability / spinal-cord injury

A trip to the clinic

Warning, sexual content

Note: I thought long and hard about whether or not to post this blog topic, wondering whether it is too personal, embarrassing and/or revealing, and so best kept behind closed doors. I’ve decided to take the plunge, however, after a response I received from my good friend Lauren:

Yes the story does reveal your particular vulnerabilities, and maybe you should be embarrassed, but it is breaking down stereotypes in another way.  Our culture talks about sex so much, usually in negative, exaggerated, unreal, or misogynistic ways.  And you know how most Christians talk about sex; pleasure is missing, control is emphasised, prudishness is the norm and sin is always lurking. I think you are discussing sexuality and love, human frailty and desire in very honest and beautiful ways, which challenges cultural and Christian representations.

I’m pretty sure “beautiful” is the wrong word (bizarre, absurd, surreal, might be more appropriate), but what follows is an account of a recent visit to the spinal clinic:

I’m now more than three years on from my injury, and without doubt the hardest thing to deal with has been the injury’s impact upon my sex life. Now, before I say anything more, I don’t want to add to the general assumption that people with a spinal cord injury (or any other disability) are asexual, incapable of receiving or giving sexual pleasure. On the contrary, what people don’t realise is that most people with a spinal cord injury actually do okay in bed. If they’re creative, they have the opportunity to focus on their partner’s pleasure. Also, many retain some sensation (although many don’t) and may or may not be able to orgasm. Most men manage to get a sustainable erection with the help of drugs like Viagra. I say this for the sake of my single brethren in chairs, who are just as likely (or unlikely) as anyone else to be sensational lovers.

Even so, adjusting sexually to the injury definitely has its challenges. In my case, perhaps because God hates me, I’ve been unable to get any sustainable hard on, notwithstanding attempts to use any number of drugs and pumps (it’s all very romantic). As a result, my doctor recommended a Caverject injection. This is a drug similar to Viagra, which is injected directly into the muscle of the penis. And to make sure things would be safe (that there’d be no adverse autonomic dysreflexia or permanent erection – which apparently is a bad thing?), as well as to instruct my Elly in its use, we were asked to attend Clinic for the first injection.

dw_5x10__vincent_and_the_doctor_amydoctorAnd so last week we made our way to the Royal North Shore Hospital, and on arrival were ushered into a sterile clinic, white walls, floor, and roof – and a stainless steel sink. We were met by a delightfully friendly, buxom, redheaded clinical nurse, and a besuited, greying Doctor, and asked to flesh out our situation. After 15 minutes of “tell all” conversation, I was asked to tip back my chair, whereupon my pants were pulled down, and a redhead and grey-haired took a look around. Then I was injected (I couldn’t feel it, but the idea of an injection there was pretty horrific), and Elly was asked to massage it around. As you can imagine, she was red-faced mortified. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to scream. There I was, in a room with three people looking on to see if I’d go hard!

A little bit of success, but not much, so the doctor decided to add some vibration, using a machine that sound like an electric drill. The combination seemed to have some success, at least enough for the Doctor to call time on the show. What it will mean for us in the long term I’m not sure. Truth be told, Elly and I were just pleased to get out of the room.

Really, all you can do is laugh at the situations you find yourself in life!

PS Relax, I was joking. I know God doesn’t hate me.… at least I don’t think so.

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • jaymcneill
    May 30, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    OH MY GOD! I love this. Thank you for reminding me that our human condition, although terribly broken, is also bloody funny. Seriously man, you are one of my fav bloggers! I think God hates me more than he does you though…

    • Shane Clifton
      May 30, 2014 at 9:19 pm

      We could try a blog off. Why god hates me than you …

  • Tania Harris
    May 30, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    HAlarious! Thanks for being real Shane!

  • Sandra Godde
    May 30, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Too funny …..

  • amanda
    May 30, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    I dont know whether to laugh or cry. So Ill laugh – as usual Shane you crack me up while being real and so frank. Reading this reminds me why you are one of my fav lecturers!

    • Shane Clifton
      May 30, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      Definitely choose laughter Amanda.

  • phil moore
    May 30, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    Horrific & gutsy i think.
    And to wonder that all that stuff was going on while i innocently played cricket on the oval beneath there during my school years???
    PS I am 58 and been unable to get it up for many yrs now & the wife isn’t keen on me & vigra so nothing is going on

  • Shane Clifton
    May 30, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Give it a go phil. If Viagra works, I reckon it’s a boon worth trying. You could always try it without telling her, and give her a surprise.

  • Melanie Mullen
    May 30, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Love your honesty and ability to not take life too seriously most days. What a journey you’re on….

  • Mary Elizabeth Fisher
    May 30, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    Shane, thanks for reminding us to be honest about life…

  • Clare Harrison
    May 30, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    Ah the tender indignities of physical love…

  • anon
    May 31, 2014 at 7:47 am

    you should read Stand Up Strummer by Russ Harris 🙂

    • Shane Clifton
      May 31, 2014 at 9:15 am

      Will do. I like Harris’ happiness trap.

  • Tanya Riches
    May 31, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    I’m breathless I’m laughing so much.

    • p moore
      June 10, 2014 at 5:08 pm

      I thought there is a name that rang a bell from somewhere in the past. Anyway went to your blog… and read your recommendation for Frost’s book & have now bought it… tk u

      • Tanya Riches
        June 13, 2014 at 9:45 am

        no worries!! I’d love to hear your thoughts on there once you’ve read it…

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