Utilizing a Phenomenological Approach to Examine the Experience of Sexuality for Women Concerned about Urinary Incontinence following Spinal Cord Injury
Sexuality after spinal cord injury (SCI) is a complex issue that is influenced by a number of social, psychological and physiological factors, one of which is urinary incontinence (UI). Using a phenomenological approach, seven mixed methods interviews combining both the interview guide and standardized open-ended approaches were conducted to examine the experience of sexuality for women who are concerned about UI following SCI. Sexual function was one of the top priorities for the women after SCI, and UI was one of the main concerns the women had regarding sexuality. The findings of this study demonstrate that various dimensions of intimacy and the sexual experience as a whole were affected by UI, and the women discussed both physical and psychological concerns. The main issues regarding sexuality included concerns related to relationships, frustrations with limited sexual activities and the difficulty of being sexually satisfied, the number of unanswered questions and concerns, and a fear of being hurt or injured while participating in sexual activities. The main concerns regarding UI were embarrassment, the work and inconvenience involved with the clean-up of UI, bladder infections, the lack of accessible washrooms, and the negative effects of UI medications. When examining sexuality and UI together, the major issues were the constant comparison to the way things were before SCI, as well as the new concerns that the women did not have to worry about previously, worrying about how their partner would react if UI were to occur during sexual activity, and the impact of their own feelings toward UI on sexuality, a connection between pleasurable sexual sensations and UI as well as difficulty differentiating between the sensation of UI with the sensation of UI, dealing with infected urine during sexual activity, having to discuss UI with a new potential sexual partner, and a fear of rejection. Other identified issues included those related to body image, a lack of resources, Doctors who were inadequately educated regarding SCI, and issues related to both having and raising children. There is a significant shortage of information available for women with SCI to use as a resource regarding sexual function in general, and sexual function as it relates to UI. It is necessary that future work focus on creating resources to assist in this area, and that the dissemination of those resources becomes both appropriate and effective. Addressing sexual function and UI which are among the top concerns for this population has the opportunity to greatly improve quality of life (QOL) for these individuals.