Background:

Sexual dysfunction is highly prevalent in males with spinal cord injury (SCI) and has been recognized to be a key recovery priority.

Objectives:

This cross-sectional, mixed-methods study aimed to investigate the major themes linked to sexual functioning in males with chronic (>1 year) SCI.

Methods:

Twenty male participants with SCI, aged 25 to 59 years, completed validated questionnaires exploring sexual function/satisfaction and health-related quality of life and a semi-structured interview with an experienced sexual medicine physician. Sex hormone concentrations and metabolic biomarkers, along with body composition and habitual physical activity levels, were assessed. Interview recordings were transcribed and thematic analysis performed using combined COM-B (Capability, Opportunity, Motivation, and Behavior) and biopsychosocial models to identify and organize major contributors and barriers to sexual functioning.

Results:

Metabolic and hormonal biomarkers largely fell within normal physiological ranges despite reduced sexual functioning reported in our cohort (19/20 participants reported some degree of erectile dysfunction). Qualitative analysis of interview transcripts revealed 24 themes. Adaptability was important for improving sexual satisfaction. Attraction and attentiveness to sex and partners remained stable over time, while the desire for intimacy increased post injury. Sexual social norms, and comparisons to the able-bodied population, provided challenges for sexual activity and partnership. Environmental concerns regarding access to sexual health resources and accessible physical spaces during intimacy were relevant. Mood disorders and general life stressors negatively impacted sexual desire, while physical activity encouraged sexual activity.

Conclusion:

By considering a holistic view of sexuality in males with SCI, we identified key contributors and barriers to sexual functioning for the cohort studied.

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