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Spinal cord injured get help with sexual intimacy

Patients with spinal cord injuries get help with sexual intimacy

4th July 2008

North Islanders with a spinal cord injury are getting help in expressing sexual intimacy thanks to an innovative new programme. The Auckland Spinal Rehabilitation Unit and TASC (The Association for Spinal Concerns) have together helped four hundred patients learn new ways of expressing their sexuality.

The programme has won the Counties Manukau District Health Board a finalist’s place in the 2008 New Zealand Health Innovation Awards (HIA). It will compete against 19 other finalists, four of which are also from Auckland.

Auckland Spinal Rehabilitation Unit Counsellor Susan Sliedrecht says many who suffer a spinal cord injury wonder whether they will ever have sex again.

“Spinal injury can affect sexuality in different ways depending on which part of the spine is damaged. Patients may have to learn new and different ways to express their sexual intimacy.”

The programme works on a number of levels. Regular education workshops and one-on-one counselling are provided for all in-patients. Evening workshops are organised for outpatients. These include a presentation on sexual intimacy and spinal cord injury, a sharing of personal experiences from a panel of former patients and an opportunity to ask questions. Training sessions are run for staff to ensure the culture of the unit makes patients feel comfortable to talk openly about their sexuality.

“Patients are often relieved at the opportunity to discuss and explore the practical and emotional aspects of their sexuality. Some find it hard to come to terms with the changes but others say their sexual relationships have improved because they have to put more effort and thought into being intimate.”

The programme has been so successful that the team will be assisting Burwood Hospital to set up a similar programme in Christchurch making it available to all New Zealanders.

The HIA are a joint endeavour of the Ministry of Health and ACC. They were started in 2003 to recognise individuals and organisations that have developed new and innovative approaches to delivering better health services.

Further information about the HIA is available online at

This year’s HIA winners will be announced at the HIA expo and gala dinner held on 4 November at the Wellington Town Hall.


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