How Do You Help Patients and Caregivers Prepare for Sexual Responses to Non-Sexual Situations?


How do you help patients and caregivers prepare for sexual responses to non-sexual situations?


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[Glenn Parkinson] People's sexual responses again are an innate part of themselves, as a physiological being, and sometimes there are ways in which people get stimulated physically that elicit an arousal. One of the things that happens sometimes when people are inpatient or when they need help with their ADLs—taking a shower when they're at home or whatsoever it is—either because of a brain injury or if they're not able to participate fully in their ADLs or because they have some sort of orthopedic injury that gets in the way is that they have the help of a family member. If your wife is giving you a sponge bath, or she's helping you in the shower, and she washes your genitals or the inside of your thigh, and you get aroused, it's probably not that big of a deal. If your mom does it, it can open up a whole host of uncomfortable feelings both for the patient—the service member—as well as for the parent. Again it's a very common physiological part of the body's response to stimulation. I mean if we talk about it like in scientific and clinical terms like that it makes sense, but when you take it to the relationship level, and you think about what it's like for those two, it can be uncomfortable. So sometimes people find comfort in having it addressed directly and very briefly and then moving on. "I'm going to wash the inside of your thigh. I'm going to wash your penis. You may feel something when I do that, and that's okay," and then just let it go. It's really important—again all these issues around shame and kind of avoidance and not talking about things. It's usually so much better to just acknowledge it and then move on. If the person wants to make a joke about it, if they want to stare at the ceiling, if they want to look away, if they—whatever they want to do with that let them do it. But the more that you can just acknowledge it and then let it go, it just continues to sort of normalize it and make it all a part of the natural experience of what's happening to them, which in and of itself feels so unnatural to begin with. I think one of the things that people crave most is like a combination of information and connection, and so when either one of those things, much less both of them, is kind of torn it can be very destabilizing and scary for people. If you're just pretty direct and simple and concise— you don't have to go into detail about it—I think it can be reassuring for people.
Posted on BrainLine May 13, 2013.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Erica Queen, BrainLine.

About the author: Glenn Parkinson

Glenn Parkinson, MSW, MA works as the psychotherapist on the Traumatic Brain Injury service at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. She works with active duty and retired military personnel and their families specializing in combat-related injuries.

Glenn Parkinson