Women with spinal cord injury and sexual health: The role of the recreational therapist


  • Jennifer Ann Piatt, PhD, CTRS
  • Eric Knee, MS
  • Lori Eldridge, MS, CTRS
  • Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH




sexuality, intimacy, spinal cord injury, women, sexual health


Sexual health takes on an entirely new meaning for women after sustaining a spinal cord injury (SCI). The majority of sexual health information provided during the rehabilitation process is often geared toward men with limited to no resources available to women. Furthermore, this information is typically not provided by recreational therapists in structured sexual health groups. This study employed semistructured interviews with eight SCI women living independently in the community to examine sexuality and intimacy while living with a SCI and how sexual health is currently being addressed during the rehabilitation process, including the recreational therapy process. A phenomenological data analysis was employed with reduction of data into themes. Findings indicate that sexual health education information was sometimes provided in rehabilitation hospitals, however, such materials were perceived to be focused on male patients, untimely, and attention to sexuality issues was usually absent from post-rehabilitation care. There was no mention of recreational therapists providing any form of sexual health education. Additionally, participants identified a need for educational materials for partners of individuals with SCI, as well as themselves regarding sexuality and relationship with particular attention on (a) intrapersonal constraints to intimacy/sexuality, (b) interpersonal partner communication, and (c) physiological constraints to intimacy/sexuality. The results demonstrate the impact living with a SCI has on intimacy and sexuality for women and the need for better sexual health education within the context of recreational therapy.

Author Biographies

Jennifer Ann Piatt, PhD, CTRS

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, School of Public Health, Indiana University-Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana

Eric Knee, MS

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, School of Public Health, Indiana University-Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana

Lori Eldridge, MS, CTRS

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, School of Public Health, Indiana University-Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana

Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH

Center for Sexual Health Promotion, School of Public Health, Indiana University-Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana


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How to Cite

Piatt, PhD, CTRS, J. A., Knee, MS, E., Eldridge, MS, CTRS, L., & Herbenick, PhD, MPH, D. (2018). Women with spinal cord injury and sexual health: The role of the recreational therapist. American Journal of Recreation Therapy, 17(3), 25–35. https://doi.org/10.5055/ajrt.2018.0165




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