Becoming Comfortable With Sex and Intimacy After a Limb Amputation
I have decided to tackle discussing a sensitive issue which impacts everybody in the limb loss community — sex after an amputation. My goal is to be honest without being graphic. I am certainly no expert on the subject. But as a sexually active amputee woman who is happily married with two children, I can speak frankly about my experiences.
I began to worry about the impact of my limb loss on my ability to be intimate before my amputation surgery. Because it is a sensitive and personal issue, I did not feel comfortable broaching the topic with amputee mentors. I was left to deal with my fears and emotions on my own, which probably made my adjustment more difficult. It wasn’t until I started reaching out to help other amputees that I discovered my fears about sex were also faced by every other amputee I spoke to and his or her partner(s).
It took nearly six months post-amputation until I was ready for intimacy. This extended time was due to an infection in my stump, but in retrospect, it was also because I was feeling ugly. I simply wasn’t eager to be seen. For partners of an amputee, patience is imperative! I was desperate for reassurance that I was attractive, and that I was still viewed as a whole woman. My body shape had drastically changed and it took a while to learn and to accept how I looked and felt.
After my amputation, it was difficult for me to look at my body. I assumed that it was difficult for my husband to look at me as well, but I have since learned otherwise. He loved me unconditionally and wasn’t “turned off” because I happened to be missing a foot. The problem was, I turned myself off. I didn’t feel attractive and any sense of sensuality seemed to have evaporated. It took months before I could look in a mirror without tearing up.
Finally, I felt secure enough to become intimate as an amputee. Instinctively, my husband knew that the lights were going to be off, and that any touching below my knee was not going to happen. I simply didn’t want anything to remind me that I was now an amputee.
No, I didn’t wear my prosthetic. I did wear my liner. I justified the decision through fears that my sensitive limb might get bumped. In reality, the liner just made me feel more comfortable and safer because I was keeping my residual limb covered. We never discussed removing the liner. It was never an issue.
As my limb healed and my self-esteem recovered, I no longer needed to keep my leg covered. It was a natural and slow progression. I don’t need to wear the liner anymore. If the liner is on, it is because of the spontaneity of the act versus my desire to keep my limb concealed.
People are often curious about how an amputee has sex. All I can say is that I have learned that a foot is not necessary for intercourse. An active and adventurous sex life after an amputation is possible, but every position may not be feasible. For example, sex in the shower has been completely eliminated for me. While I’m sure it is possible, I have enough trouble balancing to wash my hair!
Keeping an open dialogue is paramount. I have learned that laughter can go a long way to ease a tense situation. We laugh a lot, including when we are being intimate. When a specific position doesn’t work, instead of getting upset or frustrated, we just laugh it off.
Sometimes my limb hurts or gets pinched, so we simply change position. We have a lot of pillows to provide extra padding for my residual limb, and to reduce friction abrasions. After an amputation, some positions just don’t “work” anymore. However, our inability to recreate positions from our youthful escapades is probably as much due to our increasing age and decreasing flexibility as it is because of my amputation.
Patience, love and open communication are the tools we needed to rebuild our sex life after my amputation. Just as my body changed for me, it has also changed for my husband. He admits that some positions feel “different.” Because of my amputation, we laugh a lot more, and we talk more. That helps keep our relationship strong.