The other day it was Father’s day and people were celebrating their fathers which is something heartwarming. Every disabled man, myself included, has at one point thought about fatherhood and worried about how the disability affects his fertility and ability to sire children. A man ties a big part of his identity to being able to father his own children. 1.9% of the male population in Kenya experience some form of disability, with physical disabilities being the most prevalent.
As a spinal cord injury survivor for six years, I fall under this statistic. If I am being honest, sex was one of the first thoughts that initially crossed my mind once I realized how severe my injury was. At the hospital, they had inserted a tube (catheter) inside my penis to help me pee. The process of inserting a 25cm tube in the urethra should be uncomfortable but I didn’t feel a thing, to me, this was a red flag. If I couldn’t pee by myself, could I have sex?
Like many men who go through severe spinal cord injuries, I thought that I was now asexual, unattractive and undesirable. Feelings like these can be expected especially after experiencing monumental physical changes and battling with mental voices telling you disability is inability.
Whereas disabled men can successfully engage in sexual activity, the study shows that only 1% of men with spinal cord injuries actually father children through sex. There are a couple of reasons as to why this number is so low. Depending on the level of the spinal cord injury, a man’s ability to achieve an erection and ejaculate can be affected. The spinal cord is divided into various levels of vertebrae namely, Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar and Sacral. Each level controls specific functions of the body.
The ability to ejaculate is controlled by T10 – L2 and S2 – S4; T10 – L2 controls the release of semen, whereas S2 – S4 determines the propulsion of semen out of the body. This means that men with higher levels of injury are not in a position to procreate in conventional ways.
Ejaculation aside, men with spinal cord injuries are more likely to experience a decline in the quality and quantity of semen. Samples gathered from disabled and able men revealed that whereas able men have 70% moving sperms in their semen, men with spinal injury have 20% active sperms.
This, however, is not to say that all men with spinal cord injuries cannot father children of their own. A visit to the urologist will shed some light on the collection of semen and fertility testing. The challenge experienced most by men who find themselves in this situation is the stigma associated with this infertility.