Bride paralyzed at her bachelorette party opens up about sex after her accident, how she can still find pleasure and her hopes that new treatments could one day do more
- Rachelle Friedman Chapman, 29, was paralyzed from the neck down after being playfully pushed into a pool at her bachelorette party
- She was afraid she'd never have a normal sex life again after the freak accident before her wedding left her as a quadriplegic
- Chapman says that sexual sensation is so important that it would be 'a toss-up between hand function and sexual function'
- She has learned to find pleasure in small things such as her neck being kissed
- But she hopes one day that technology can restore her sexual sensation
- A new operation being trialed in January aims to restore sexual function and sensation to a paralyzed female patient
- But Chapman's injuries are too severe to be helped by the new technique
A bride who was paralyzed from the neck down when she was pushed into a pool at her own bachelorette party has opened up about her sex life with the husband who has stood by her since the freak accident.
Rachelle Friedman Chapman, 29, from Raleigh, North Carolina, was scared she would never have a normal sex life again after the incident before her wedding in 2010 left her as a quadriplegic.
'I was like … am I ever going to feel an orgasm again?' she told Tonic. 'Am I going to enjoy sex when I do it, even if I figure it out? Is it going to feel like nothing for me?'
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Rachelle Friedman Chapman, pictured with husband Chris and daughter Kaylee, who she had via surrogate, says that sexual sensation and function is so important, that most people confined to wheelchairs would choose that over being able to walk again
Rachelle Friedman Chapman, 29, (pictured during a sexy photo shoot to empower other disabled women) from Raleigh, North Carolina, was scared she would never have a normal sex life again after the freak accident before her wedding left her as a quadriplegic
Chapman says that sexual sensation and function is so important, that most people confined to wheelchairs would choose that over being able to walk again.
'For someone like me who's a quadriplegic, it's a toss-up between hand function and sexual function.'
The mom-of-one, who had her first child Kaylee with her husband Chris last year, via a surrogate, said that she was always able to physically have sex after her accident.
But she cannot climax like she used to because the sensation below her neck is gone.
Instead, she has learned to enjoy sex in other ways.
With the help of her rehabilitation team, she has discovered new ways to enjoy love making with her husband, focusing on the small pleasurable sensations, such as the simple kissing of her neck which has become an erogenous zone since the accident.
Wheelchair-bound bride: Rachelle was injured when she was pushed in a swimming pool before she married husband Chris, pictured
She added that she still felt aroused by sex, even if she could not enjoy it in the same physical way.
'Your brain still feels stimulated,' explains Chapman, 'because a lot of sex is signals sent to your brain. And you get endorphins. And it feels good,' she says, if you know what to focus on.
While Chapman is learning a new way to experience pleasure, she is hopeful that one day new technology will be able to restore her former sensation and mobility.
And that technology may not be far away.
Operations to restore sexual sensation for men who have suffered a permanent spinal cord injury have been carried out for the past 15 years.
Chapman (pictured before her accident) says she has focused her efforts on small pleasures as she learns to enjoy sex again with her husband
The procedure works by hotwiring the nerves that control sensation in the genitals around their spinal injury. A surgeon takes nerves from the network serving the inner thigh and reattaches them to the nerves to one side of the genitals.
As the nerves serving the thigh typically attach to the spine at a higher point than the nerves serving the genitals, the re-routing is able to restore sensation in patients with lower spine injuries.
And in January, the Dutch surgeon who has been pioneering the treatment, Max Overgoor, will perform the first operation to restore sensation to a female patient.
Sadly, Chapman's spinal injury extends from the neck down and so she would not be a suitable candidate for the operation.
But the surgery is one step closer to restoring sexual sensation in the hundreds of patients who have not only been robbed of their ability to walk, but to enjoy a healthy sex life.
It is also helping to break the taboo of sex among the disabled who can often be viewed as asexual, unwilling or unable to have sex.
Chapman herself decided to challenge that taboo last year, by stripping down to her underwear for a sexy photo shoot as part of an empowering social media campaign, which she opened up about in an interview with People.
In the photos, Rachelle poses on a bed in a variety of sexy underthings, from a matching pink lace set to a pair of purple panties.
'I'm hoping it will inspire others to just focus on the things they love about themselves and not be so critical,' she said last year, adding that she is sharing the pictures on Facebook and Twitter. 'I'm encouraging everyone to get on social media and mention something they love about themselves with the hashtag #WhatMakesMeSexy.'
Chapman wanted to challenge the taboo of sex among the disabled who can often be viewed as asexual, unwilling or unable to have sex
She said she had posed for the shoot after realizing that there were people who suddenly viewed her as 'un-datable' after she was paralyzed.
But while she found the courage to bare all doesn't mean that she doesn't still struggle with insecurities - especially about her catheter, which is visible in all of the pictures.
'The big thing that I am self-conscious about is the catheter I have to wear all the time,' she said. 'I have to accept it, and I wanted to show people that just because you have this, just own it. It doesn't have to be the focus of what you are, what you look like.'
'I want to put a different face to disability,' she said, adding that she hopes that her message will resonate with women who aren't disabled, too: 'We all have flaws [and] we all have things going for us, and for the first time I'm not hiding my catheter. I'm not hiding anymore.'
Happy Family: The Chapman family in their first Christmas photo (Chris, Kaylee and Rachelle)
Chapman's life all changed in May 2010, when she was celebrating her upcoming marriage to her now-husband Chris Chapman,
Rachelle's head hit the bottom of the pool, resulting in a spinal cord injury that left her unable to walk. Though doctors told her she would still be able to have children, she later learned that the blood pressure medication she had to take because of her injury would be dangerous to a fetus.
Happily for the Chapmans, who married a year after Rachelle's accident in 2011, Rachelle's college friend Laurel Humes agreed to be a surrogate for the couple - and they welcomed daughter Kaylee Rae Champman on Sunday.
Rachelle said baby Kaylee, who is 'amazing but exhausting', came home from the hospital in a gown that the new mom herself wore as an infant.
'She looked beautiful in it, and it was so symbolic – until she pooped,' she told People.
Adjusting to life with an infant is a big change for any parent, but Rachelle has a unique set of struggles.
Though she has some use of her hands, she has to learn how to care for her daughter with a limited range of motion. Since bringing Kaylee home, Rachelle has burped and fed
She has also had to find furniture that can accommodate her wheelchair; the couple has a specially built crib that she can roll under, as well as a low changing table that's actually a desk.
'It's taking some
Rachelle admitted that there was a time when she was disappointed because she thought she would be a mom by the age of 27, but she now believes that waiting longer to become a mother was for the best.
'It didn't quite happen [the way I planned], but it did finally happen and I think I'm much more comfortable with my injury now,' she explained. 'I understand my body and I'm ready to be a mom.'
That better awareness of her strengths and limitations is also helpful in an educational capacity, as Rachelle wants to teach others more about what it means to be a quadriplegic.
'People think as a quadriplegic I can't move anything, [but] that's not true,' she told People soon after the baby was born. 'This is mostly about educating people about parenthood, what I'm capable of, what it's like to have a spinal cord injury and our relationship. There's a lot I can do and I want people to see that.'
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