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Intimate problems solved for Wenchuan quake victims

By Erik Nilsson | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-11 00:47

Sexual rehab helps 16 patients restore their love life. Erik Nilsson reports.

The first question people paralyzed in the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake asked was how they would live without being able to walk. Later, they wondered how they would make love. Mianzhu People's Hospital in Sichuan province developed sexual rehabilitation therapy that helped 16 paralyzed people restore intimacy with their spouses. "None of the couples have divorced," rehab director Zhao Zheng'en said. Yet there have been affairs and sex-worker visits. One woman said she had to get used to the fact her husband would "go out for fun".

Intimate problems solved for Wenchuan quake victims

Intimacy and love between Li Gangwen and Yang Fachun, his wife, has not faded after Yang was partly paralyzed by the earthquake that hit Sichuan province in 2008. [Photo by Huo Yan/China Daily]

Tang Siqiong said the sexual rehab was helpful.

"My husband and I didn't know what to do," she said. "We tried after the quake and discovered it was different. I was worried because I lost all sensation after the injury. I was worried my husband might go out with other women. I still am."

But he has been as supportive and loving as ever, she said. "Other things about our relationship haven't undergone huge changes. I have a good husband. We get along well."

Tang's spouse didn't attend the rehab sessions, but she said she shared the training with him.

"He's not like other guys," she said. "He keeps his feelings inside. But if I ask him what he thinks, he'll tell me."

Intimate problems solved for Wenchuan quake victims

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Zhao said Tian Fugang is testimony to sexual rehab's success. Although paralyzed in the quake, he fathered a boy last year and inspires many by continuing to compete on Sichuan's fencing team, winning national and regional awards.

The rehab director said the service grew out of advancements in the hospital's overall rehabilitation capacity. The department ran a rudimentary outpatient service with four workers before the quake. Today, it has 30 highly trained doctors, nurses and therapists, and 40 beds.

"In the early stage, we didn't pay attention to sexual rehabilitation," Zhao said, adding that Handicap International, and Caring for Children, invited experts to train the hospital's doctors in 2011.

"They taught how spinal cord injury patients in other countries deal with sexuality," he said. "After the training, we realized this is something we could help with."

Zhao said there are two kinds of spinal injury. People with "incomplete" paralysis have some sensation and movement, while those with "complete" paralysis do not.

"They can still physically enjoy sex if their injury is incomplete," he said. "Otherwise, they can have sex but don't feel it."

The hospital provides patients with therapeutic literature and other information.

"We can provide some help but are limited because we don't have a professional sex therapist," Zhao said. "Western countries employ them for spinal cord injury patients, but China doesn't."

Part of the challenge lies in the fact that Chinese people are traditionally shy and conservative. Therapists will not discuss sex with patients unless they notice emotional fluctuations.

"But Chinese are becoming braver and more open," Zhao said. "They have a more sophisticated understanding and want to improve intimacy."

Yang Fachun, from Shuangtong village in Mianzhu, who was paralyzed when the wall of her house toppled on her in the Wenchuan quake, said sexual rehab helped.

The 37-year-old's husband didn't attend, because he had to work. But she said that did not matter, because she shared what she learned with him at home.

"He's so kind. For example, he always buys me my favorite foods," she said. "Our relationship is the same as before the quake — wonderful."

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