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Contact Paralinks: garyis@charter.net 09.21.06

Researchers develop vibrator for paraplegics
Camille Bains The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER (CP) ó Researchers at the B.C. Institute of Technology are trying to help paraplegics and quadriplegics with an everyday problem that gets ignored in the high-profile quest to regenerate damaged spinal cords: How to help people have a satisfactory sex life.

Eight prototypes of a vibrator for male and female paraplegics and quadriplegics have been developed by the institute and will be tested in a clinical trial next month.

Developers of the vibro-stimulation device hope it will be commercially available around the world to address the often-ignored sexual needs of the disabled population.

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Dr. Stacy Elliott, director of the B.C. Centre for Sexual Medicine, said people with spinal cord injuries want their sex lives to be recognized as important.

"I think thereís a lot of resentment that sexuality hasnít been paid attention to even though itís a priority," said Elliott, who will lead the clinical trial.

The vibrator was developed with funding through the University of B.C.-based International Collaboration On Repair Discoveries research centre, affiliated with the Rick Hansen Man in Motion Foundation.

According to a 2004 survey of 681 spinal-cord injured people in the United States, paraplegics ranked regaining sexual function as their highest priority, above improving bladder and bowel function.

The survey, whose results were published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, was conducted by quadriplegic and assistant adjunct professor Kim Anderson, of the Reeve-Irvine Research Centre at the University of California in Irvine, Ca.

Elliott said people with spinal cord injuries often use vibrators for sexual arousal because their brains canít recognize physical touch and a powerful "souped-up" device is needed.

"Vibrators provide a stimulus that a regular human couldnít because they can go faster and they can go harder."

The BCIT-developed device is similar in its high frequency to vibrators used in Elliottís clinic to medically retrieve sperm to enable disabled men to become fathers.

"The ability to feel altered arousal or even orgasm is a huge priority so if these vibrators can aid in a higher percentage of people being able to feel more pleasure then that will be a huge contribution," Elliott said.

"We can never separate mind and body in sexual medicine so thatís the whole key."

Vibrators sold in sex shops arenít powerful enough because nerve changes after a spinal cord injury are akin to a telephone line being cut, meaning signals from the brain arenít felt in the body, Elliott said.

Before the new vibro-stimulator device was developed, regular vibrators werenít ergonomically suitable for people with spinal cord injuries because of issues like limited hand movement.

"They were hard to hold, they were super expensive, they might heat up but if you didnít have good sensation you wouldnít be able to feel the heat,Ē Elliott said.

"So we wanted to build some vibrators that were very user friendly and safe and that could have components that could be interchanged to sort of suit the particular person."

Nigel Halsted, research assistant in the B.C. Institute of Technologyís Health Technology Research Group, said the new vibrator has the potential to make a remarkable difference for people who donít want their sexual needs to be overlooked.

ďWhen an individual becomes injured, a lot of the emphasis is put on obviously trying to normalize that individualís life as much as possible in terms of getting them to walk or just getting them to function properly again. And I think a lot of the times we forget about the sexual side of these peopleís lives."     
All aspects of the vibratorís design have included input from focus groups of people with spinal cord injuries, Halsted said.

"Weíve designed this device so that it is able to hopefully be used effectively by people with quite severe spinal cord injuries so issues of how the device is gripped, how itís manipulated, how itís controlled, the functioning of the device, all those sorts of things have been taken into account."

Dave Hinton, executive director of the Canadian Paraplegic Association, said about 40,000 people across the country live with some kind of spinal cord injury.

Sexuality is a huge topic in their peer support groups across Canada, Hinton said from Ottawa.
"Any time that there is an appliance, a procedure, anything along that line thatís going to improve the quality of life for somebody with a spinal cord injury and as long as itís properly tested and medically approved, then of course, we support those sorts of things."

Story from: www.canada.com

© The Canadian Press 2006