Sexual Function of Men and Women With Spina Bifida: A Scoping Literature Review

Sex Med Rev. 2021 Apr;9(2):244-266. doi: 10.1016/j.sxmr.2020.09.001. Epub 2021 Feb 17.


Introduction: As most adults with spina bifida are either sexually active or interested in becoming sexually active, providers should understand how spina bifida impacts sexual function and options for treatment.

Objectives: The objective of this study is to summarize the current literature describing how features of spina bifida impact sexual function in men and women, effective available treatment options for sexual dysfunction, and to identify research gaps.

Methods: Searches were conducted in PubMed, CINAHL Complete, PsychInfo, Cochrane Central, Scopus, and Web of Science Core Collection databases using keywords related to spina bifida and sexual function. 34 primary research studies were included.

Results: Most men (56-96%) can achieve an erection, although it may be insufficient for penetration. Although 50-88% ejaculate, it is often dripping, retrograde, or insensate. Twenty percent to 67% achieve orgasm. Generally, men with lower lesions and intact sacral reflexes have better outcomes, although some men with all levels of lesion report good function. Sildenafil is efficacious at treating erectile dysfunction for most men. The "TO-MAXimize sensation, sexuality, and quality of life" procedure may improve sexual function in selected men with low-level lesions. Female sexual function and treatment is less well understood. Women may experience decreased arousal, difficulties with orgasm, and pain. No treatment has been studied in women. Bowel and bladder incontinence during intercourse appears to be bothersome to men and women. Although both men and women have diminished sexual satisfaction, their sexual desire appears to be least impacted. Present studies are limited by studies' small, heterogeneous populations, the misuse of validated questionnaires in the sexually inactive population, and the lack of a validated questionnaire specific to people with spina bifida.

Conclusions: Spina bifida impacts the sexual function of both men and women. Future studies should seek a better understanding of female sexual function and treatment, use validated questionnaires appropriately, and ultimately create a validated sexual function questionnaire specific to this population. Streur CS, Corona L, Smith JE, et al. Sexual Function of Men and Women With Spina Bifida: A Scoping Literature Review. Sex Med Rev 2021;9:244-266.

Keywords: Ejaculation; Erectile Dysfunction; Lubrication; Orgasm; Sexual Function; Spina Bifida.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Quality of Life
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological* / etiology
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological* / therapy
  • Sexuality
  • Spinal Dysraphism* / complications