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Let’s Talk About Sex [and disability], Baby! (Part 2)

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For the second installment of the Dating, Love, & Sex:  The Experiences of Women with Disabilities series, Erin and Samantha will share their perspectives on attractiveness, what men really think about our body image hang-ups, and the most taboo subject to connect to disability:  SEX.  (If you missed out on the incredible discussion that started this series, do read Part 1.)

Disabled Sex 1In our culture, disabled bodies are not viewed as sexual or sensual.  The bodies of women with disabilities are not scantily dressed for our eyes to see, as are the bodies of able-bodied women.  Women with disabilities are not viewed as sex symbols, but more as “damsels in distress” – being in constant and “desperate” need of saving and being cared for.  Women with disabilities are thought of as nonsexual beings; we are too “delicate” to be sexed, we are perceived to have no desire or use for sex, nor want to be desired by the opposite (or same) sex.  All of these misconceptions have caused women with disabilities to discover their femininity, sexual prowess, and sensuality on their own, and downplay this aspect of themselves, for fear of being judged by others.

Feeling Attractive to the Opposite Sex:

Samantha:  In my 20s and 30s (before getting fat, old and wrinkly, lol), I was considered fairly attractive, despite the chair, and had frequent male attention from regular, walking guys.  So while I wasn’t what you’d call man crazy – my emphasis was more on education, career, etc. – I had plenty of opportunities when I wanted them.  I don’t mean that in a conceited way, and I hope I don’t come off like that, but my point is that even then, in the 80s and 90s when things were better than in my mom’s era but not as progressive as today, the wheelchair never limited me all that much.

Now, having said that, I’m quite sure that for every one guy who showed interest in me, there could have been 20 more that saw me and thought, “Eeeewww!”  But, really, every woman on Earth – disabled and not – experiences that.  We’re all going to be seen as attractive to some people and not attractive to others.  Fortunately, the ones who think, “Eeeww,” are the ones who DON’T approach us, so we never know about it.

Do Men Really Care About Our Body Image Hang-ups?

Samantha:  And because nearly every woman has body issues, and most men don’t care about those body issues, I’ve always believed that the less of a deal we make of it, the less of an issue it is for them.  I’ve had multiple partners in my lifetime. I mean, I’m no whore of Babylon (LOL), but I’ve been no Mother Theresa either, and I can assure you that I’ve never had a man run screaming from the room (or even complain or ask questions) because of any body differences from my OI.  And most of the men I’ve slept with have been ones I’ve been in relationships with, where we had sex not just once but many times over the course of months or years.  So I doubt that any of them were secretly grossed out or anything because if they were, then why come back over and over again for more?

Overcoming Sex Insecurities, & Showing Them Something New!

Erin:  Dating, intimacy and sex are already uncomfortable and scary at times without the added issues that come along with a disability. I’ve gotten questions like, “Can you still have sex?”  “Can you feel it?”  “How do you have sex?”  “What’s the point?”

I am in a great relationship with someone for almost two years, and we have an amazing sex life.  Sure, I have had insecurities about things like how I looked naked, incontinence issues, having bladder and bowel accidents, and what I couldn’t do physically that other able bodied women were able to do for him previously, but he doesn’t care about any of that.

When you find the right person for you, you’ll find ways to be creative together.  And to be honest that makes it so much better.  Who says you can’t show them a few things they’ve never seen or done before!

Samantha:  There has never been any real concern for me with sex and my bone disease.  I mean, if you’re in the right positions, you’re not going to be in danger of breaking anything.  The main challenge Tim and I have, especially in the past two years is that as I’ve begun to approach perimenopause.  I am just not interested in sex the way I once was.  I believe that this is purely biological / hormonal.  No matter who you are, once those eggs a woman carries are no longer viable for reproduction, Mother Nature instinctively knows this, and those hormones, and the desires that go with them just go right down the drain.

Choosing Substance Over Lust – Your Dating Priorities Change with Age:

Samantha:  Beyond that, I will tell you that as you get older, dating really does get better for just about everyone, I think, whether you’re disabled or not.

When people are young – teens to mid-20s – they tend to focus their romantic energy on people who are “cute” or “hot.”  It’s all about looks.  And when it’s not about looks, for most teens and 20-somethings, it’s also about worrying about what their friends will think.  Just about every woman I know (myself included) at one point in their youth, turned down the opportunity to be with a really great guy purely because that person didn’t fit with what their “crowd” considered to be attractive, cool, or whatever, and they were too afraid of what their friends might think.

Then, once you start dating, and you’ve been in a few relationships with someone who is considered “hot,” or someone that your friends think is cute, you soon realize that these qualities are really meaningless if you can’t make intellectual and emotional connections with the person; if you can’t trust them to be honest, fair and ethical; or if they’re thoughtless or lack compassion.  Once a few relationships with the “hotties” turn out to be disappointments, and as you start to get a little older, and you (hopefully) learn something from each failed relationship, you start to reevaluate your priorities in terms of the qualities you covet in a mate.  Plus, as you continue your own education and you pursue your goals, not only do you discover a whole world of issues that you’re passionate about, but you will also find, based on your elevated interests and causes that you champion, a whole different class of people attractive, for very different reasons, and it’s a much deeper, more meaningful, and more sensual connection.

Dating is one of those things that really do improve with age.

The Take Home Message for Part 2:

As you have read, women with disabilities desire (and crave) to feel attractive and closeness to another person, be loved, caressed, stroked, kissed, and yes, sexed.  Though there may be limitations in what we are able to do physically, that does not prevent our sexuality and sensuality from being be tapped into.  There is beauty in every person that goes way beyond the mere flesh; we want our partners, as well as society, to respect and embrace our essence.

The final part of the Dating, Love, & Sex series will cover our three self-advocates’ thoughts surrouding if men with disabilities have it easier in the game of love, the real deal on “disabled devotees,” and being asked questions about your partner and if you date disabled.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of The Perks of Being Disabled Tumblr blog.)

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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