The Scoop: Advice from an "inclusionista sexpert" on navigating dating and sex with a disability.
As a person with a disability (I have a spinal cord injury), who was until recently very single, I know the journey that is dating and sex today. Dating is not easy for anyone, but doing this with a disability comes with it’s own special challenges. Here are some tips and advice that I learned along the way.
#1 Do not feel that you have to apologize for being a person with a disability.
Yes, as a society, we are fed ableist images and distorted messages that only “perfect” bodies are worthy of love and affection. That is bullshit. Will some people be turned off by how your body presents? Sure. Those are not the people you want to date, anyway. It is why I advocate showing your true self in online dating profiles. I take photos with my walker, proudly, and with my canes. Do we look at taking photos with eyeglasses as something to hide? This is what you are working with, and making your sexy and proud way into the world, living your life. 3ELove has a wheelchair heart, with the message, “Embrace, Educate, Empower.” Basically, accept your body, find ways to educate others (in my case, teaching the world about sex for people of all abilities), and use your disability to empower you to live your damn life, and speak up for inclusion..because YOU MATTER.
#2 Talking about sex with people who don’t know the nuances of our bodies can be tricky and pretty embarrassing.
There are conditions that involve body fluids to leak or functions that have to be maintained by medical equipment. However, being frank and honest about it is best for all parties concerned. It helps to research solutions in advance. Google is your friend, in this instance - chances are, you aren’t the only human being in the world with this issue (as is true for almost all sex-related “issues”). For instance, if you know you have bladder leakage, make sure to have some disposable bed pads on hand, towels, or sex furniture throws that protect surfaces from body fluids, and can be easily tossed in the wash after sexy times.
#3 Where there is a will - there is a way.
As people with disabilities, we know that one must think outside of the box to get things done. When it comes to sex, I am a big proponent of adaptable uses for sex toys for people with disabilities. Sex toys can help bring pleasure to people of all bodies, and there are many sex toys that are especially beneficial to people with disabilities. Positioning furniture, pillows, your own external equipment (like a wheelchair or hoyer lift (whee, sex swing!)) can help you align and stabilize your body in order to enjoy sexual pleasure with someone else.
#4 Community is also important, when it comes to finding someone to date or whatever social and sexual relationship you are seeking.
Some disabilities require personal assistance from someone else, in order to indulge in intimacy. Yep, sounds awkward as hell, but you want people who are supportive of you living your life as a human being. Also, peer support is a wonderful thing. Having friends with disabilities has been essential for me, because having other people who understand and identify with my dating and sex issues has been a relief. Human beings are not solitary creatures, and interdependence is how we function as a society.
There are some books and resources available if you want more concrete advice. These are guidelines, and may help address additional questions.
Dating - it’s not for the faint of heart, that is for sure. However, disability should not preclude you from trying or expect less for yourself. You have a right as a person to enjoy safe and consensual sensual pleasure with others, and it can be done.
Robin Wilson-Beattie is the proprietor of sexAbled , teaching the world to embrace and explore your sexuality, regardless of ability. She is a member of the Association of American Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), the Women of Color Sexual Health Network (WOCSHN), and a graduate and member of the San Francisco Sexuality Information Training (SFSI).
Robin has been involved in sexuality education and awareness since high school. After acquiring a physical disability, she began in 2008 speaking on sexuality and disability topics and issues. Robin has done presentations and speeches at conferences, medical schools, and disability organizations. She also consults with individuals and organizations on issues of adaptive sexual support. Robin is an Ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, and a nationally recognized self and systems disability advocate. She is a deep-fried Southern girl, Sex Geek, comic book nerd, mid-century buff, and proud Mama of one amazing daughter. Follow Robin on Twitter @SexAbled, or like sexAbled on Facebook.