Advice from an “inclusionista sexpert” on navigating dating and sex with a disability.
The dating world isn’t easily championed, especially if you have a disability like me. I have a spinal cord injury, and until recently, I was very single. Here’s some advice and tips I learned to overcome the challenges of dating with a disability.
1. Don’t apologize for being disabled.
As a society, we are fed ableist images and distorted messages that only “perfect” bodies are worthy of love and affection. That’s bullshit. Will some people be turned off by your body? Sure. Those aren’t the people you want to date, anyway. It’s why I advocate showing your true self on online dating profiles. I proudly post photos with my walker and canes. Do we look at taking photos with eyeglasses as something to hide? No! Embrace what you’re working with. “Embrace, Educate, Empower” is 3ELove’s message, a company whose logo is a wheelchair heart. In essence, learn to 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 yourself to live your damn life while speaking 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.
Some people have conditions that involve leakage of body fluids or functions that have to be maintained by medical equipment. Don’t hide this from prospective dates. Being frank and honest about your condition is best for all parties concerned. Pro tip: research solutions to your specific situation before engaging in sexual activity with someone. Google is your friend, and 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, towels or sex furniture throws on hand that protect surfaces from body fluids. These can be easily tossed in the wash after sexy time.
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. People with all body types can find pleasure from sex toys, and they’re especially beneficial for those with disabilities. For example, a man who has trouble getting an erection can use a strap-on dildo for his partner to play with. A wand vibrator can be useful for a woman who wants to masturbate, but has difficulty reaching her vagina.
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 being surrounded by 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 a disability and sexuality health educator, writer and advocate, 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). Currently, she is working on a book that shares the reproductive health experiences of people with disabilities. She is a deep-fried Southern woman, mid-century buff, and proud Mama of one amazing daughter.