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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Bodies » Sexuality and physical disabilities

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Author Topic: Sexuality and physical disabilities
Executive Director & Founder
Member # 3

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This has come up in regard to specific users, but I thought we should address it in general.

While we see a lot of posts about one shape or size or another, and we can say that humans simply vary and that variation is normal, for those of us with actual visible defects, abnormalities or disabilities, it isn't that simple.

I was thinking the other day about something that happened twenty years ago. Two models for a magazine that carried sexually explicit photographs were actually jailed on obscenity changes because one of them was an amputee, and her amputated leg was being engaged sexually. She and the other model were friends, both happilly consented to this, and were not one of them a disabled person, the charges would never have occurred.

Why? Because the truth is that the general cultural thought was that those who are physically disabled in some way are basically not supposed to see their disability as positive, normal, or even interesting.

Let me add a personal anecdote. For those of you who don't know, I have a moderate disability on my right hand, due to a severe childhood accident, which disfigured three of my fingers (two are highly obvious, the third, visually, is much mopre subtle, it is just markedly curved). When I was first sexually active, I would flinch if someone even kissed those fingers the same way as they would kiss my "normal" hand. Later on in my life, I not only got past that, I learned to be amused and joyful when people found very erm...interesting...uses for those fingers during sexual activities, or simply apperciated the beauty of their uniqueness. At this point, the idea that my finding or providing sexual pleasure in/with my disability is patently obscene is profoundly offensive to me, and seem to say very clearly that I (or anyone else with a disability) is not SUPPOSED to function like other people simply because of that disability.

For those of you who aren't in any way disabled, who have/have had partners who are, or simply know people who are, how do you feel about this on a sexual level? Do you feel that finding sexual pleasure in aspects of that disability is or isn't okay? Do you feel funny about it? Can you ask about it without feeling awkward?

For those of you who do have physical disabilites, how do *you* feel about them right now? Do you feel they hinder your sexuality in any way, either because of your own feelings, or by how people/culture views you? Are you comfortable feeling it is one aspect of yourself, one of many others, or do you feel that trying not to even recognize that visible difference/disability makes it easier for you to function?

Heather Corinna
Editor and Founder, Scarleteen

"If you're a bird, be an early early bird --
But if you're a worm, sleep late." - Shel Silverstein

Posts: 68290 | From: An island near Seattle | Registered: May 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2109

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Ahhh my ex had a sexual disability (Can't name which one or what-- i swore this to him when we were going out) I didn't notice it until he mentioned it. I didn't care, I mean nobody's perfect and he was still HOT
Yes yes yes I am shallow

*I wish I didn't care, but I do*

Posts: 62 | From: Los Angeles, CA USA | Registered: Dec 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 3023

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Hey, you read my mind.

I was about to post a thread on sexuality and disability because I just finished my web site on the very topic, which some of you already know about, but for those who don't, it's at:

I have a physical disability (cerebral palsy). It is mild, but the ironic thing is that the time when I am most aware of it is when I am in bed with my SO. Basically, standing up (I use crutches out of doors) I can get around fine. Laying down, I can't move my legs very much. So sex was a really painful thing for me for a while, emotionally. I mean, even thinking about it long before I met my SO (who is the first person I had sex with) I would just feel really bad about myself and uncomfortable. I protected myself with the idea that I didn't need sex and wasn't a sexual being, which is actually a very common stereotype in society today. But eventually I had to say hello to my libido and once that happened I started on my way to saying to hell with society. It's still hard for me occassionally when I try to experiment with something and it brings out a new limitation, but my SO and I just have to laugh sometimes about the awkward situations that arise. Like: "Um, honey? I'm on top of you and I don't think I can go anywhere from here..." Besides, giggling a lot lets you forget about the pain that you're being squashed in an awkward position or whatever.

Society has definitely taught me that I'm not supposed to be having sex and that I shouldn't ever want a partner because no one would want me. But that really isn't true. And I find that the more blunt I am about the fact that I'm sexual (I don't scream it off of rooftops, but if the topic of sex comes up I am almost always the first person to say something about my sex life, usually so I can avoid the question, "Uh, can you do it?" *grin*) then the less of a problem it is. People usually blink once and then have to laugh at how forward I am being, and from then on there's no question. Plus, from there I can answer people's nagging questions about disability and they're not afraid to ask me, because they know I've asked or said worse!

I did have a lot of fun telling my SO over the phone one night that a girl who lived in my dorm asked me "YOU have a boyfriend?!" with her eyes bugging out.... Nice to know I can make people jealous, sometimes. Even if it is partially because of their own stereotypes--obviously, I'd just shattered that one.

rambler (evil sometimes!)

[This message has been edited by rambler (edited 03-18-2001).]

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I am not physically disabled nor have I been involved with anyone who is but coz my mum used to be in social work, I do know of a few people who are physically disabled.

The one problem I really have is that I'm honestly terrified that I will hurt them. Like if I see someone who is paralysed and in a wheelchair, I still think that if I touch him/her, I will hurt him/her. And I don't want to do that. Hence I end up treating them like these super fragile porcelain dolls which isn't very complimentary to many physically disabled people.

So if I were to be sexually involved with someone with a physical disability, chances are I would be terrified to hold him and touch him for fear of hurting him.

I think I really have to start dealing with this. But other than this fear which I am sure stemms from the fact that the disabled are always portrayed as weak and helpless, I think I would be totally fine with being sexually involved with someone whom has a physical disability.

Posts: 2294 | From: Singapore | Registered: Dec 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 168

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Hmmm, I had a sexual partner who had one amputated leg. He also had a huge scar running across most of his torso where they took out muscle to use for something or other to save his life after he had this huge accident. At first I wasn't quite sure how to handle it and how to treat him. I was a little surprised at first to realize that a disability doesn't equal celibacy. When I was walking down the street next to him wheeling down the street(before he got a prosthesis) I felt very akward looking down to talk to him. When we became sexually active together, I tried to not make a big deal out of the fact that half of his leg was missing. It was very much like not saying anything about the pink elephant in the corner of the room -I feel like I just completely butchered that phrase. Anyway, at some point I just realized that he would be less offended if I was just honest with him. I learned to acknowledge his disability without making a big deal of it. For example, if I was running my hands over his chest without his shirt on, I wouldn't avoid the scar. I just treated it as a part of him. That is really the key to having a sexual partner with a disability. You're attracted to your partner, right? And the disability is a part of your partner . . . so, learn to embrace the disability as just anothere part of your partner's beautiful body.

Limes Are Sublime

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Great advice, Poetgirl.

I wanted to really quickly address what Lin said. This "china doll" stereotype has been very prevalent in my life. It is a VERY common misconception people have, so, Lin, you shouldn't think you are weird for thinking that way. But it's still a misconception.

Some disabled people do have pain associated with their disabilities. For instance, people with arthritis really have to adapt their sex lives (and daily activities, everything) around what they can do without being in pain. People who are spastic (like me) have to also be careful during sex, and improvise somewhat. But those are specific instances of problems that may arise with CERTAIN disabilities. (I'm just being honest here, not trying to freak you out by mentioning some disabilities which can have painful side effects...there are also a few which result in brittle bones...)

Occassionally I fall over, or I stub my toe, or I have a spasm during sex. I just get up again, rub my toe a bit, or ask my partner to slow down please so my body can relax more. The most I'm probably going to get is a few scratches! It's not the same for everyone, though. For a hemopheliac <sp>, a scratch is dangerous, for me it's nothing. For a paraplegic (paralyzed below the waste), they may not have sensation (some do), and then certain things can be dangerous like they won't know if they have certain infections and they can get pressure sores from not moving enough. So it's REALLY dependent on the disability but generally we're heartier than we look. I promise you. Example: I have very small stature because my back is curved and small stature is fairly common for people with my disability. So I have people asking me if I'm in eighth grade all the time. I am a sophomore in college! And I'm just SMALL, which doesn't really mean much, but it really effects the way people assume I can function. And they're usually incorrect. I am not going to snap in half, and if I fall over I'll probably just laugh it off.

I think that the best way to learn about this is to talk to your disabled acquaintances. Ask them questions. We really do not mind as much as people generally think we are going to. Some people do mind but that usually means that they are upset with their disability, still, and isn't your fault as long as you're being nice and not demanding. Most of us just want to let people know about us, but you can't just say, "Hi, I'm disabled, but I'm not going to fall apart, by the way my name is rambler." People need to ask us things. Or make it clear that it's okay for us to tell them things. And we will be glad to answer your questions because we're just so glad someone's thinking to ASK us instead of just assuming things!

If you want to talk more about this, Lin, or anyone, one-on-one, I'd be really open to answering any of your questions... and my site will probably be helpful to you as well. I try to highlight on the page that there are some specific issues that disabled people face, but that there are also commonalities among all people, and so the reverse can work for those of you who don't think that discussing these things is "okay" or appropriate for you. It really is okay because the issues aren't really that different. I get a lot of my ideas from reading these boards and similar ones, in fact.

rambler (living up to her name)

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I appreciate it rambler and I will certainly be paying your site a visit.
Posts: 2294 | From: Singapore | Registered: Dec 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 100

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I just had to throw this in --

Some of us have disabilities you can't see. I'm able-bodied, but I have an immunological disorder that can sometimes mean that something as simple as someone wearing particular perfumes can give me migraines or make me vomit. (It also has many other ways of making itself apparent!) At times, I get very sick for no apparent reason -- it's just my immune system attacking my body. And yes, it has repercussions on my sex life sometimes (for one thing, if anyone ever tried to put on some sexy perfume and then come climb in bed with me, I'd probably barf on them... uncontrollably.).

So, just a reminder that some disabilities are invisible. Doesn't mean they're not there, though. But it does underscore the point that communication with a partner or prospective partner is always an excellent idea, and asking about preferences and limits, abilities and inabilities, is a fabulous preparation for any sort of relationship, particularly a sexual one.

Hanne Blank
Co-Editor, Scarleteen

Start a Revolution -- Stop Hating Your Body!

[This message has been edited by Hanne (edited 03-19-2001).]

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Hanne raises a really good point. I know a lot of people who are having trouble right now because they have an invisible disability and people just assume that you are okay if you look okay on the outside (which is why they also assume you are NOT okay if you have a slight disfigurement.)

I found a good column the other day by a girl from one of my mailing lists, and it's geared toward people with invisible disabilities.

Bek Oberin's Column on Invisible Disabilities

The only normal people are the ones you don't know very well.
--Joe Ancis

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Here's my two cents in this matter. I don't have a disablility nor did I ever date someone with one, but I'm over weight and I used to feel very uncomfortable about the fact of my bf being involved with me bacause of the way I looked. But when I'm with him, I get so lost in the moment that I totally forget that it's a problem. My bf also has a huge scar on his torso because of an accedent and I didn't even care about it because it's still apart of him and any (and every) part about him, I love dearly. I think people who have disablilities are unique and that they are all beautiful like everyother human being on this earth. No matter how their body is in. Thanks for your time and see you all in later posts.
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Guys tend to get fairly freaked out by the fact that I have combined complex partial/tonic clonic epilepsy, to the point where they won't risk secual activities unless it sets off a seizure. This is so frustrating sometimes, because I have accepted my disability as part of the greater aspects of who I am, but it isn't me. I am not epilepsy.. it isn't all I think about, and it doesn't rul my life. I've learned to cope, I wish other people would sometimes as well!

I do make sure that my partners are fully aware of the fact that I have epilepsy, and that there are certain things I just can't do without compromising my health.


Scarleteen Advocate, not to be confused with Advocaat

I have yet to meet a C compiler that is more friendly and easier to use than eating soup with a knife.

The three most dangerous things are a programmer with a soldering iron, a manager who codes, and a user who gets ideas.

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I think people with physical disabilities are fascinating and completely beautiful. It wouldn't even really occur to me to be discouraged sexually, unless there were definite limitations - which i assume I would know about by the time I was ready to be intimate with the person. I wouldn't even be discouraged, just inspired to experiment and work around/ with any problems.
It's just something unique about a person, like any other characteristic, and I would love and accept it as I would any other part of them. Depending on the specific disability, I might even love it more, because it's different from me and from alot of people and I could be totally fascinated

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