Hot & Impaired: An Intro to Sex with Disabilites
You’ve done it! After a few nights out with your new love interest, you’ve successful made it all the way to the bedroom. Things are getting hot and heavy as you continue to passionately make out with your partner. It’s completely dark. You dance your way onto the bed, getting a little lost in the moment. You’re right on the edge of the bed, so close to engaging in activities you’ve been dreaming up all evening. Here’s the challenge: getting your partner undressed. Why? You see by touching with your hands– you’re blind.
What if sight wasn’t your issue? What if you had an assistive device, like a prosthesis, to deal with? Do you take off the leg before, during, or after the steam starts to build? At what point do you stop and ask for help getting from your wheelchair to the bed? What if your partner needs a little help moving in a way that requires a lot of dexterity and flexibility… between the sheets?
As countless as there are secret fantasies, there are just as many challenges that people face when it comes to living the lives we want. Let’s be honest though, none of these struggles have yet to stop any of us from ‘getting busy’. What some friends and I hope to share with you through these articles, is a glimpse into the lesser talked about sex positivity in disability awareness. I hope to share stories of our journeys to finding love, orgasms, and maybe even teach you a thing or two about the conditions that only make up part of our lives.
Think about physical disabilities for a moment, as an example. These are often visible. A person may be in a power chair, use a prosthetic limb, or even use a white cane to navigate and keep sturdy. Chances are, many of you reading this have had a childhood (or more recent) injury resulting in a cast or crutches. So what about the nearly 8 million Americans using some assistive device for mobility that isn’t temporary? Add the overly idealistic dating landscape to life’s daily hurdles, and you can see how un-fun it can be to compete in the love market with a condition everyone can see. Oh yes, and then there’s the bedroom logistics….but we’re getting to that.
Another common type of physical disability is visual impairments. These can go from partlysighted (such as myself) to full blindness. While I’m fully self sufficient and independent, there are some things I literally cannot see. Like whether a woman is wearing an engagement ring, or if that face you made was flirty, or conveying your discomfort in whatever sex position we’re in. The even deeper side of this conversation is when a disability keeps you not just from seeing, but also from comprehending the messages your partner is trying to send you.
Cognitive and social disorders are difficult enough to diagnose, and just as tough to mitigate out in the social world. The norm of engaging with a new sexual partner is, of course, getting consent. For people with conditions like Asperger Syndrome or Autism, social cues and nonverbal communications are very difficult to interpret. Pacing, escalation, enjoyment or disgust, can be missed by someone with a developmental delay. These individuals can take longer to process communications, or communicate themselves in a less conventional way. When you’re unfamiliar with this, it may be a turnoff. The point is, many of us with disabilities have just as much to offer our potential partners as everyone else. Sometimes, having a little more awareness will keep you from letting that temporary turnoff stop you from having an unexpectedly great night!
Speaking from my own experience now, coming of age was a different experience for me than that of my peers. For them, it involved going away to college, getting a car, and forming some great relationships. For me, some of these defining experiences (namely intimacy) came a lot later in life. Largely to do with my visual impairment, these conditions affect other parts of our lives outside of romance. I lived at home throughout college– partied very little, didn’t get around on my own in central Florida. It was only when I became independent and moved to NYC that I really started to date more (or attempt, at least). Learning to be on my own came right alongside the steep learning curve of how to interact and engage with women confidently. It’s still not “easy” by any means, but many of my hurdles are shared among my differently-abled friends.
Our accomplishments of fulfilling, independent lives also include achieving success in building strong career networks, friendships, and hopefully many happy nights too!
BE ON THE LOOKOUT:
Dating is supposed to be fun. We hope to show you in this column that, beyond the difficulties we face, we have indeed found deep joy in love. Just like “every vagina is different,” every person’s physical and cognitive abilities, and the way they get to those “O” moments are just as unique. I’m not suggesting you need to go out in search of lovers with disabilities, but I do hope you open your minds to all types of people when swiping right. You never know who might surprise you.
Mervin Hernandez is a professional and graduate student living in NYC. He is a person with albinism who loves to share his and others’ experience in living life to the fullest. Be on the lookout for more posts for the Hot & Impaired!
(For the visually impaired: an audio file!)