Disability and sex is one taboo we are adamant on breaking, so as thousands celebrate Valentine’s Day, we talk to writer Faiza Siddiqui about embracing her sexuality after sustaining a severe head injury.
I recently woke up from a saucy dream, disappointed that there wasn’t actually anyone there with me. So, I shut my eyes trying to recapture the feeling, but it was no use. It just wouldn’t come back. But this was a massive step forward: I’d felt turned on!
I hadn’t really felt horny since the accident. I didn’t really know why. Doctors explained that it was probably because of damage to the brain’s hypothalamus, and that can affect the person’s sexual sensitivity. I told myself that it was only to be expected because my body wasn’t really anything to be desired anymore anyway.
About 6 months earlier I had idly mentioned to my neurologist that I don’t orgasm anymore. He said that the NHS could cure this and that the doctors might be able to do something to make me ‘come’ again!
I was really lucky that the topic of orgasms just happened to come up at an appointment with someone who took all of this seriously. Otherwise, my shame and cluelessness would have coalesced and stopped me from getting any help with all of this.
After I had got over the embarrassment, I did a bit of Googling and discovered that my situation was not unique. Of course, disabled people have sex too. And, unsurprisingly, their enjoyment can be affected by their impairments. But this needn’t be the case. In fact, there are some really good places to look for help, such as the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust (BRIT), which have some brilliant PDF fact sheets that can be download.
Getting professional help turned out to be only part of the solution. Ben [my husband] and I had to learn to talk openly again, which is something that should just be natural if you’re really in love. We used to talk about stuff before the accident of course, but now we had to talk on a whole new level. Even now we’re still learning to openly share all of our feelings to help rebuild our relationship.
So, after this appointment, my neurologist referred me and Ben to the rehab centre’s sex therapist, who gave me a copy of Becoming Orgasmic: A sexual and personal growth programme for women (£6.89, Amazon). It’s a book that works as a sexual growth program for women. It recommended some erotic literature and because I was determined to ‘become orgasmic’ again, I took the recommended books with me on holiday. I read them on the plane, in the hotel and on the beach. I was determined to get all this sorted out.
The first book I started with was The Secret Garden. When I spotted that it was published by Puffin, the juniors’ division of Penguin Publishing, I was left a bit confused. It told the story of a teenage girl called Mary who was orphaned and sent to live with some relatives in the Yorkshire dales. I raced through the first half waiting for the sordid sex scenes to start, but no such luck. Then gradually it dawned on me that Mary’s secret garden was a metaphor for her inner world: a world where she could choose the way that sex was included in it.
I started to see that I was a bit like Mary in the book. Just like her, I was lost in a big house and had to explore the secret garden, by myself. But first there was a lot of weeding to be done. I had to clear away all the thoughts I had about my imperfect body. Then, when the first shoots of spring began to appear, my garden started to blossom and I started to feel my crippled body tingle again.
Since then, I’ve started to feel less shame about my unresponsive body. I’ve started to accept that it needn’t be something to be ashamed of, and in some ways it’s better than before. My brain can’t concentrate on as many things anymore, so I have to focus more on every little twinge and the lightest of touches. Surely that’s going to mean better sex?
I can’t say that the sex is exactly better – I can’t be on top anymore – but I’m learning that it doesn’t really matter. Grading sexual experiences was a stupid competition that my non-disabled self used to play with her friends, whose brains were undamaged. Really, I just had this stupid competition with my old, uninjured, self. And part of the reason I wasn’t orgasmic anymore was that I believed that if someone could achieve orgasm, then deep down they were somehow better. But now, I had to grow up.
Growing up is something that we’re all having to do. And, unfortunately, there’s no way of waking up and just strolling through a meadow of green grass and golden hay. You have to start weeding the thorny garden inside of the stoney mansion.
By Faiza Siddiqui
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